Garden Soil: What You Need to Know

Healthy Soil

What is (garden) Soil?

Soil is so much more than dirt. Soil is a living ecosystem— a large community of living organisms linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Every teaspoon of soil is home to billions of microorganisms — bacteria, fungi, nematodes, insects, and earthworms that play important roles.

And trying to improve the health of your garden soil is not as complicated as some people suggest. Let’s look at some of the important soil components.

Good soil needs to have organic matter. Organic materials are carbon-based compounds used by gardeners to help their plants grow. This includes compost, green manure, leaf mold, and animal manure. If your soil is sandy or has heavy clay, organic matter improves the structure of the soil and hence helps with water drainage. Organic matter also feeds the soil with microorganisms and insects, creating a good environment for soil microbes which eventually enhances a plant’s health and growth. Soil that is rich in organic matter tends to be darker and crumbles off of the roots of plants you pull up. A healthy, spread-out root system is also a sign of good soil.

Soil pH is another important factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Soil pH is the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. It’s a scale that runs from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral and if the number decreases from 7, the acidity increases and if the number increases from 7, the alkalinity increases. Plant nutrients become available or unavailable according to the soil’s pH level. The essential nutrients are most available to most plants at a pH between 6 to 7.5. Soil pH can be measured and altered as per one’s requirements.

Water and air are also important for good soil health. Roots and microbes need varying amounts of water and air and the microenvironments in the soil help with this. Soil compaction and disturbance disturb this balance and hence it is important to minimize soil compaction.

So, the next time when you are in the garden center trying to figure out which bags of soil to pick for your vegetable or ornamental garden, remember that you already have soil in your garden. All you might need to do is take a closer look at it and try to identify what it is missing. Feel the soil. Smell it. Get your hands dirty. You have to understand your soil before you start growing plants in it. And trust me its not that difficult. I am not an expert and I did it, so can you!

Mohan Iyer

iyermohank@gmail.com

Mississauga Master Gardeners

References

//extension.umn.edu/

JOE LAMP’L www.growingagreenerworld.com

Lee Reich- www.finegardening.com

Lawns–Biological Deserts

                                                                                         Photo courtesy of National Science Foundation

A friend of mine has spent over $15,000 in the last 4 years on his front yard and backyard- it is but natural to ask “Why?’”

His answer was “To grow a lawn,” or more specifically turf (here, turf is defined as the grass and the surface layer of earth held together by its roots). When I heard this, I was aghast!

Lawns are dead ecosystems. They are equivalent to concrete footpaths when it comes to their ecological contribution. Yet home owners in North America collectively spend billions of dollars trying to perfect the art of turf maintenance. What a marketing success, I must say.

Lawn was historically grown by the elites in Europe- especially in England and France. The climatic conditions there are well suited for the growth of grass. European colonizers (English and French) introduced grass to North America, among other places in the world.

In North America one had to be very affluent to be able to maintain large areas of turf. Before the invention of the lawn mower, maintenance required a substantial commitment of manual labour. Even today, some suburban homeowner’s associations fine homeowners for not maintaining their lawns according to set standards. This, after large academic studies show that that present day lawns are one of the best examples of unsustainable practices.

Lawns are monocultures which makes them biological deserts. Monocultures like lawns support very little in terms of species diversity. At the same time, they are easily susceptible to invasive species, diseases and other biotic outbreaks. To counter them we treat the lawn with a whole horde of chemicals. This clearly shows that the lawn cannot sustain itself and needs constant care- “lawn care”.

Not only that, lawns are the largest irrigated crops, contribute to runoff, consume a lot of energy (gasoline and electricity for maintenance machinery), and require chemical pollutants and toxins to keep them looking their best. Still, after all this work, lawns have very little ecological value.

Our standard lawn growing and maintenance practices are unsustainable and cause substantial degradation to the ecosystem. A study from the University of California-Irvine found that the total estimated greenhouse gas emissions from lawn care –which includes fertilizer and pesticide production, watering, mowing, leaf blowing and other lawn management practices–was four times greater than the amount of carbon dioxide stored by grass. In other words, our lawns and their maintenance generate four times the amount of carbon dioxide they absorb.

So, how do we go about fixing this problem? Well, all is not lost. There are various lawn alternatives that are ecologically friendly and help in creating a balance in the natural environment.

Imagine yourself as a tired insect or a bird and are looking at the landscape from a few hundred feet above. Where would you want to land? On a large green patch of grass that has very little to offer in terms of food and shelter? Or would you like to land on a patch that has cozy leaf litter for shelter, a few juicy herbaceous plants for nectar and berries, and a small watering hole to cool down? I know what I would choose.

This spring, when you step out into your backyard and start planning your garden maintenance program, pause. Take a step back. Think. Think of all the possibilities that you have, all the great options that are available to reduce the amount of lawn. Think of this as great opportunity, an opening to create an ecosystem, to create your own garden of Eden. Think of what you can do to bring nature back to your home, to your very own backyard.

