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Manures, Fertilizers and Mulching

Without an abundant supply of suitable food it is just as impossible to grow good vegetables as it would be to train a winning football team on a diet of soda pop and angel cake. Without plenty of plant food, all the care, coddling, coaxing, cultivating, spraying and worrying you may give will avail little. The soil must be rich or the garden will be poor.

Plants take all their nourishment in the form of soups, and very weak ones at that. Plant food to be available must be soluble to the action of the feeding root tubes; and unless it is available it might, as far as the present benefiting of your garden is concerned, just as well not be there at all. Plants take up their food through innumerable and microscopic feeding rootlets, which possess the power of absorbing moisture, and furnishing it, distributed by the plant juices, or sap, to stem, branch, leaf, flower and fruit. There is one startling fact which may help to fix these things in your memory: it takes from 300 to 500 pounds of water to furnish food for the building of one pound of dry plant matter. You can see why plant food is not of much use unless it is available; and it is not available unless it is soluble.

The terms "manure" and "fertilizer" are used somewhat ambiguously and interchangeably. Using the former term in a broad sense--as meaning any substance containing available plant food applied to the soil, we may say that manure is of two kinds: organic, such as stable manure, or decayed vegetable matter; and inorganic, such as potassium salts, phosphatic rock and commercial mixed fertilizers. In a general way the term "fertilizer" applies to these inorganic manures, and I shall use it in this sense through the following text.

When it comes right down to the practical question of what to put on your garden patch to grow big crops, nothing has yet been discovered that is better than the old reliable stand-by--well rotted, thoroughly fined stable or barnyard manure.

There are other organic manures which it is sometimes possible for one to procure, such as refuse brewery hops, fish scraps and sewage, but they are as a rule out of the reach of, or objectionable for, the purposes of the home gardener.

There are, however, numerous things constantly going to waste about the small place, which should be converted into manure. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, vegetable tops and roots, green weeds, garbage, house slops, dish water, chip dirt from the wood-pile, shavings--any thing that will rot away, should go into the compost heap. These should be saved, under cover if possible, in a compact heap and kept moist (never soaked) to help decomposition. To start the heap, gather up every available substance and make it into a pile with a few wheelbarrows full, of fresh horse manure, treading the whole down firmly. Fermentation and decomposition will be quickly started. The heap should occasionally be forked over and restacked. Light dressings of lime, mixed in at such times, will aid thorough decomposition.

Chemical fertilizers should be avoided. The disadvantages far out weight the advantages.

Mulching enriches and protects soil, helping to provide a better growing environment. In your backyard Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden. Mulch is simply a protective layer of a material that is spread on top of the soil. Mulches can either be organic--such as grass clippings, straw, bark chips, and similar materials--or inorganic-- such as stones, brick chips, and plastic. Both organic and inorganic mulches have numerous benefits. Mulching benefits include:

• protects the soil from erosion
• reduces compaction from the impact of heavy rains
• conserves moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering
• maintains a more even soil temperature
• prevents weed growth
• keeps fruits and vegetables clean
• keeps feet clean, allowing access to garden even when damp
• provides a "finished" look to the garden



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