Tag Archives: organic soil

Organic Soil and Amendments. Organic soils contain organic matter that is rich in many nutrients and minerals. The scientific definition of organic soil is “Of, relating to, or derived from living matter.” Organic soil consists of decaying plant material, microorganisms, worms, and many other things.

Garden Oasis

We have continued the work on the “Front Yard Oasis” this fall.  The design is coming together and it is even more stunning then the computer generated design.  We have continued excavation of the river bed.  What we originally thought would be 3 to 4 more yards of waste has become 9 to 10 yards of excavation.  Painstakingly done with shovels and wheel barrows.  The yard is very rocky so we have sifted through much of the waste to keep the larger rocks to incorporate back into the dry river bed we will be creating.

The garden bed areas are now all installed and filled with organic soil, peat moss, bone meal and blood meal…and are ready to plant.  A path way will be installed to run along the river bed to allow stepping access to the garden areas and to visually separate the patio from the river bed.  The path will consist of 3 inches of rainbow rock that has been purchased at “Hillside Stone & Garden” near Duncan BC.  We will be using low edging along the pathway that Beryl – our garden owner has purchased.  It will help to define the edges of the river bed and the pathway as well as the patio and will keep the decorative rock from mixing with the river bed.  We excavated the path down to approximately 3 1/2 inches to ensure the path will be slightly lower then the patio so the stone will not migrate onto the patio.

These are the original designs on paper.  In a future post I will post the original designs with the actual designs to show the evolution of creating a garden space and how similar and also how different it becomes.  There will be many areas that mirror the designs but also differences as there are always changes and challenges that come with such an undertaking.

Transforming a front garden space

In the fall of 2016 we worked with our garden owner Chrissy to transform her back yard.  Chrissy wanted a back yard oasis and we transformed her yard into exactly what she wanted.   She ask that we get in touch with her so we could do the same with her front yard in the spring.   So I designed a front yard design that would go with her house decor and extend her garden area to allow her more room to create what she wanted.  I went to work on the design as she required permission from the strata council.  I sent her the design and she presented it and it was accepted.  So here is what we did!

Before and design concept of area after.

Note: The existing garden in place is 12 feet in length and 40 inches from the front exterior of the garden to the foundation.  The concept for the new garden is to keep the existing back perimeter of the garden 12 inches from the foundation wall and extend the front garden out to a maximum of 54  inches and extend along the sidewalk 24 inches as the garden design is circular and will extend out in the centre further then the existing garden.  The front perimeter of the garden will be a rock wall defining it from the lawn area.  The front perimeter will be prepped by removal of a small amount of sod.  Landscape fabric will be placed under the stone to deter weed growth.  The rock wall will be approximately 8 inches high and will be placed approximately 4 inches back in order to add mulch in front of stones for ease of lawn cutting.  There is currently a hydrangea and several spring bulbs in the garden which will be left and some small shrubs and flowers added to the new garden.

*** The rock wall shown above is an example of what the design will look like.  The wall will not be exactly as shown.

The front garden area is now transformed and here is the new look!  I take my hat off to my son Tim who did a fantastic job…WOW what a transformation.  Here is to you Tim…Cheers!

 

Creation of my Garden Labyrinth

The work continues on my Garden Labyrinth in my own yard as discussed in a couple of previous posts.  We have now built another garden box and I have started planting the first one.  I have added ever-bearing strawberries to the first box.  The strawberries are later to come to fruitation.  The harvest will begin late in July, about a month after the regular strawberry harvest starts.  Ever-bearing strawberries will produce until late in the year.  I have eaten strawberries as late as December.   I planted two rows and will now plant sunflowers in the back half of the bed.  The sunflowers will create a privacy back drop and will be a beautiful addition as they mature.  They will be facing East so they will get plenty of morning sun.  The sunflowers will also attract many bees and insects that will serve to pollinate everything I have growing in my gardens.  The strawberries were a gift from one of my garden owners who wanted to divide and had lots to give away.  They have weathered the winter a little worse for the wear but are already perking up.  I have tested my soil and it is a well balanced soil and does not need any enrichment.  The first two garden boxes built are 11.5 inches high by 4 feet wide x 8 ft long.  The newest garden box is built from pine 2 x 4’s and is 16 inches high by 4 feet wide x 7 feet long.  Four feet is the widest we will build them as anything wider will be hard to weed.  We have reinforced each box with a brace to ensure they do not bulge from the weight of the soil inside.

I also have regular bearing strawberries that I planted underneath my Japanese ornamental cherry tree so my grandchildren will have strawberries to eat for many months.

