Friday, May 14, 2010

Preparing the Hole for Transplanting

One more essential for transplanting, especially in our sandy, nutrient poor soil.  Because it would take a tremendous amount of organic matter to upgrade our whole garden plot all at once, it's essential to improve the soil around each plant.  I do this by preparing a substantial transplant hole that adds organic matter and trace elements along with fertilizer.  As I mentioned in Plant Positive not Pest Negative, the basic rule of good  gardening is to feed the soil, not the plant.  But at the moment I feed the plant, knowing that over time the whole garden will improve. 

For plants such as tomatoes, peppers, coles, and heavy feeders such as cucumbers, I remove a couple of shovels of soil, put a quarter to a half bucket of compost in the bottom of the hole, add a small handful of pelletized dolomitc lime (high in Magnesium as well as Calcium), a handful of basic 5-10-10 or 5-7-4 fertilizer,* and a handful of kelp or greensand (high in trace minerals).  I mix the fertilizers with the compost, add back some of the soil I removed, and mix it again several times.  I use the extra soil to build up the bowl around the plant.  I dig and fill this kind of hole for cucumbers and squash even if I'm planting them from seed.

The trace elements are essential for really healthy plants, and help build up disease and pest resistance.  Think of them as vitamins.  Vitamins aren't carbohydrates, fats, or proteins, but they're necessary just the same.

Blossom end rot (those first tomatoes that are black on one end) is a physiological problem, not a disease, caused by a combination of uneven watering and calcium deficiency.  Even though tomatoes really like a mildly acid soil, they need calcium enough so that adding a small handful of lime is a good thing for them.

The organic matter that gets added to the soil - whether compost, manure, leaves, or even peat moss:
1) adds trace elements,
2) makes trace elements already in the soil more available for plants to take up,
3) makes the soil hospitable for the micro-organisms that break down the soil into nutrients, *
4) Helps our soil hold moisture and fertilizers we add, which ordinarily leach out of the sandy soil.
So do all you can to add and save all the organic matter you can.  Compost in place the weeds and food plants you pull from the garden, by letting a small pile decompose right in your garden.  Or if you want to keep the garden neat, dig a hole, put the weeds in, and cove with soil.  Bring coffee grounds and the contents of tea bags from the house and mulch your plants with them; both are very beneficial.  Bring grass clippings if you don't put herbicides/pesticides on your lawn.

In the fall, think about bringing leaves.  Ideally, you'd have shredded them first, as otherwise they tend to blow all over the place before they get tilled in.  For those in the community gardens, you can see soil utterly transformed by a decade of adding leaves every fall, at Dan's garden.  I think his plot is B6 and C6, but you won't have any trouble finding it, because the soil is rich and dark and moist.  He's added horse manure this year, but the fundamental soil structure has been built up with leaves.  Last year his potatoes grew waist high.  I didn't even know potatoes could grow that tall.

In an emergency I've just put the plant in the ground, and planned on side-dressing with fertilizer later on.  But this is no substitute for providing organic matter for the roots. 

* There are lots of reasons not to use chemical (non-organic) fertilizers such as 5-10-10:
1) The manufacture of these fertilizers uses a lot of energy, and may be harmful to the people who make them.
2) The fillers in the fertilizer are not regulated or disclosed, and may sometimes contain heavy metals (lead, cadmium, etc.)
3) Chemical fertilizers are available all at once, and so the excess is leached from the soil and may end up in rivers and lakes where the phosphorus feeds algae blooms.  For this reason we're now being encouraged to use 5-2-10 for our lawns, to help keep phosphorus out of Lake Champlain.
4) Because they leach from the soil so readily more fertilizer is necessary than with slower-releasing organic fertilizer
5) Chemical fertilizers are harmful to the micro-organisms we need to encourage in the garden and which make natural elements in the soil available for plants.  Especially harmful to earthworms, too.
6) Because they contain no trace elements our food will be deficient in them too, which is not as healthy for us.  Any heavy metals or other harmful chemicals will, however, be taken up by the plants and we will eat them.

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