Garden

Sulfur application for organic blueberries

Well, I didn’t do myself any favors with my poor tracking of soil pH before planting the blueberries. Between the clay soils and overestimation of the buffering effect of decaying organic matter placed into raised beds, my soils were slightly alkaline at the time of planting in the spring. With fall approaching, it was time to apply sulfur while the soil microbes are still active.

Sulfur is not biologically active as its approval for organic uses may insinuate, but it is literally just an element from the periodic table. It is mined and shipped out in its pure form (if you are lucky enough to find pure sulfur) or in my case, cut with 10% inert fillers.

Now it is time to calculate the application rates which I have discussed before. Below are the tables from that discussion. Ohio State University Extension is the source of the Table 1 while Table 2 is the same but with my calculations converting the application rates from pounds of sulfur per acre to pounds of sulfur per 1000 square feet.

 

Table 1. Rates of elemental sulfur required to decrease soil pH to a depth of 6 inches.
Desired change in pH Application rate based on soil texture1
Sand Silt loam Clay
———————– lb S/A ———————-
8.5 to 6.5 370 730 1460
8.0 to 6.5 340 670 1340
7.5 to 6.5 300 600 1200
7.0 to 6.5 180 360 720
8.5 to 5.5 830 1660 3310
8.0 to 5.5 800 1600 3190
7.5 to 5.5 760 1530 3050
7.0 to 5.5 640 1290 2580
1 Assumptions—cation exchange capacity of the sandy loam, silt loam, and clay soil are 5, 10, and 20 meq/100 g, respectively; soils are not calcareous.

 

Table 2. Rates of elemental sulfur required to decrease soil pH to a depth of 6 inches.
Desired change in pH Application rate based on soil texture1
Sand Silt loam Clay
———————– lb S/1000 sq. ft ———————-
8.5 to 6.5 8.5 16.8 33.5
8.0 to 6.5 7.8 15.4 30.8
7.5 to 6.5 6.9 13.8 27.5
7.0 to 6.5 4.1 8.3 16.5
8.5 to 5.5 19.1 38.1 76.0
8.0 to 5.5 18.4 36.7 73.2
7.5 to 5.5 17.5 35.1 70
7.0 to 5.5 14.7 29.6 59.2
1 Assumptions—cation exchange capacity of the sandy loam, silt loam, and clay soil are 5, 10, and 20 meq/100 g, respectively; soils are not calcareous.

I’ve brought my blueberry beds from 8.6 to just below 7 with other efforts this year. For that 120 square foot bed, the calculations are as follows:

[Application rate for clay soils to lower pH from 7 to 5.5] * [Area of blueberry bed] / [Area of application rate]

[59.2 pounds] * [120 square feet] / [ 1000 square feet] = 7.1 pounds

Then for the remaining unplanted bed around 8.5 pH:

[Application rate for clay soils to lower pH from 8.5 to 5.5] * [Area of blueberry bed] / [Area of application rate]

[76 pounds] * [120 square feet] / [ 1000 square feet] = 9.1 pounds

So, 16.2 pounds total.

The process:

Buy agricultural sulfur. It was $22/50 pounds at my local feed store.

Weight out the amount needed from the above calculations

Apply sulfur

Give the soil microbes a few months to digest the sulfur and lower the pH

The last picture shows the sulfur on top of the mulch, spread lightly around plants and their active roots while applied more heavily in the spaces between plants, which is only done by necessity. In the unplanted blueberry bed the sulfur was applied evenly to bare soil then covered by mulch.

From this point on, test the soil every year or every other year. Repeat the above process as needed!

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Garden, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

My slightly passive watering system in use on trees and blueberries

Note: I meant to publish my solar wax melter design today.  However the pop up thunderstorms prevented the completion of a batch of wax!

I use this system whenever I need to water my trees or blueberry bushes. But the little jets of water don’t penetrate crops that form stands with many vertical stems like my buckwheat.

But for trees and blueberries it is perfect. I just set up the buckets then haul a pair of 5 gallon buckets of water by hand. Over the next ~10 minutes or so, 5 gallons of water is slowly dispersed into a wide arc of the tree’s root zone. I like aiming the jets beyond the stems of the trees or shrubs because as the water pressure lowers as the water drains, the jets will retreat back in front of the stems more evenly covering the rootzone.

