By Ken Gland.
While the new editor of the Sharing Secrets column gets trained by the retiring editor in the ins and outs of the job, you can still enjoy lots of past Sharing Secrets columns that are being currently shared over on our San Diego Horticultural Society's Facebook page -
"Really good secrets shared don’t change, even if times do". - Karen England
And, from the archives, there's this Sharing Secrets column that appeared in Let’sTalk Plants! January 2008, No. 160 -
This column is written by you, our members! Each month we ask a question, and print your responses.
The question for this month was: What soil amendments have worked best for you and why?
Judy Bradley shares her secret: “I am addicted to worm compost for my organic vegetable garden raised boxes and potted citrus trees. Each fall and spring I make a trip out to Dan Kuhn’s Vermipro worm farm in Lakeside and fill up as many garbage cans as I can fit in the back of my car. I dig a little compost into the existing soil as well use it to top dress the new seedlings. It really seems to help retain moisture, and over time has created a wonderful, loamy soil that produces crop after crop of prolific and healthy vegetables and fruits. I’ve also learned the value of keeping a thick mulch over all of the other planted areas in my yard, for both moisture retention and improving the structure of my sandstone soil. I use a lot of shredded redwood bark because it lasts so long, stays put on a slope, and retains its rich color fairly well over time. I’ve also spread yards and yards of Forest Mulch from Agri Service.” SDHS SPONSOR Bobbi Hirschkoff says, “With 2 acres of raw clay the best amendment that has worked for me is the screened orchard mulch from Corazon (now operated by Agri Service, Inc.). It kept down the weeds and broke down to enrich the soil. The regularmulchwasfreebutyoucouldget‘stuff’init.Thescreenedwas $2 per cubic yard. You can pick some up at their plant in Oceanside or have up to 40 yards delivered for a charge. The other amendment, not so much for soil but bunny prevention, was blood meal around the perimeter of my vegetable garden. The bunnies thought something had died and stayed away.”
Cheryl Leedom e-mailed this reply, “If I were to pick one soil amendment that my garden couldn’t live without it would be worm castings. This stuff is magic! I use it for new plantings, mixing it in the hole before placing the plant. It gives it a good head start and provides nutrients at a slow and even rate to help get the roots established. I also use it as a top dressing throughout the year. It’s the only thing that really seems to work to control those pesky white flies on my hibiscus. I’m never without a bag of Worm Gold Plus!” Jackie McGee tells us, “I don’t use a lot of amendments but my favorite is Cocoa Shell Mulch. I like it because it is looks good when it is applied and snails don’t like to cross over it.”
Al & Dora Jean Myrick also like mulch: “We add almost nothing but composted mulch (harvested from our own foliage and donated in truckloads free, from a local arborist) from active and passive compost piles. It’s cheap, keeps soil moisture in, and adds a bit of natural fertilizer. Because we almost never export trash any of our cut foliage (except diseased items such as rose prunings with rust), virtually everything is recycled and little is ever lost.”
Susi Torre-Bueno also loves compost: “I had tremendous success adding compost to the very dense clay soil in my Encinitas garden". I purchased truckloads of it from Agri Service and would use it both as a soil amendment for virtually every plant I put in the ground and also as a mulch. In addition, I practice “lasagna composting,” where I simply let all my plant cuttings fall to the ground so they can compost in place. Once or twice a year I put a layer of purchased compost or mulch over the “lasagna” to tidy the garden up and further enrich the soil. Any plant cuttings that were too large to compost in place I composted in a big pile which gradually broke down into useable compost. All the vegetable scraps and peels from the kitchen were composted, too. Periodically I took the finished compost and used it in the garden, including with it some of the many worms that moved into the compost pile. Over the course of 7 years our soil became much easier to work and full of lively worms. Since I virtually never use chemical fertilizers the compost was the only plant food needed. I’ve started several compost piles at my new garden in Vista, and am also doing “lasagna compost” here.
Liz Youngflesh says, “I have fast draining clay soil in my garden/ nursery. When I moved to Vista there was nothing growing on my 1.25 acre plot. The area that became the Garden Glories Nursery had a horse living on it, which undoubtedly enriched the area that became my demo garden. Before planting the gardens I imported good topsoil, planted a variety of perennials & trees, then mulched with ‘forest fines’ mulch from Agri Service. When planting, I use a granulated 14-14-14/plus added micro nutrients slow release fertilizer formula that Bill Teague told me about. This gives plants a good start & boost. I haven’t fertilized since – I just maintain a good mulch covering & I have a lush & colorful garden all year.”