Many people feel that using peat in the garden is environmentally irresponsible, and are looking for alternatives. This article describes coir and leaf mould as alternatives to peat.
Coir is now widely available locally. It comes from coconut husks (a by-product of coconut processing for food) and you can get it in various textures ranging from coarse chunks to quite fine fibres. It soaks up and holds water well. One big advantage over peat when used in potting soil is that it doesn’t shrink and pull away from the side of the pot if it dries out. The biggest downside to coir for us in Canada is that it has to be transported long distances from its source in India, Sri Lanka and the Pacific.
Leaf mould is not something you buy, it’s something you make in your own garden from local leaves. As such, it’s free in terms of dollars, but it takes time – a little of your time to gather the leaves and store them in a way that will allow them to transform themselves, and several years for the transformation to happen. It’s a long term project but one which can become part of your garden schedule.
Leaf mould contains a range of micronutrients for plants, and is normally about pH neutral. It holds water very well. You make it by stacking leaves in a big pile and leaving it to rot, or by filling plastic garbage bags with leaves and letting them rot. Because leaves are decomposed mostly by fungi, oxygen isn’t needed as much as with a compost pile, but moisture definitely is. Some kind of enclosure is useful to keep the leaves from blowing away. Shredding them before storing will speed up decomposition, but unshredded leaves will work fine, just take longer. A mix of leaves will rot better than all one kind, and adding a bit of compost or soil to the pile will get things started more quickly.
I’m not big on making resolutions for the New Year, but maybe I should be! There are a few things I could do that would make gardening more productive, and maybe even more fun…
Keep better records. I do keep some, especially to do with seeding and transplanting dates, but I rely on (fallible) memory for a lot of other things. It would be especially interesting to have a record of harvest amounts and dates, something I did when I was market gardening and selling my produce, but not since.
Rebuild the hoophouse! The poor thing has been sitting there uncovered for 18 months now, and it’s not doing us any good that way. Plus, it looks messy.
Make a place to relax in the garden, and then relax in it. Without getting up to “just pull a few weeds over there…”
Build surrounds around some of our heaped-up raised beds. We’ve got the wood, and it needs doing… I just get overtaken by the need to Plant Something In That Bed and before you know it, building a surround round the planted bed would cause too much disturbance.
I could keep going, there are so many plans and ideas that would be great to turn into reality, but there’s only so much time and energy in one year!
Starting seeds indoors can take up a lot of space. Outdoors, things take a long time and can get destroyed by weather and animals.
Winter Sowing is a method which lets you sow your seeds indoors, then set them outdoors but protected, so they get started sooner and are less likely to be damaged. And no, you don’t need a greenhouse!
One of the best parts is that you get to play in the dirt in the winter – I usually start in December. All that pent-up gardening energy from reading the seed catalogs can be put to good use right away!
Most people in our area lime their gardens because of the acid soil we have. The most common kind to find locally is dolomite lime, which contains magnesium carbonate as well as the calcium carbonate which forms regular, or “Agricultural” lime.
Magnesium is a soil nutrient that is needed along with the usual NPK macro nutrients we pay attention to, but if you add it every year in the form of dolomite lime you may end up adding too much, unbalancing the Calcium/Magnesium ratio in your soil. In clay soils particularly, this can “tighten up” the soil and make it hard to dig and hard to form a good “tilth”.
How do you know if your soil has too much magnesium? You’d need to get a soil test from a lab to be sure. Personally I’ll be alternating aglime and dolomite lime in the garden from now on, while I get a soil test done.