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Garden Revival Susan Rehner


ompost and eco-mulches were the focus of the GrassRoots Growers’ speaker event on April 12, and there was a good turnout to hear what Astrid Muschalla had to say on the subject. After the long winter, audience members were eager to get into gardening mode and wanted to learn new techniques for enriching their soil and increasing the productivity of their gardens. Astrid did not disappoint. She began her presentation by asking the audience how soil differs from dirt. The answer: soil is alive with microorganisms and invertebrates, while dirt is lifeless. Astrid illustrated the concept of soil as a complex living system by showing a Soil Food Web, complete with microorganisms – fungi, bacteria, algae, and protozoa; and invertebrates — such as earthworms, nematodes, spiders, and insects (especially ants). These microorganisms and invertebrates form a community of soil organisms, and many of them play a key role in the health of the soil by aerating it, breaking down organic material, and releasing the nutrients that plants can use to grow. Healthy soil is essential to growing healthy plants. If synthetic chemicals are applied to the soil and the plants growing there, Astrid cautioned that the intricate food web would be harmed. So also could the insects, birds, and animals that feed on the soil organisms, that pollinate the

plants, and that consume the plants produced there. Soil needs organic matter to support plant life, and the best way to provide organic matter is to compost plant material. Astrid showed us a variety of composting bins and methods. Leaves, according to Astrid, are an excellent material to compost, and she doesn’t mix or chop them first. She rakes them into a pile or cage in the fall and lets the bacteria and fungi begin to break them down throughout the fall and winter. Leaf mould, the product of composted leaves, is highly recommended as a soil conditioner, as it retains moisture. When planting in the spring, Astrid takes layers of the partly decomposed leaves and puts them down in sheets around plants in the garden. This is an easy mulching technique which preserves the fungi growing amid the leaf layers, enriches the soil, retains soil moisture, and greatly reduces competition from weeds. In the fall the leaf mulch can be worked into the garden soil where it will decompose further to become humus. When cleaning up the garden in the fall or spring, Astrid recommends cutting off spent plants at the base rather than pulling them out by the roots. Beneficial fungi and bacteria are clustered around the roots and will benefit the soil if left. If the spent plants have seeds, they can be left intact through the winter to provide food for resident birds.

In Memory of Mary Jo Field We are very sad to announce the passing this spring of Mary Jo Field, a beloved member of our community, a founding member of GrassRoots Growers, and a valued member of the GRG steering committee since the group’s inception. Her wisdom, generosity, and collaborative style helped to guide our group and make committee meetings both productive and pleasant. Every year for our annual plant sale Mary Jo grew hundreds of heritage tomato plants, which proved to be a big draw for customers. Early in March this year Mary Jo started 500 tomato plants, most of which were slated for the plant sale in late May; however, her illness made it too difficult for her to continue caring for them. Seven volunteers were needed to take over the job of raising her tomatoes. Mary Jo is greatly missed by all of us at GrassRoots Growers.

A topic of great interest to the audience was the use of living mulches, or eco-mulches. Astrid seeds the areas between rows of garden plants with species that will not compete with the garden crops for nutrients and water. Instead, they will suppress weeds, help retain soil moisture during dry periods, help prevent soil compaction, and contribute to soil fertility. Living mulches are selected according to height: they should be lower than the garden plants in a particular area so as not to compete for light. It is best to seed them after the crop plants are established. A few of the lowgrowing species she recommended are Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), White Dutch Clover (Trifolium repens), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), and African and French Marigolds (Tagetes erecta and T. patula). Some low to medium height plants to use are Arugula (Eruca vesicaria sativa), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), and Field Peas (Pisum sativum subsp. arvense). Taller ones include Oilseed Radish (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus), Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), Lacy Phacelia (Phacelia tannacetifolia), and Buckwheat (Fagopyrum sagittatum). For more information on these plants, visit our website (see end of article). Cutting the living mulch soon after it flowers will prevent it from going to seed and possibly taking over your garden bed. Another recommended mulch that was new to many of us was ramiel wood chip mulch made from ground

up small branches of deciduous trees and shrubs. According to Astrid, this kind of mulch will add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, unlike larger wood and bark chips, which she finds more suitable for paths. The evening concluded with a lively question-and-answer period, refreshments, a seed swap, and plants offered for a donation. Our thanks to St. Patrick School for allowing us to use the gymnasium and to custodian Myles Finn for his much-appreciated help. By the time you are reading this issue of the SCOOP, our annual plant sale will have taken place. We hope you were able to attend and that you will enjoy your plant purchases throughout the growing season. With the proceeds from the sale we engage speakers for our spring and fall events, fund two Fleming College bursaries in Sustainable Agriculture, and provide prize money for local agricultural fairs. Our next event is planned for October. Like all our events it is free and open to everyone. Details will be posted on our website and emailed to those on our e-list. Tamworth/Erinsville GrassRoots Growers is a community-based group. Our mission is to encourage interest in local and organic gardening for both the home garden and the market garden; to raise awareness of issues surrounding food production; to improve our practical knowledge of all aspects of plant life; and to provide networking opportunities for gardeners. We welcome new members. Visit our website at te-grassrootsgrowers. weebly.com.

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June / July 2018 • The SCOOP


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The SCOOP // June / July 2018  

The SCOOP is an independent community newsmagazine. Since 2005, we have been covering rural life in the Ontario area north of the 401 and so...

The SCOOP // June / July 2018  

The SCOOP is an independent community newsmagazine. Since 2005, we have been covering rural life in the Ontario area north of the 401 and so...