 

 

Creating A Spring Flower Garden

Originally this job was supposed to be completed before Christmas.  There were 300 plus bulbs that needed to be planted once the garden was built.  However, Mother Nature disagreed and so the bulbs had to wait.  There was also a boxwood hedge to plant along a newly installed walkway.  That is if Mother Nature could ever release her icy grip!

The spring garden design was a simple one.  Clean the garden area along the driveway, install garden ties, amend the soil and plant the spring bulbs.  Simple right?  Wrong!  Previously there were coniferous trees growing on that side of the property and had been taken down long before my arrival.  Their stumps were in the garden bed area and the roots were everywhere.  Some had traveled underneath the paved driveway bulging the tarmac upwards.  Intertwined with the tree roots grew english ivy…everywhere.  I never ever thought there would be something more difficult to remove then english ivy.  But I was wrong again.  When I originally looked at the job last fall the ground was covered in leaves and did not give a clear picture of the labour that would be involved to beautify the area.  And so the work begins.  A pic axe was purchased to chop the roots out and a chain saw was used to cut the roots off at the driveway edge.  The easiest part of the job was planting the boxwood hedge.

Organic soil was purchased from Milan at HighLine 250-667-1029 located on Brenton-Page Road near Ladysmith.    You won’t find a better soil.  Milan creates the soil himself from organic matter.  The soil is well balanced with sand and rich organic compost.  I added bone and blood meal, peat moss to retain moisture and triple steer manure to enhance the growing medium.  However, this soil is so rich that you could just plant and grow.  I amended it to minimize the work for the garden owner.  She is not an avid gardener so this will allow her to have a no fuss garden for a couple years.  She will not have to add anything.   I planted over 300 bulbs of daffodils, tulips, narcissus and crocus’.  I am looking forward to seeing this garden in full bloom this spring.  stay tuned for the update in a couple of months.

Warning: If you are using a pic axe or any other equipment for digging or cutting, make sure you know if there are water lines, hydro lines, gas lines or telephone lines in the area! 

 

 

 

My Garden Labyrinth

I have now lived in this location for 3 months.  I have spent countless hours researching, sketching and incorporating the numerous benefits in the yard. As I said in an earlier post, privacy is my biggest concern.

The back yard gets full sun throughout the year.  I know that the back lawn stays green most of the year from the gray water that feeds it daily.  It was important for me to incorporate a plan that would utilize this gray water in my  garden effectively and efficiently.  I am on town water so it is not an option to water my gardens all year with town water, not only the cost, but with the hot dry summers on Vancouver Island the watering bans start earlier every year.  Incidentally, I am a renter and my landlord has given me the green light to landscape the entire lot as I wish, so that is a bonus.

Each year I grow more of my own food and this garden should suffice in growing all of my own food.  So the plan had to address the privacy issues, create beauty,  utilize the gray water and produce enough food for six of us.  I am including my sons and grandchildren as it is of utmost importance to me for each of us to eat as much organic food as possible, while saving money!  Last year I grew about 60% of my food.  I canned and froze much of what we couldn’t eat fresh and have been eating it all year long.

Privacy Issues – The fence enclosing the yard will provide a backdrop for me to plant shrubs and bushes to allow the privacy I want, but will take time to grow and cover the fence.  The immediate concern was how to create a garden area throughout the back yard with fruits, vegetables and flowers that would be high enough to enclose the area for privacy.

I have always loved the idea of a labyrinth and decided this would meet all of the garden challenges.  Creating a labyrinth from raised garden beds would give me the height for privacy, allow the soil in the containers to draw the gray water from the ground and filter it before it hits the plant roots, create beauty in the garden, incorporate a patio area in the middle while creating a play space for my grandchildren as they love to be in the garden with me.

And so here is my Labyrinth garden plan!  I do know that is a preliminary plan.  The garden plan will evolve and change as it comes to life!

 

 

 

 

What Soil is made of

Soil has an ecosystem all its own.  It is very much alive and supports many life forms.  From the tiny microscopic organisms we cannot see to the plants we grow, and of course to the bugs and insects we can see.  Earthworms, insects, reptiles, nematodes, bacteria and fungus all reside in your soil.  This ecosystem of life supports the soil composition helping  with decay and nutrient cycles.

You have probably heard people say that earthworms in the garden soil is healthy.  This is true.  Earthworms tunnel through the soil.  As they feed, organic matter passes through their bodies and is excreted as granular, dark castings.  This enhances and adds to the soil structure as it mixes with the soil and breaks down.  Earthworms also eat microorganisms that cause plant disease.

You will probably be surprised to find out what soil is made of.  Beneath the ground surface the soil is full of living organisms that interact in a finely tuned living system but on a percentage basis, soil is mostly minerals weighing in at a whopping 45%, followed by air at 25% and water at 25%.  The biological component (the balance of nutrients that is required to support healthy plant growth) is only 5%.  But it is a very significant 5%.

