Feb. 06, 2019 | Donna Balzer
February in the garden: Tired soils need a little TLC
What do you do if you only have one sunny bed to grow tomatoes and you use that same bed every year?
It may seem too early to chat about tomatoes, but like other gardeners, you might already be thinking about buying seed and questions are bound to follow.
If you grow in the same tiny bed every year, for instance, I suggest buying straw bales and complete organic fertilizer this spring.
I am not positive where it originated, but the oldest mention of straw-bale gardening I've encountered is in the 1930s book The Amateur's Greenhouse
by A. J. Macself. In the book, Macself recommends cultivating on straw bales for gardens "badly contaminated with pests and diseases."
If your soils are "tired," simply source and buy organic straw bales and place them on edge right on top of the existing soil. Do this soon and bales will be "conditioned" in snow, rain and sun before planting season arrives.
Adding fresh manure or compost in winter, and a touch of organic tomato fertilizer along the top edge of the bale in spring, speeds the conditioning process.
In spring, plant your expertly grown tomato seedlings right into the degraded straw. Since the bale and manure are "new" every year, there is no chance of disease or deficiency.
Fertilizer with micronutrients
Most fertilizers list nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium among their main ingredients, but dig a bit deeper when you buy fertilizers for worn out soils. Look for organic fertilizers with micronutrients. Why organic? These products tend to be low in salt, so they are less damaging to soil life. Organics also offer extra, often unknown, minerals to the plant.
The problem with growing the same food in the same space year after year is that every plant has its own preferences when it comes to nutrients. For instance, if micronutrient boron is missing, plants are travelling blind and can't find the other nutrients. So even if plants are given the primary nutrients they need to thrive, a Boron deficiency could lead to disease in your garden.
If you only have one ideal bed for tomatoes, simply add a whole straw bale annually, top it up with freshly made compost and add organic fertilizers with micronutrients. With that done, you'll be well on your way to happy, healthy plants.
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