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Friday, October 28, 2011

Got Compost: Cover Crops & Compost - Protect Your Soil

Got Compost: Cover Crops & Compost - Protect Your Soil: Why go to all the trouble of planting a crop you won’t be enjoying at the dinner table? There are some important reasons not to let your veg...

Cover Crops & Compost - Protect Your Soil

Why go to all the trouble of planting a crop you won’t be enjoying at the dinner table? There are some important reasons not to let your vegetable plots and planting beds go naked in the winter. Amending soil with compost and planting cover crops will keep soil healthy for next year's harvest by increasing soil fertility.
Using leguminous (from the pea family) seed for cover crops is referred to as "green manure." They’re used to manage a range of soil macronutrients and micronutrients. Of the various nutrients, the impact these cover crops have on nitrogen management has received the most attention from researchers and farmers, because nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient in crop production.
Here are more specific reasons to plant compost and cover crops -- legumes, grains and grasses -- this season:
1.      Soil quality improvements--Soil tilth is improved whenever a plant establishes roots and grows into compacted areas. Water infiltration is improved as well. When a field lays fallow for a period of time, the surface tends to seal and water will run off. Cover crops protect the soil surface and reduce sealing. Also, beneficial organisms in the soil, such as earthworms, thrive when fresh plant material is decomposing. Organic matter levels tend to improve with the addition of cover crops.
2.      Erosion control--Cover crops reduce wind and water erosion on all types of soils. By having the soil held in place by cover crops during the fall, winter, and early spring, loss of soil from erosion is greatly reduced.
  1. Fertility improvements--Legumes can add substantial amounts of available nitrogen to the soil. Non-legumes can be used to take up excess nitrogen from previous crops and recycle the nitrogen as well as available phosphorus and potassium to the following crop. This is very important after manure application, because cover crops can reduce leaching of nutrients.
  2. Suppress weeds--A dense growth of winter rye or other cover crop can suppress weeds by soil shading. Allelochemicals (toxic plant chemicals) from cover crops suppress the growth of other plants.
  3. Insect control--Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs or ground beetles, may be encouraged by planting cover crops.
So, In addition to protecting your beds from sun, rain and wind, compost and cover crops add/help build organic matter and hummus content, increase microbial activity, inhibit weed growth and increase your soil's fertility. In fact, plants leave 80 percent of their organic material in the soil, even after they're removed, thanks to their root structure. Why would you want to risk losing all that great organic material by just leaving it out to the elements?
What to plant?
Biomass crops are usually grains like wheat, rye, barley and oats. Grains should be planted in the fall while legumes and vetch can be planted almost any time except during winter freeze periods. A biomass crop also will protect your soil and add carbon to your soil. We just planted a cover crop after harvesting our last vegetable crop and ordered our seed from Of course, we cleared the plot and amended soil with Harvest Blend Compost. It's easy to get your grain seeds and mixes into the ground. Just rake the soil and "broadcast," or toss, seeds randomly. In no time, you’ll notice little green sprouts making an appearance.
Finally, you can mix legumes, grains and other crops to get a variety. But be sure to pull all the cover crops up before they go to seed in March or May or you'll find yourself overwhelmed with weeds later on.  For info on amending soil with compost, visit

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Got Compost: Peabody School Completes Playground Renovation

Got Compost: Peabody School Completes Playground Renovation: On September 30, 2011 a dedication ceremony was held at Peabody Elementary to recognize the completion of the school’s renovated playground....

Peabody School Completes Playground Renovation

On September 30, 2011 a dedication ceremony was held at Peabody Elementary, in Santa Barbara, CA, to recognize the completion of the school’s renovated playground. Representatives from Engel & Gray, Inc. were on hand to receive a certificate of thanks along with a large poster, containing messages and signatures from the students of Peabody.

Four months ago, Engel & Gray Regional Compost Facility delivered 160 cubic yards of compost to Peabody School, a participant of the City of Santa Barbara’s Food Waste Recycling program. Project manager, Jeff Holbrook, worked with Engel & Gray to arrange for delivery of the donated soil amendment, used to improve soil for a safe, revitalized playground.

Parents, students and teachers appreciate their food waste recycling program coming full circle. The students and faculty have regularly sorted their food waste and other compostables into 65 gallon bins, to be collected by Engel & Gray Regional Compost Facility in Santa Maria. Recycling Peabody’s organic materials into nutrient rich compost for use in renewing the playground is the ultimate in recycling – helping the community to successfully “Complete the Cycle”.
Santa Barbara has a waste diversion goal of 70 percent, and in 9 more years, an ambitious 85 percent.

