Dirt Doctor Weekly Newsletter
BASIC PRODUCTS UPDATE
There are four basic groups of materials needed for the organic program:
Compost, Rock Materials, Sugars and Mulch.
Compost, Natureís own living fertilizer, can be made at home or purchased ready-to-use. It can be started any time of the year in sun or shade and anything once living can go in the compost. Some common ingredients include grass clippings, tree trimmings, food scraps, bark, sawdust, rice hulls, weeds, nut hulls and animal manure. Build by mixing the ingredients together into a pile on the ground. The ideal mixture is around 80% vegetative matters and 20% animal waste, although any mix will compost and work fine. Oxygen is a critical component. Ingredients should be a mix of coarse and fine-textured material to promote air circulation through the pile. Turn the pile as time allows to speed up the process, however turning is not critical. Another critical component is water. A compost pile should be roughly the moisture of a squeezed-out sponge to help the living organisms thrive and work their magic. Compost is ready to use as a soil amendment when the ingredients are no longer identifiable. The color will be dark brown, the texture soft and crumbly, and the smell will be pleasant like the forest floor. Rough, unfinished compost can be used as topdressing mulch around all plantings. For piles that are not heating and composting too slowly, add dry molasses, green plant material or other organic fertilizer.
Lava Sand & Dry Molasses
Nature has maintained the mineral balance of soil through volcanic eruptions, glaciers movement and bed rock erosion. Gardeners, farmers and ranchers need to apply rock materials as well. Donít worry about pH. When a balance of natural materials are used, pH will move to an appropriate level. Additional volcanic rock is not needed in volcanic soils. Useful rock products include lava sand, basalt, zeolite, humate, rock phosphate, and other rock material different from the base rock on the property.
Sugar is used to stimulate the microbes in the soil. Some sugars are better than others. Hereís a run down of some of the most common options:
White Sugar: Table sugar is okay especially if it is dirty and unusable for food, but there are much better choices. All sugars provide indirect fertility to soil and plants by accelerating biological activity.
Dry Molasses: Dry molasses isnít really dried molasses. Itís actually a solid organic residue carrier that has been sprayed with liquid molasses. Soy is a common choice. Itís an excellent carbon and carbohydrate source that stimulates beneficial microorganisms effectively. And it repels fire ants from properties in most cases. It can be used as a bed preparation ingredient or applied on the surface of soil. The usual rate is 20 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft.
Liquid Molasses: This sweet syrup that is a carbohydrate source used as a soil amendment to feed and stimulate microorganisms. It contains sulfur, potash, and many trace minerals. Molasses is the best liquid sugar for horticultural use because of its trace minerals and effectiveness. Blackstrap is hard to find, and it is the best molasses because of the sulfur and iron, but any kind of molasses will work. Molasses also has a nice side benefit. When it is used with compost tea and orange oil, it kills fire ants and other insect pests. By itself, molasses repels fire ants effectively.
With an approximate analysis is 1-0-5, molasses is a good, quick source of energy for soil life and microbes in compost piles. Liquid molasses is used in sprays, and dry molasses is broadcast. Liquid molasses is an excellent foliar feeding material and can be mixed with other organic liquids. Use at 2-4 quarts/acre for soil application. For foliar application, use up to 1 quart per acre. Use 1 Ė 2 oz. per gallon of spray for small scale work. Liquid molasses can also be used to increase the life and effectiveness of organic and biological pest control sprays such at Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
Cornmeal: This food product has several horticultural uses. Regular cornmeal from the grocery store has minor fertilizer and disease fighting properties. Read the label to know for sure, but both are effective. Many cornmeal products in the grocery store consist of the starchy endosperm (insides of the kernel). Dr. Joe McFarland and his staff at the A & M Research station in Stephenville, Texas discovered that cornmeal is effective at controlling fungal diseases on peanuts. I started playing with it and discovered that it is effective on brown patch in St. Augustine and damping off disease in seedlings. The usual rate is about 20 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. per surface area of soil. Cornmeal will help control all diseases on photinia, Indian hawthorn, roses, fruit trees, turf and seed flats. Corn gluten meal is the protein part of the kernel and used as a weed and feed fertilizer. It also has some disease fighting properties.
Covering the bare soil around plants is critical and there are several mulch choices. The best mulch for any site is recycled plant material (leaves, twigs, spent plants, buds, bark, flowers and other plant debris) that grew on the property. That's the natural way it is done in the forest and on the prairie. Shredded native tree trimmings are the easiest to find and purchase. Third in line is shredded hardwood bark. Then there is a group that is not high on my list. I donít recommend cypress because it does not break down well. We want the mulch to break down. That's what creates the true natural food for feeding microbes and plant roots. It is also an environmental problem in the way it is harvested. Pine needles make good mulch, but it looks a little out of place when used on a property where no pines are growing. Lava gravel makes good mulch and has the extra benefit of keeping squirrels and cats out; looking harsher than organic mulches and not breaking down into humus are the negative points. I'm not at all a fan of shredded rubber products, dyed wood or pine bark. It's interesting that the most popular mulch material, pine bark, is not very good. First, it won't stay in place - it washes and blows away. When it does stay put, it breaks down into a mucky material that does not help plant growth. My favorite commercial mulch is a mixture of compost and shredded tree trimmings.
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