Compost without soil may be OK if it's not too hot to handle

QUESTION: I made a raised planting bed using only compost without adding native soil.. Will the plants be OK? Wet weather made tilling impossible. S.A., Blue Ridge

ANSWER: It may work unless the compost is still breaking down and creating heat. Heat caused by the biological feeding of microbes will fry the roots of small plants. Check the temperature of the compost by sticking your hand into it. If the compost doesn't burn your hand, the plants should be OK.

QUESTION: What is your favorite tomato variety for North Texas? P.O., Dallas

ANSWER: My favorite is 'Super Fantastic,' but many varieties are good. Look at the recommendations in my book Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening (Gulf Publishing, $24)There is an overview of tomato plants that have the best production, along with information about bed preparation. Hybrid tomatoes to try: 'Celebrity,' 'Super Fantastic,' 'Big Boy,' 'Better Boy,' 'Beefsteak,' 'Supersonic,' 'Piccolo,' 'Juliet' and 'Big Beef.' Heirlooms you may like: 'Giant Belgium,' 'Cherokee Purple,' 'Green Zebra,' 'Riesentraube,' 'White Currant,' 'Yellow Pear,' 'Violet Jasper,' 'Topaz,' 'German Giant' and 'Strawberry.' Mix the following into native soil for bed preparation: a 4-inch layer of compost, a 1-inch layer of expanded shale, a 1-inch layer of decomposed granite, 20 pounds of dry molasses per 1,000 square feet, 80 pounds of lava sand per 1,000 square feet, 80 pounds of zeolite per 1,000 square feet, 40 pounds of Texas greensand per 1,000 square feet and 20 pounds of alfalfa meal per 1,000 square feet.  To mix potting soil for use in containers, use: 40 percent compost, 25 percent coir, 20 percent finely ground native tree trimmings, 10 percent expanded shale and 5 percent soft rock phosphate.


QUESTION: We need to clear brush along our fence line. Crossbow Specialty Herbicide by Helena Chemical Co. has been recommended, but it contains powerful chemicals that I oppose using. Is there an effective organic product that I can use instead? Vinegar did not work. S.P., Dallas

ANSWER: Organic herbicides aren't very effective on woody weeds. The best options are physical removal, renting goats to graze on the brush (this occurs in some cities) and spraying with chemicals. A note about physical removal: When woody weeds are cut back repeatedly, they finally exhaust their stored energy and die.


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