August 30, 2011
By Helen Atthowe, Guest Writer
Join us at VegFest on Sept. 17 & 18 as Helen Atthowe, Organic and Veganic Farming Consultant, will be giving two fun and highly informative presentations on growing your own organic garden without animal by-products.
Now is the time to think about soil fertility in our veganic gardens. The most important place to start is with organic matter. Good soil is kept healthy with annual organic matter applications. The obvious choices are composts that don't contain manure, green manures, and mulches, including leaves, straw, and hay. Some of these choices are more challenging to handle. Let's look at some of the best veganic gardening choices in detail.
Grow your own fertilizer! Green manures can include vegetation you plant, such as clover or ryegrass, or they can be a patch of lawn that you till in for a garden area. Thinking of getting rid of lawn for a garden next year? You are looking at green fertilizer gold! Mow as short as possible and cover with an 8" deep layer of mulch or black weed fabric (available from most nurseries and garden supply stores). Wait until vegetation just starts to green up in the spring, then remove the mulch and till in the lawn on a warm, dry day.
You will probably have to till at least one more time to expose and dry out the roots of the lawn. Bluegrass lawns are hard to kill and keep cropping back up in gardens if you’re not careful. But tilled-in bluegrass provides a very nice balance of plant nutrients to the soil, almost a 1:1:1 ratio of nitrogen:phosphorus:potassium, just like a good bag of fertilizer. Except it's free, unpackaged, and did not have to be purchased from a dubious corporate source.
Green manures can be planted right now. ASAP. Plant green manures in parts of the garden where crops are finished or sow beneath plants that are finishing up, like tomatoes. Legumes such as clovers and Austrian winter peas add more nitrogen than grasses such as annual ryegrass. Annual green manures are easiest to handle in small spaces. My favorite annual clover is Berseem clover. Green manures can be challenging in small gardens because they often refuse to die when it is convenient for gardeners to start their spring gardens. You can help them along by spraying with a high concentration of vinegar if they refuse to submit.
You can also add mulches to your garden now. Leaves, straw, and hay all add carbon, meaning organic matter, to garden soil. Leaf, straw, and hay mulches are usually low in nitrogen, the nutrient that makes crops grow large and vibrantly. Alfalfa hay provides the best nitrogen levels. Leaves and straw should be tilled in with an added nitrogen source such as alfalfa meal and allowed to decompose for 3-4 weeks before planting in the spring.
Other organic residues can be added to your soil. Look around your garden and get creative. You can add almost any plant waste that is easily available. As a general rule, try to balance green and succulent organic residues with brown and dry residues.
Veganic gardening is not hard if you start with soil health basics. A good soil is at the root of it all--literally! Fertilizing your garden with materials you grow is a green revolution that does not require murder and mayhem. What could be more beautiful?