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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Got Compost: Soil. It's What You Find Under Your Feet!

Got Compost: Soil. It's What You Find Under Your Feet!: What’s the difference between soil and dirt? Dirt is what you find under your fingernails. Soil is what you find under your feet. Think of s...

Soil. It's What You Find Under Your Feet!

What’s the difference between soil and dirt? Dirt is what you find under your fingernails. Soil is what you find under your feet. Think of soil as a thin living skin that covers the land. It goes down into the ground just a short way. Even the most fertile topsoil is only a foot or so deep. Soil is more than rock particles. It includes all the living things and the materials they make or change.
Soil Organic Matter (SOM) is that fraction of the soil composed of anything that once lived. Most soil lacks enough organic matter to support healthy plant growth. The Strive for 5% campaign was developed to help us increase SOM for healthy soil!
Truly healthy soil has between 3% and 5% organic material. That level can be maintained ONLY IF you add organic matter to the soil at the surface year in and year out. The plants, the earthworms, and the microbes need that additional matter to sustain a healthy soil. In the woods and prairies, that added organic matter came from dead leaves or dead grasses decomposing each year. We need to replicate that process in our lawns to be able to maintain a healthy organic content in our soil.

But few residential landscapes have soil this rich with organic material. The reality is that the soil under American lawns typically contains less than 1% organic material. This is because over a ten or twenty year period not only was no new organic material introduced, but the most abundant natural sources such as leaves and grass clippings were regularly collected and disposed of in our weekly trash pick-up.
A healthy soil needs a steady source of new organic material. It is constantly decomposing and yielding nutrients for the grass plants and must be replaced. The black fibrous material (called "humus") that results from the decomposition of grass clippings and other organic material eventually has little food value left. But, it does have enormous value in aerating the soil, in storing water, and in feeding key microorganisms needed for other tasks.

While leaving grass clippings on the lawn provides some organic material, it is not enough to consistently provide 3 or 5 %. You must provide more. And how may I provide more organic matter, you might ask? The answer is simple; STA Certified Compost! Applying a layer of compost to lawns twice a year (called 'top dressing') adds vital nutrients, increasing soil's water holding capacity and soil structure. Top Dressing is widely recognized by landscape pros as the most environmentally responsible method of lawn care. Compost is also beneficial for erosion control, turf establishment, tree & shrub backfill mix and used in flower & vegetable gardens for vibrant blooms and healthy veggies.
STA Certified Harvest Blend Compost can do many things for your soil. Benefits include:
·        Improving soil structure, porosity and density to ensure a healthier root environment
·        Infiltrating heavy soils, thereby reducing erosion
·        Increasing water holding capacity of soil so that water is used more efficiently
·        Stabilizing pH and improving the soil’s ability to hold nutrients
·        Supplying valuable microbes, micro and macronutrients and organic matter to the soil environment
·        Helps to suppress soil-borne plant pathogens
·        Binds and degrades specific pollutants
We encourage you to schedule a visit to one of the participating STA composting facilities to get a first hand look at the commercial composting process. To locate a facility in your area, visit & click on "Buying Compost" under the Resources tab. Please visit the US Composting Council’s website for more information on the Consumer Compost Use Program and all issues related to compost.
And if you need compost for your next landscaping project, be sure to give us a call us @ (805) 925-2771 or email For the scoop on compost visit

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Got Compost: Cover Crops - Summer and Winter

Got Compost: Cover Crops - Summer and Winter: "Why should I plant a summer cover crop? You can get a head start on improving the quality of your garden soil for next season with some sim..."

Cover Crops - Summer and Winter

Why should I plant a summer cover crop?
You can get a head start on improving the quality of your garden soil for next season with some simple steps taken in the summer - boost the amount of organic matter in your soil with summer cover crops.  A summer cover crop will add significant amounts of organic matter to your soil, yielding a variety of long term benefits. Increased organic matter improves the water holding capacity of soil, improves drainage in clay soils and provides a range of macro and micro nutrients that optimize plant health. In a recent study conducted by a university Ag Department in the mid-west, plants that were grown in soils amended with compost did significantly better than those grown in un-amended soil.
Summer’s the perfect time to fix problem soil, so why not go all out! Work 1½-2” of compost into soil before planting your cover crop and you’ll have a vital foundation for future vegetable gardens. After compost has been added just scatter some seeds, water and before you know it you’ll have a carpet of green. A crop of hairy vetch and rye will add nitrogen equivalent to 13 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 57 lbs. of biomass to a 400 ft garden.
What are the best seeds to use?
There are several choices for cover summer cover crops in our area. Legumes of any kind make a great cover crop (peas, beans, soybeans, etc.) because they add significant amounts of organic matter and help fix nitrogen in the soil by taking it from the air and passing it into the soil through nodules on its roots.  Buckwheat is another great choice. It’s known for its ability to keep unwanted plants in check, making weeding even easier. It matures quickly and can be tilled or dug in in as little as 4-5 weeks. (Remember that even if the cover crop doesn’t reach full growth while in your plot, whatever green stuff is there when you turn it into the soil will make a difference.) It also has pretty white blossoms but be sure to cut them before they go to seed. Another fast grower is annual rye grass which yields huge amounts of organic matter after only several weeks of growth.
How do I do it?
If you can sow seeds you can grow a cover crop. Whenever you have an area that’ll be unused for more than a few weeks, a cover crop can go in. Scatter seeds over the area, rake them in - more vigorously for large seeds like peas- and then water just like you do the rest of your garden. If there is enough time for the crop to get several inches high turning it under is easier if you mow it first. The mowing also chops the plants into smaller pieces which will break down more quickly in the soil. The plants should be turned in when they are in about 75% flower or, for buckwheat, when frost is near, whichever is sooner.  A series of cover crops can be grown, one right after the other, if there is enough time in the season. 
What about winter cover crops?
You bet! Cooler temps limit the variety of cover crops we can successfully grow, but there are a couple that will do the job.
For organic matter -  Winter rye is excellent. It grows vigorously and produces lots of green stuff to turn under come spring. Just remember to turn it under at least 2 weeks (more is better) before you wish to plant your edible crops.
For nitrogen fixing -  Austrian winter peas or hairy vetch produce a surplus of nitrogen fixing legumes for spring turning. And those few that don’t get turned in will give you some lovely blossoms, interesting greenery and make for some very happy bees!

Where can I get the seeds?
Check with your local nurseries or garden supply centers. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, click on Peaceful Valley Farm Supply - they’re a great source of many different types of cover crop seeds.
Remember, building your soil through the addition of organic matter is one of the best things you can do for your lawn and garden. Naturally!
Keep in mind the benefits compost offers lawns. A fine layer of compost spread over grass is called top dressing. Experts recommend top dressing lawns twice a year; during spring and fall. For the more info on lawn top dressing, click here.