Garden

I may have unwittingly stumbled upon an incredible soil amendment

While searching for ways to maintain and increase the acidity of my blueberry beds, I stumbled across cottonseed meal. It both adds nitrogen and helps to acidify the soils as it breaks down. Great…Get two birds stoned at once!

My only option to procure cottonseed meal is from the local feed mill right down the road. However as animal feed, not soil amending, is its intended purpose, it comes pelletized. At $13/50 pound sack, I figured I would try it out.

I applied 200 pounds to my 80 square foot blueberry bed and mulched with shredded hardwood. After the first rain was where the magic happened!

The pellets exploded in volume changing from tiny compressed cylinders to small poofs of cotton. As I was preparing to irrigate as the week following the storm had no rain, I pulled back some mulch to check the moisture of the soil. To my surprise, the puffy cotton meal was still significantly moist.

As a result, I am contemplating either mixing cottonseed meal pellets into my mulch, or laying down a thin layer below wherever I mulch. At the very least I may add some around plants in the summer when rain becomes scarcer.

However there is one downside to this story that I will post tomorrow.

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Bees, Garden

Lets talk about companions, acid and berries

If I had to make the choice of a single fruit to eat for the rest of my life, it would be blueberries. Raspberries are such a close second that I would read the fine print of the agreement to try and loophole them in.

Blueberries need acidic soil. I will have to retest my farm, but I anticipate the karst limestone-heavy area is going to need some amendment. In the raised beds I need a solution that doesn’t involve hauling in chemicals or soil amendments. My solution will be to mulch up many of the cedars that have encroached on the pasture. Every year, I will assist by adding a top mulch of chipped, discarded christmas trees (needles and all). I would like to note that I have not found any studies that convince me that pine mulch is any better the just plain old organic matter in acidifying the soil. In a pinch, I won’t hesitate to use the leave litter from the forest as a soil amendment.

As for companions, the literature prescribes clover to help fix nitrogen or acid-tolerant herbs for pest deterrence.

I’m going to take a different approach here. My perennial blueberry patch will be a sanctuary for the bees. Widely-spaced Rhododendron could provide shade for the plants during the dog days of summer, beautiful flowers in its long blooming season, and potentially psychedelic honey. I’ll probably avoid them in the end, but they are a viable companion. Lewisias flowers enjoy acidic soils and bloom in the late winter providing food for the bees when not much else is available. Strawberries are another delicious potential companion that would provide a living mulch but they have many pest and disease issues. Yarrow flowers have a rich history of natural medicinal use and seem to enrich soil where they grow. Clover is the last plant to consider as a legume that fixes nitrogen for the berries high demand.

Honestly at this point I have no idea what companions I want to plant with the blueberries. I think for now I will plant strawberries as a ground cover with no expectations regarding production while locating the flowering herbs on the boundaries of the rows.

If anyone has any suggestions for acid-tolerant plants that provide human food or nectar for bees, please let me know!

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