When your soil is out of balance, you will see it through the plants.  They will show signs of stress through discoloured leaves, wilting, blight,  insect infestation, disease or fungus.  You will definitely be able to see it if the soil is poor or seriously lacking something.  Keeping in mind that factors in poor plant health can also be poor drainage or a lack of oxygen.

Soil Testing

A thriving garden starts with knowing your soil type.  Plants require food (nutrients) to thrive just as we do, promoting healthy growth and giving us that colourful display or bumper crop of fruit or vegetables we desire.  For the better matched the plant is to the growing medium the healthier it will be, helping to avoid disease, insects or fungus.

It is never too soon or too late to test your soil composition and is so easy.  I purchased a soil kit from Buckerfields country store for under $30.  It comes complete with everything you need.  Everything is colour coded, including the comparator films and capsules for easy use.  Also included is a plant pH preference list for the gardener.

Soil should be tested periodically to ensure there is a balance of nutrients to support plant life.  It is especially important in the spring before you plant to see if you need to amend the soil for better growing results.  If your current garden is showing signs of stress then it is equally important to test it, after you have eliminated other problems that could correlate to plant stress.  eg…poor soil drainage, insufficient sunlight, insects or disease.  These issues will also cause leaf discolouration and stunted growth as well,  so rule them out first before you conclude it is the soil.  Most gardens do require amendments periodically as the nutrients are used up by plant consumption and nutrients leaching out from natural seasonal changes, such as seasonal rains.    A periodic soil test will let you catch nutrient deficiencies before they adversely affect your plants.  Besides indicating nutrient deficiencies, a soil test can also provide information on soil acidity, the percentage of organic matter in your soil, and your soil’s texture.

Proper testing = True Validity of Results

The results validity depends on your soil sample collection.  If you are testing your lawn area then only take samples from the lawn.  Do not take samples from the vegetable or flower garden areas as the soil could and probably is different.  To test your lawn, use a shovel and slice through the grass up to 6 inches deep.  Roots naturally grow 4 to 6 inches deep so digging this deep will give you a true picture of the nutrient base.  Make sure to take several samples throughout your lawn area and mix them in a clean container.  A typical soil sample requires 1 cup of soil so mix your samples together and add bottled, distilled or spring water.  Do not use treated tap water as it will skew your test results.

If you are testing your vegetable or flower garden area, then repeat the above instructions and yes, these samples can be added together to give you an accurate picture of your soil composition.   Making sure to discard stones, sticks, insects or other debris in your samples before you test.

At the very least, test your soil’s pH, which is a measure of how acidic your soil is. If the pH level isn’t in the correct range, plants cannot take up nutrients in the soil. You should also test for phosphorus and potassium because plants require both of these nutrients in relatively large amounts. A complete checkup would include tests for nutrients that are essential but needed only in minute quantities, such as iron, manganese, and zinc. If you regularly enrich your soil with an abundance of compost and other organic materials, micro nutrient problems are unlikely.

pH testing – to ensure an accurate test result do not touch the soil with bare hands.  Add soil to the pH compartment container to the fill line.  Then add the PH test powder capsule to the container and add water to the fill line.  Shake it and let it sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.  I try and leave it overnight for up to 24 hours to let it settle.

The other three test compartments are for testing Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash.  For these tests with the remaining soil test samples you have mixed together, add 5 cups of water.  Use the 1 part soil to 5 parts water as a basis for true test results.  Shake or stir well to ensure it is well mixed and then let it settle until the sediments have settled to the bottom.  I try and leave this mixture to settle overnight to give a true result.   Use the dropper provided and add the liquid only from the soil and water mix to each compartment matching it to the colour coded capsule.  Add the capsule to the test compartment and shake throughly…it will settle within 10 minutes and allow you to read the colour coded results of your soil.

The test kit comes complete with easy to follow instructions and easy colour coding to read the results.  Knowing your soil composition correlations to a happy growth for any lawn or garden area.  It takes the guess work out, saving you time and money and helping to ensure your plants have the nutrients they need.

pH – Plants need the correct pH level (which is a test of its acidity/alkalinity) which controls how well the plants will utilize the nutrients available in your soil.  All plants have a pH preference so it is important to know your ph reading in order to either amend the existing soil or match the correct plants to the pH soil level.

P – Phosphorus is required for growing plants…it is the major constituent of plant genetics and seed develop0ment.  A deficiency causes stunted growth and seed sterility.  It aids the plant in maturity, increase plant yield and maturity, increases vitamin content and aids in staving off pest, diseases and winter kill.