MOHAN IYER

IYERMOHANK@GMAIL.COM

MISSISSAUGA MASTER GARDENERS

REFERENCES

HTTPS://EARTHER.GIZMODO.COM/LAWNSAREANECOLOGICALDISASTER-1826070720

HTTP://EMERALDREVIEW.COM/AMERICANLAWNSPOINTOFPRIDEORECOLOGICALDISASTER/

HTTPS://WWW.LOSETHELAWN.COM/LOSE_LAWN_ARTICLE.PHP

MMG FALL PLANT SALE Saturday October 5th, 2019 at the Port Credit Library

MISSISSAUGA MASTER GARDENER’s FALL PLANT SALE
Saturday October 5, 2019  10am-2pm  at the Port Credit Library

Did you know that fall is a great time to plant?  Perennials are able to concentrate on root development during the autumn as above ground growth slows.

So join us on Saturday October 5th at the Port Credit Library to get some new plants for your garden.  Opportunity all day to have your garden questions answered by the experts.  Spring bulbs (to plant this fall) will be for sale as well.

Presentations:
11 am – Pollination and Growing Native Plants

12 pm – Preparing Your Garden for Winter

See you there!

 

MMG SPRING PLANT SALE …. Saturday, May 26th 2018 … 10 am to 2 pm

Master Gardener and local horticultural society plant sales are an excellent way to acquire more plants for your garden at very reasonable prices.  These plants are tried and true for local growing conditions.

MGs will be on hand to answer your garden questions and chat about any garden issues, so bring your questions along.
We’d be happy to discuss plant choices with you, best locations  for your plants and how to take care of your plant purchases.

Master Gardeners are in a class of their own: Mark Cullen | Toronto Star column

When it comes to cultivating passion, energy and talent, Canada’s Master Gardeners are standouts.

Master Gardeners are dedicated to the art and science of gardening. And, with their generosity of knowledge and time — on public garden tours, at local horticulture societies, at small shows and big ones such as Canada Blooms and in various online forums — they help sustain a broader community of Canadian gardeners.

The term, or title, Master Gardener is not one that is simply pulled out of the air — or the soil. The real dirt:

In the early 1970s, Washington State University developed the concept that volunteers could get horticulture training they would then share with their communities. The title Master Gardener was borrowed from Germany, where the highest title for horticulture was “Gartenmeister,” which translated to Master Gardener.

Journey North: As the Master Gardener program began to sweep across the U.S. in the early 1970s, Dave Omrod, a plant pathologist in British Columbia was taking note of a problem north of the border: garden centre staff were often ill-equipped with the necessary knowledge to advise backyard gardeners. Omrod joined Bill Peters, a B.C. horticulture specialist, to adapt the Washington State U. curriculum to their west-coast province. They started with a six-week course for willing volunteers. It was an instant success.

With help from a handful of universities and provincial agriculture ministries, the program moved its way across Canada throughout the 1980s.

During the 1990s, provincial governments gradually withdrew financial support, which led to the Master Gardener programs becoming established through independent not-for-profits.

Completing the Master Gardener program is no easy feat.
Completing the Master Gardener program is no easy feat.

Becoming a Master Gardener: There is no shortcut. Achieved through the Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc., the title’s authority is well-earned.

  • Future Master Gardeners start with an entry exam and then are interviewed to assess their potential for “public service and volunteerism.” If they pass, they become “Master Gardeners in Training” (MGiT).
  • Once a MGiT, they must do 30 hours of annual public service and attend a minimum number of monthly meetings. Plus, there’s an educational component that can take up to three years and ends with a comprehensive exam for certification.
  • While a handful of universities offer Master Gardener Certificate programs, regional chapters often have more-affordable self-study options.
  • All Master Gardeners pay a small annual fee to support the ongoing activities of the organization.

Why become a Master Gardener? To borrow an old advertising slogan from American Express: It has its privileges. Those include access to technical updates with industry experts. As well, the designation provides access to a group of passionate, community-minded people with a common interest.

The Master Gardener program was founded on the principle of teaching volunteers skills they could take back to their communities.
The Master Gardener program was founded on the principle of teaching volunteers skills they could take back to their communities.

Where to find them: Master Gardeners are often present wherever gardening touches our lives:

  • Doing speaking engagements at local horticulture or service clubs.
  • At botanical and display gardens across Canada, where they share both their expertise and physical labour skills.
  • Online, where they offer rich resources and answer your questions. Or over the phone, if you prefer the analog approach.
  • Look up a seed exchange or a plant sale, where Master Gardeners are often the driving force.
  • Schools invite Master Gardeners to take part in the teaching curriculum.
  • Townships often call upon Master Gardeners when looking for advice about green initiatives in their communities.

In countless and often invisible ways, Master Gardeners contribute much to the gardening community at large, elevating both our appreciation and knowledge of horticulture over the years. You could call them the superheroes in our midst

Source: Master Gardeners are in a class of their own: Mark and Ben Cullen | Toronto Star