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Beating Weeds and Building Soil with Garden Cover Crops Blog I keep looking for ways to improve my garden soil without spending a lot of money. Cover crops do this quite well. The seed is cheap, and the crops dont require much maintenance, though choosing them and timing their planting take some attention. Cover crops protect the soil from being compacted by repeated freezing and thawing over the winter. Ive planted frost-hardy annual ryegrass and oats as late as September--right around the first frost where I live--and had them grow a good soil-protecting mat before the ground froze hard. During the growing season cover crops can outcomp...

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Mulch Makes the Most of Gardening Resources Blog Mulching helps me get more from my water, time, fertilizer and energy. Ive written about how mulch helps me deal with hot and cold, wet and dry. It also smothers weeds and enriches soil during the growing season and protects soil structure from repeated freezing and thawing in winter. There are many materials you can use as mulch. Lawn clippings add nitrogen to the soil as they decompose. They may be weed-free if you mow your lawn before anything goes to seed in it. Be careful of clippings from lawns that have been treated with herbicide; it can kill garden plants. Keep the layer of...

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Getting Local Garden Information Blog I learn a lot from garden books written by authors from different parts of the country, but sometimes I have to figure out how to adapt that information for my region. For example, the excellent book on growing garlic by someone in the hot dry Southwest gives mulching and planting dates about a month ahead of mine and doesnt say anything about how to cope with overly wet summers. Its really helpful to have good local info. If you know experienced gardeners in your neighborhood youre all set. If not, here are some sources to try: Cooperative Extensions operate out of land-grant u...

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Poison-Free Pest Control for the Garden Blog Its maddening to spend weeks watering and weeding a garden bed only to have it decimated by insect pests. I refuse to use commercial pesticides, given the health risks they pose both to humans and to beneficial insects like bees. I prefer other methods for pest control and am always on the lookout for new strategies. The first step is to pay attention. I walk my garden regularly, looking for signs of damage--wilted or spotted leaves, chewed leaves and stems, etc. that way I spot some pest problems before they become overwhelming. Some insects can be controlled by hand-picking. Ma...

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Cheap and Easy Composting Blog I enjoy converting my kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost for my garden. Ive been able to produce all that I need without paying for tumblers or special equipment or following any very scientific regimen. Books say that compost should contain about 2/3 materials high in carbon (like hay, straw and leaves) and 1/3 materials high in nitrogen (like fresh grass clippings, weeds, and food scraps). I dont measure what I add, but I keep layering in different types of material. If the pile is slow to decompose I know it needs either more water or more nitrogen-rich materia...

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Crop Rotation: What Goes Where? Blog Every winter I have a lot of fun flipping through plant catalogs, dreaming of harvests that are months away. But I also invest some time in thinking about planning my crop rotation. That time pays off, harvest after harvest, providing important benefits that improve my gardens yield. Rotation improves soil fertility. Heavy feeders like lettuce and broccoli take a lot of nitrogen out of the soil. If I grew them in the same place year after year my yields would go down, or Id have to add a lot of fertilizer. Legumes like peas and beans replenish the nitrogen the soil will need to supp...

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Garden Records--What’s Worth Keeping? Blog Every year I keep a list of things I want to do better in the next years garden. Every year keep better records is on that list. Im still figuring out what better means for me. At first I tried journal entries for each days work. This was fun in March and April, but by August I felt too busy to write. And the next winter it was hard to get information quickly out of this log. Now I use a just a few quick-reference records. My map shows where Ive planted things. I need this to plan crop rotation so that the soil doesnt get depleted and diseases dont recur. Ive assigned each garde...

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Weird Weather 2: When It Rains, It Pours Blog Last time, I wrote about some of the ways wild temperature swings make garden plan-ning harder. Another problematic aspect of climate change is altered rain pattern. In recent years some parts of the country have undergone catastrophic droughts or floods. I havent had to deal with anything so drastic, but Ive had very dry summers where plants wilted and grew slowly and very wet ones where diseases spread fast and plants grew mold. For dry times, Im learning to avoid wasting water by getting water straight to plant roots and keeping it off leaves. For big upright plants like tomatoes I...

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