Sunday, September 18, 2016

Backyard Project: Soil Building verses Plant Growing

Once all of the soil beds had a layer of mulch topped with a deep layer of straw I planted literally hundreds of seeds and waited. Patiently. But nothing except the potatoes and a few nasturtiums appeared. A month later I thought I must have bought a nonviable batch of seeds so went to another place and bought more bulk seed. 
Weeks later still nothing.
Sammy thought the straw layer may be too thick preventing the seedlings from getting the light they needed to grow. 

We pulled back the straw and found these - they have lots of different names - pill bug, roly-poly, wood louse, armadillo bug, potato bug, among others. The deep straw and rich mulch provided ideal damp dark conditions for the pill bugs and many other insects, worms, slugs and ants to thrive. And they were feasting on every new shoot that dared to pop out of the ground. But at the same time, all of the bugs were doing an excellent job at breaking down the organic matter. The pill bug and his cousins are particularly adept at breaking down the cellulose in the mulch. They were well on their to making rich soil.
I had to make the decision - leave the bugs to do their work or plant more seeds so the plants can build up the soil? I decided to do both but in different beds.

Since the potato beds were doing relatively well I pulled off most of the straw on those beds. It exposed the soil to the light and it dried up a lot and I had the added task of heaping the soil up around each potato plant. There wasn't much extra soil so some of the growing potatoes were exposed to the light and developed green sides. Oh well, I was growing potatoes for soil building and there were still more than enough to eat.

After I mounded up the soil around each potato plant I planted hundreds of seeds for the third time.

In the back straw-covered beds the bugs are hard at work.
In the front is a potato bed interplanted with 5 different types of beans and 2 different types of peas. While the beans, peas and potatoes are good companions, the beans and peas have root nodules the nitrogen fixing bugs like to live on.

Within the week, a welcome sight.
It is all about learning from experience.







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