With time, effort and education, students will learn to recycle and compost like it’s second nature. They will have years of hands-on experience sorting, recycling and composting their waste – and Engel & Gray, Inc will be on hand to serve and support the effort. Naturally!

For more all the details on compost use, click here

Friday, October 7, 2011

Got Compost: Don't Feed Your Plants. Feed Your Soil!

Got Compost: Don't Feed Your Plants. Feed Your Soil!: Still not sure why your soil needs compost? Here are a few reasons: Healthier Plants Plants do best in soil that is teeming with microorgan...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Got Compost: Don't Feed Your Plants. Feed Your Soil!

Got Compost: Don't Feed Your Plants. Feed Your Soil!: Still not sure why your soil needs compost? Here are a few reasons: Healthier Plants Plants do best in soil that is teeming with microorgan...

Don't Feed Your Plants. Feed Your Soil!

Still not sure why your soil needs compost? Here are a few reasons:

Healthier Plants
Plants do best in soil that is teeming with microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and earthworms.  These and many, many other organisms (known as soil biota) create a soil food web that provides the nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive.  All these organisms create an environment for roots that allow for uptake of nutrients.  This is natures “fertilizer”, the ingredients the forests of the world thrive upon.
Healthy plants create their own defense mechanisms that fight diseases and parasites.  Adding compost increases Soil Organic Matter, enriching soil so plants are able to draw the necessary nutrients to defeat pests. To be considered healthy, soil requires a minimum of 5% SOM (soil organic matter). Many soils contain less than 1% organic matter, preventing lawns and gardens from becoming lush and green. Think of your checking account; withdraw $20 here, $40 there, never depositing any green. You’d be bouncing checks in no time. Soil is the same. Lawns, gardens and plants ‘withdraw’ nutrients from the soil every day in order to grow. Soil needs a steady income of vital nutrients. No steady nutrient supply = bankrupt soil and lifeless plants.
Would chemical fertilizers help?
Using chemical fertilizer is like drinking a tall espresso. You get a sudden burst of energy, but benefits are short lived - soon you’re crashing, with no energy to complete your tasks. It’s the same with soil, requiring a steady source of nutrients to build healthy plants.
Conventional chemical fertilizers supply only a few nutrients.  Like all of us, plants need a wide range, and these are all provided when the soil is alive.  Organic composts are the basis of the food web from which all life feeds either directly or indirectly. Simply put - don't feed your plants, feed your soil!
Water Savings
As the level of organic matter is built up, your soil becomes more like a sponge.  Water now soaks in rather than runs off. More air space allows more water to be held, meaning you use far less water.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of compost use.  As in many states, California is in water conservation mode right now, and using compost can reduce you water consumption by as much as 50%.  How great is that! Reduce your water bill while improving/ maintaining a lush landscape.
Improved Appearance
Applying compost to soil, lawns and gardens will drastically improve the appearance of your landscape. Amending soil with compost before planting is ideal, working it into the soil to create the perfect foundation for plant life. Of course, lawns are another matter. Lawn top dressing will renew a dull lifeless lawn without having to tear out existing turf. Simply apply a thin layer of compost (¼ to ½ inch) over the lawn surface. Work it in with a rake or stiff broom, water well and in a few days your lawn will come to life. If soil is compacted, you may want to aerate first. For all the details, click here.
Less Labor
Applying a layer of compost prevents a large percentage of weeds from germinating.  For the few that do sprout, the soft soil allows them to be uprooted easily.  If cultivating the top layer of soil is part of your normal gardening chores, you can remedy that task with a layer of compost.  Soil organisms will work the organics for you. Just sit back and smell the roses!
Improved Pest Resistance
Healthy soils create healthy plants, and healthy plants are good at resisting pests and diseases.  Using insecticides kills not only the targets species, but typically kills all the organisms in the soil.  The end result is nutrient poor soil and weak plants. The cycle continues where the weaker plants are more susceptible, more pesticides are applied, etc. We don't want to ride that cycle!
For anyone who’d like more info on compost use, visit You’ll find helpful compost use tips under the DIY/Homeowner tab. If you need compost for your next project you can locate a Harvest Blend Compost dealer here.
Harvest Blend Compost - Building Healthy Soil...Naturally!