As the temperatures rise a bit each week, I’m getting the chance to bury my fingers in the soil more frequently. It feels great!
Organic farmers have long held with the mantra, “Feed the soil, not the plant,” meaning that the best long-term and sustainable way to produce healthy plants is to care for the soils that they are growing in, rather than just caring for the needs of the plants on an annual basis. One of my favorite ways to care for the garden soils is by growing several types of cover crops as green manure. I’ll get more excited about that aspect in a few months, when outdoor crops are actually growing.
Right now, I’m focused on potting soil.
For quite a few years, I have been using a soil-less potting mix produced in Minnesota. I buy several pallets worth of bags and stack it in my basement where I fill and seed the flats. The mix is organic, and is made up of composted tree bark, peat and poultry litter. Most of my starts are transplanted to the garden within 3-5 weeks, and don’t need any supplemental feeding with this mix. But some plants, like onions, tomatoes and peppers, spend up to 8 weeks growing in flats, and they need additional fertility to produce a healthy transplant. For the last few years, I have been adding some liquid fish emulsion to their water once a week, with decent results.
This year I’m very excited about a newly available local product: worm castings from TLC Organics. TLC is Tom and Leslie Cook, and they are running an impressive operation out of their shop east of Decorah. My girls and I got a personal tour of their operation this winter, and I immediately purchased 500lbs of castings!
Using local muck soil, minerals and organic feed, Tom has hundreds of thousands of worms on a rotation. Every day he works with a portion of them, feeding them and sifting out the eggs. When the worms have thoroughly worked through their box of soil, they are placed in a new medium and their castings are bagged and sold.
Worm castings are an amazing product that I have read about for year. To have a local, reasonably-priced source is great, and I am following the recommended proportions of 1 part castings to 2-3 parts potting soil for my vegetable seedlings. Because the soil passes through the worm, it comes to life with micro-organisms and the micro nutrients in the soil are much more available to the plants. The soil ‘crumb’ is a great size, with lots of air pockets in between each piece, creating a healthy environment for plant roots. Many people swear by the beneficial effects of worm castings on their plants. While I can’t afford to broadcast the castings over my whole garden, I will hopefully have really healthy and vigorous transplants this year!
You can purchase the above products in Decorah for your own house plants, vegetables, flowers and trees. Mississippi Topsoil’s “Soil Essentials” is carried by Henzler’s Garden Shop. TLC Organics will have their magical worm castings available around town this spring in bags from one to 100- pound quantities. Look for it at the Oneota Coop, local garden centers and maybe at the Farmers Market.
We still have CSA memberships available this spring! Check out our patchworkgreen.com website for descriptions and ordering information if you have not signed up yet. Join the bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks and robins in welcoming spring to Iowa!
Have a great week, Erik Sessions, Patchwork Green Farm