Every month, we feature an expert gardener or farmer to answer your most burning questions and explore common topics within the community. In July, we asked the community for their questions about soil health management, and are thrilled to have our friends from Texas Eco Farms here to answer your questions! Be sure to so subscribe to Vego's emails where you can submit your questions for next month's expert!
Meet The Experts
Jim and Ara Holmes founded Texas Eco Farms in 2016. They grow fresh, clean & poison free foods in organically managed, remineralized soil.
Jim is a Farmer, Certified Permaculture Designer and Registered Nurse with over 10 years of experience as an avid gardener and bookworm. Ara is an Industrial Hygienist and Safety Professional turned Farmer. She worked full-time outside the farm, helping with the operation on evenings and weekends. In 2020, she started working full time at the farm and in 2022 she began growing flowers. They are currently situated on 3.5 acres and have about an 1/2 acre under production.
They are driven by their passion for improving the health of their community, themselves and their land and by their mission to create agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.
Fungus on Logs
We recently installed our Vego Garden Beds and employed the Hügelkultur method with oak logs. Some of the logs had that black tar fungus. We cut it off but for future reference, is it a good idea to compost logs with any type of fungus?
The fungus isn't a concern. After burying logs with the hügelkultur style, or even before burying, they will all be invaded by a variety of fungi. That's a good thing, fungi are the main creatures that break down those logs into compost!
Elements to Fertilize your Garden
I use worm tea for all my plants. Is there an element that I should also be using for tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and peppers?
To maintain fertility, consider using a general purpose organic fertilizer. The three numbers on the bag (e.g., 5-5-5) represent Nitrogen, Phosphorus & Potassium content (N, P, K). We use & recommend Microlife. Read the ingredients to ensure it is composed of organic sources (e.g., bone meal, alfalfa meal) & isn't chemical based (e.g. ammonium nitrate).
For tomatoes & peppers you might find an organic fertilizer for them that is heavier on the P & K, as they use more of them while growing (e.g., a 2-3-5 NPK rating). Additional calcium is beneficial as well, this helps prevent blossom end rot. This could come from ground oyster shell, wood ash, bone meal or ground eggshells.
For beans, inoculate them with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria. Don't over fertilize, & they will convert atmospheric nitrogen to a plant available form!
Maintaining your Soil Health
How do you suggest we amend our Vego garden soil to keep the soil at its peak of health?
In addition to the above, I'd recommend:
- Adding 1-2 inches of compost every year to top off the bed, more if the soil level has shrunk down more than that.
- Maintain a 1-2 inch mulch layer. This could be with leaves, straw, woodchips, hardwood mulch or something else.
- An annual application of a rock powder remineralization product such as Azomite.
- Try to always have something growing in the bed. Photosynthesis is the best fertilizer, as plants pump sugars through the roots to feed microbes in the soil.
- Consider a multi-species cover crop. You can grow your own nitrogen by adding a nitrogen-fixing plant in that mix.
- We amend beds with an organic fertilizer every time we take a crop out, especially if the preceding crop was a heavy feeder like corn or tomatoes.
- Use a diversity of inputs: different fertilizers, rock powders, compost sources, mulches, calcium sources, etc.
- Never leave the soil uncovered and don't let it dry out.
Saving your Soil during Harsh Winter Months
How do I save my soil over the cold, snowy winter in Colorado? How do I regenerate my soil for next year after it has been used to grow veggies in all summer?
The best thing to do might be to just remove your old annual vegetable crops and apply a thick layer of straw as a protective mulch. You could consider planting a winter-killed cover crop such as oats (basically growing your own protective mulch in place) or planting a winter-hardy cover crop such as winter rye or winter wheat which will provide a living mulch through the winter.
After the soil warms up in spring, you can fertilize before planting using all the above strategies.
Handling Tap Roots
A neighbor's yard has a tree of heaven which is now sending tap roots into my yard and raised beds. I have been hand pulling shoots but can't keep up with it. I would like to be able to avoid using chemicals and I do use the raised beds for growing vegetables. The tree in the neighbor's yard is mature (over 20 feet tall).
This is an unfortunate situation. The root sprouts that are coming up in your yard and garden beds are generally referred to as "suckers." These are new shoots the tree sends up from the existing roots underground. Tree of Heaven is notorious for its ability to spread with aggressive suckering and prolific propagation by fallen seeds as well.
The only solution I can think of (other than relocating the garden or convincing your neighbor to remove it and replace with other trees) is to deal with the suckers by mowing and pulling them out frequently, preventing them from establishing as new trees. I don't think even chemicals will solve the issue. As long as the parent tree remains it will continue to spread and propagate itself.