— By LARRY JONES
We’re rapidly coming up on a favorite time of year for me – springtime and time to plant my vegetable garden.
This year I’m doing things a little differently. I’m putting in the time and effort to condition my soil much better before planting. One of the first things I learned in my study of agronomy in college was the need for organic material in the soil. While growing plants need water, sunshine and fertility to exist, abundant organic matter in the growing medium is an extra piece to the puzzle. I’d equate it to the icing on the cake.
What is so important about rotten plant residue or manure being present in the soil? It performs a host of important functions. One significant feature is that it makes the soil more friable, or more easily worked. Instead of a hard-baked surface in the Texas sun, it remains soft and crumbles to the touch. In addition to keeping the soil particles from clinging tightly together and separating them with humus, the organic matter allows for moisture to more easily soak into the ground.
Furthermore, it allows the soil to hold the moisture better, making it more accessible to the growing plants. Another great benefit of adding this compost is the addition of vital nutrients. I have never been a great stickler for touting the value of organic nutrients over the addition of commercial fertilizer. However, I will add that nutrients derived from manure or compost are normally comprised of simpler chemical compounds that the plants can absorb more easily.
About five years ago the tree service that trimmed the high line right-of-ways for Tri-County Electric were looking for a place to dump the tree trimming residue they ran through their chipper machine. I was more than happy to accommodate them. They dumped a dozen or more truck loads in the pasture across the road from my house. Rotting and composting for all these years, I decided it was time to put it to good use. With my front-end loader, I spread about a six-inch layer over my entire garden, and incorporated it into the soil with my tiller. I should have done it several months ago, but the extremely dry fall conditions made it too difficult.
Being the ever hopeful old farmer, I look forward to seeing how this turns out. Several years back I tried a similar tack. Roy Bell operated a dairy just up the road from me, and he told me I could have all the composted “cow byproduct” I wanted to put on my garden. I borrowed his spreader and, like President Obama, slung an enormous amount of it.
I was highly optimistic of the prospects. I proceeded to lay off rows and plant my onions and potatoes around the first of March. When I checked on them the following morning, I had maybe a half dozen onion plants left out of five-to-six bunches. Cutworms had ravaged them overnight. It turned out the composted manure seemed to be comprised of at least 90 percent cutworm eggs and noxious weed and grass seed.
This year I asked my wife, Pastor Helen, to add my garden to her congregation’s prayer concerns. Please Lord, don’t let my composted tree trimmings turn into cutworms and crabgrass!
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to email@example.com.