Gardening Etcetera: How to solve the dreaded dearth of dirt dilemma – Arizona Daily Sun

gardening-etcetera:-how-to-solve-the-dreaded-dearth-of-dirt-dilemma-–-arizona-daily-sun

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Gardening Etcetera: How to solve the dreaded dearth of dirt dilemma

The dirt in this garden will be spread out, then a layer of organic matter like compost will be spread on top, after which all of it will be mixed together before adding plants, water, and fertilizer.

CINDY MURRAY

CINDY MURRAY
Dear Master Gardener,I’d like to put an in-ground vegetable garden in my backyard, but my soil is quite cindery. Where can I get some dirt that I can mix with compost, which I have lots of, to make some decent soil?Dear Vegetable Gardener,You’re not the only northern Arizona gardener suffering from a dearth of dirt. We’ve received a number of inquiries such as yours. Yes, it is essential to start with the proper growing medium (soil) for vegetables.Good soil consists of these components: approximately 50% mineral matter, which I call dirt; 5-10% organic matter, like compost or aged animal manure; and 20-25% each of air space and water.The Landscape Connection in Flagstaff sells dirt by the cubic yard (one scoop from a loader backhoe) or by the five-gallon bucket. They also offer steer manure, and topsoil containing 20% mule manure.Warner’s Nursery and Landscape Co. and Viola’s Flower Garden sell soil/dirt, bagged with varying ratios of mineral components to organic matter. Always call ahead to be certain these businesses have exactly what you need. Dirt shouldn’t consist of just vermiculite and sand, nor should it simply be forest product with other organic stuff and vermiculite.If you should ever need compost, NAU makes their own, which is available to purchase April to October through the Surplus Department.Purchase enough soil so your garden plot will eventually contain about 12-18 inches of dirt (depending on whether you plant shallow-rooted vegetables like lettuce or deeper-rooted ones like tomatoes) and several inches of organic material. (You’ll likely need to make a frame or raised bed to hold all of this). Once the dirt and organic matter have been mixed together and water added, microorganisms will resume decomposing the organic stuff, releasing vital nutrients for your veggies. Simultaneously, organisms will go about promoting the formation of materials like soil aggregates and humus that will, in due course, make your soil all the more fertile and water retentive, while building structure and texture conducive to strong root growth. All your garden needs now are seeds or seedlings, sunshine, water, a bit of fertilizer, and an addition of compost each fall, and your garden will be off to the races!Dear Master Gardener,I read your article on prevention of early blight on tomato published in Gardening Etc. September 26 last year. I’d like to take early blight prevention one step further and purchase tomato plants resistant to this disease. Is there any such thing?Dear Tomato Aficionado,Yes, here’s a sampling of varieties that manifest some resistance to early blight, but you must keep in mind that none of them are a sure bet.“Defiant” yields medium-sized tomatoes after a growing period (transplant to harvest) of 70 days. Its growth habit is determinate, meaning the plant stops growing once the fruit is set on the flowers. Additionally, the fruit matures earlier than indeterminate varieties. “Legend,” also determinate, is known for setting fruit without a pollinator and in cooler weather. It reaches maturity in 68 days.As suggested by its name, “Mountain Fresh Plus” thrives in cooler, moister conditions than most other tomato varieties and bears large fruit. Its growth habit is determinate and requires 79 days.Because the heirlooms “black krim” and “black plum” tomatoes have an indeterminate habit, they grow continuously and need staking. Both varieties require around 75-82 days to mature. Moreover, both are “true to seed,” meaning that the seeds will yield the same type of tomato as the parent. “Black plum” is known for tolerating cooler as well as hot, dry climates.“Red Currant” decks-out with hundreds of extra-small tomatoes, while “yellow pear” presents small, yellow fruit and is somewhat cold-tolerant. Both are indeterminate and require 70 days to grow.Dear Master Gardener,My neighbor told me not to chuck charcoal ashes into my compost bin. Why?Dear Composter,Basically, we consumers don’t know what additives charcoal contains, so it’s best to avoid it. Not only that, charcoal ashes are on the alkaline (basic as opposed to acidic) end of the pH scale. Since our soil is already alkaline, we certainly don’t need or even want it in our soil.Cindy Murray is a biologist, co-editor of Gardening Etc. and a Coconino Master Gardener with Arizona Cooperative Extension.If you have a gardening question, send a message to [email protected] and a Coconino Master Gardener will answer your question.

The dirt in this garden will be spread out, then a layer of organic matter like compost will be spread on top, after which all of it will be mixed together before adding plants, water, and fertilizer.

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