What’s new in the garden?

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By MARY MESSINA

I recently attended a workshop on soil. Since soil, together with water and sun, are the key ingredients for successfully growing flowers, fruits and vegetables, I was interested in what this “Farm to School” speaker had to say. I was astonished. As a Master Gardener, I thought I knew the best methods, but the new techniques push experienced gardeners into new ways of thinking.

No-till: Every time the soil is disturbed, beneficial organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and nematodes are destroyed. Think of an old forest where the soil has not been touched for many years, and yet it is rich enough to support not only the small plants on the forest floor, but also the huge trees. When possible, nutrients can be added by spreading compost on top of the existing soil so that rain and worms can move them into the soil below. Less work too.

Inter-planting: If different types of plants are put into the same soil space, and some care is taken in choosing the combinations, plants will put nutrients they don’t need into the soil for other plants. In this way, scientists have shown that crop rotation isn’t always necessary.

For instance, in the space our speaker planted, a branching sunflower occupied one side of a trellis, as a trap crop for aphids (meaning aphids would be attracted to the sunflower and leave other plants alone.) On the trellis’ other side, a cucumber and a trailing nasturtium were planted. The nasturtium traps flea beetles, and the flowers and leaves are edible.

Other plants were Famosa organic cabbage (does well even in hail), Forono cylindrical beets, carrots, dwarf nasturtiums (trap flea beetles), sweet alyssum (attracts good spiders that eat bad bugs), broccoli, cauliflower, kale, calendula (edible flowers), daikon radish (trap crop for flea beetles), and French marigolds that attract beneficial insects and have edible flowers. 

She planted these things from tallest to shortest which takes advantage of the canopy effect, meaning when it rains the drops come off the tallest plant leaves onto the next tallest, and so on. In this way, plants use water more efficiently, and don’t need as much.

Mary Messina is a Master Gardener who gardens southeast of Lewistown. If you would like to know more about a specific topic, email your ideas to her at mmessina@midrivers.com.

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