K – Potash strengthens the plant, it helps form carbohydrates and promotes plant synthesis…better tasting fruits and vegetables, more vivid flower colours, aids in early growth, aids in maturity, stem strength and cold hardiness.  Plants deficient in potash are usually stunted in size, growth, poor yields, have poor root systems and may have leaves that are spotted, curled and/or dried out.

N – Nitrogen is synonymous with plant nutrition.  It is directly responsible for producing leaf growth and green leaves.  A deficiency cause yellow leaves and stunted growth.  Too much nitrogen causes overabundant foliage with delayed flowering; the plant becomes subject to disease and its fruit is of poor quality.

Plants are very forgiving and will recover quickly from deficiencies if caught early.  The best way to ensure a healthy plant is to test before planting and/or test regularly.  Organic amendments regularly will help to ensure a natural balance in the soils.

See you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Children in the Garden

If we are to enjoy, protect and benefit from the earth and all that it creates, then it is necessary to engage children…the younger the better to teach them the joy of gardening, the sacredness of the earth and all that it offers.  For they will grow just as plants do and they will become caretakers of earth, for we are all part of something so much greater then our own individuality.

There is nothing more satisfying then growing your own flowers, trees, plants,  fruits and vegetables with a child and experience their joy, enthusiasm and wonder…so incredibly precious through the eyes of a child.  Gardening is magical, we have only to experience children in the garden with us to see and feel the magic of being part of the ecosystem of the earth.  These two little girls are my beautiful granddaughters.  They are almost 2 & 4 and are the perfect age to garden.  My oldest granddaughter has been gardening with mommy since she could walk so she is well versed with watering…it is her favourite activity besides making mud pies for daddy!

It is important to be safe in the garden.  So we purchased childrens’ garden gloves at the local store.  We put on our gum boots and we only have organic soils to use.  Which is important since my youngest granddaughter, Ashlyn decided she needed to taste the soil to see if it passed inspection.   And of course safety also means never leaving them unattended or unsupervised.

Gardening with them was an incredibly satisfying and fun adventure, watching them laugh and learn about all living things.

Each of the girls helped to plant a cedar tree in a pot to put on daddy’s deck.  Ryla who is almost four ask if the tree would grow today.  I explained to her that it grows like she does from the food and water we feed it and the sunshine it receives…slowly but surely getting bigger and bigger…just like her.

Then we watered the strawberries making a liquid organic fertilizer from the organic soil and water and added it to the strawberries which have not woken up for the season.

A Country Garden Clean up

We have been working on this property for some time now.  Although the new snow fall has halted work, it will continue this week once the snow is gone.  It is a beautiful country property with stunning garden designs that really shine with effort and hard work. 

 

Enlarging a Garden for spring bulbs!

The garden owner wanted her garden enlarged to be able to plant spring bulbs.  Her challenge is to have colour all year long in the garden.  Her back yard is fenced so deer are not a problem.  She also has a beautiful cat who helps to keep the squirrels and other critters from digging and feasting on anything she plants.  The existing garden gets plenty of sun fall to spring so it is a perfect location for her to extend.  She also has a problem with her grass…a serious lack of top soil limits the grass from growing but allows the weeds to multiply exponentially.  A common problem with lawns today.

I brought in 1/2 yard of organic garden soil, 1 bale of coconut peat, 1 pail of bone meal and 1 pail of blood meal.  It is important to amend any soil added so there is a balance of nutrients for an optimum growing medium.  The soil was unloaded one wheelbarrow at a time.  As mentioned her entire yard is fenced so the soil must be brought in one wheelbarrow at a time from her driveway.  Each wheelbarrow was mixed with the soil amendments using a pitch fork then added to the existing garden.  Remember to add enough soil so that it is approximately 2 inches higher then what you require.  The soil will settle considerably over time once you have added it.

For a small garden extension like this one, I use an edger to cut through the sod for a guide to follow the edge of the new garden area.  For a larger area or a new garden, I often use a garden hose to lay out for a guide.  A garden hose is perfect as you can adjust or rearrange it for the curves you want.  Then I use the edger to cut through the soil or sod to follow as a guide.

I took all of the sod out first and then used a pitch fork (my favorite tool) to work up the existing soil to about 4 to 6 inches.  Then I added the new amendment of soil and worked it into the existing soil making sure it was well blended.  Carrollyne is very happy with her new garden.  She loves how rich the soil is and said it was a pleasure to plant with bulbs.  Her only challenge was her beautiful kitty…who thought the new garden was for her, so Carrollnye used chicken wire over the top to keep her kitty out!

Cheers!  See you in the garden or the garden centre! 🙂

20160926_134134-1-625x351 taking-the-sod-out

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