For blueberries, this system proves even more valuable as I can direct the arc to water two bushes at once, thus providing 2.5 gallons to each. I can add my normal 2 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water in order to ensure the soil pH is not brought up by alkaline (or even neutral) irrigation water. I would not be able to do this with hoses or drip irrigation, at least not without an expensive system. Plus this avoids dampening foliage which is important for crops susceptible to mildew diseases like grapes or asparagus.

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Garden

What poop can tell you about wildlife

As promised, I can present my evidence that it was racoons that ate my corn.

The first clue was that overnight the stalks were ripped down and only a few bites were taken from each of the ears now at ground level. The next day however, the ears were picked clean which leads me to believe the groundhog worked in tandem with the racoon.

However I was working on my apple seedlings about 300 yards from the garden and came across this:

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Corn filled raccoon scat!

Furthermore, my next door neighbor is growing soybeans this year and not corn. Unless his personal garden got raided as well, mine appears to be the only source of maize.

Raccoons have been recorded to have a home range of up to 20 square miles so it is no surprise that they will travel to raid my corn. Something also carried a small pumpkin I harvested about 20 yards before abandoning it sans stem.

Regardless, I am not too worried about raccoons as garden pests. However I will rest a bit easier when my fence is installed.

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Cattle, Garden

First harvest fed to my uncle’s cattle

A raccoon was getting into my garden and harvesting the corn. How do I know it was a racoon? In an effort to stay on topic, I will share my evidence tomorrow.

Nonetheless, it was time to harvest the corn and remove what has proven to be a pest attractant.

Remember, the corn, sunflower, pumpkins and soybeans were volunteers that came up from…“creative” soil amendments. So I worked out a trade with my uncle: I’ll feed my corn and sunflowers to his cattle in exchange for some manure. After all, any biomass sent off the farm takes the nutrients with it. With our deal, those nutrients will come right back to the soil.

Here is his herd chowing down:

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Garden

First pumpkins!

Last week was busy with the harvesting of the productive garden volunteers that were not knowingly cultivated. Amongst those plants was the first batch of pumpkins.

Along with the corn, something also dragged a small but ripe pumpkin off, likely a raccoon but maybe a groundhog. It is a safe assumption that it had grabbed it by the stem, either with digits or by mouth regarding the two suspected pests respectively, to haul it off as I found the pumpkin itself laying stemless in the pasture.

Potentially due to the lack of rain and possibly due to my relentless hacking of the pumpkin foliage to keep the plant from smothering the blueberries and asparagus, one of the pumpkin plants yielding 14 small fruit had turned brown and with the stems and foliage being reclaimed by the soil beneath. It was time to claim those fruit before something else did. After adding a few scarred or slightly soft pumpkins to the compost pile, the total count harvested was 11:

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Excitingly, two other pumpkin plants bearing huge mostly green fruit are still developing. Even more interestingly, those plants are still blooming heavily. As such, the practice of combating aphids and leaf eating pests with neem oil sprays  are kept well away any blossoms on the farm. Even though neem oil is a very safe organic spray, bees can still carry contaminated pollen from treated flower back to the hive resulting in the poisoning of their brood. Thus even organic -icides are used strategically and in a manner that protects the human food as well as the creatures that work to provide it.

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Garden

Having to reach into the insecticide arsenal for the first time

Of course disaster awaited when I return from a week spent overseas. One hop plant is completely ruined while many of its neighbors are anywhere from 10-60% ruined.
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While I was away, these caterpillars moved in and set up their tents around the hop leaves and my ripe cones. Furthermore, black specs are clearly visible in the image that are either aphids or caterpillar dung. I have id-ed then as Fall Web worms which is strange as they are normally only found on trees. Hence I’m not 100% confident in my identification.

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However, I did have many allies working to drive off the infestation. Six mantises and numerous spiders were observed. Yet, the tide of the battle was in the favor of the pests thus action is needed on my part.

So for the first time ever, I have had to resort to an -icide. Even still, I will only  utilize a targeted approach. Since there were many allies that I did not want to harm like the spiders, mantises, predatory wasps, assassin bugs and lady bugs, I needed to find something caterpillar specific. Consider the fact that these hops are ready for harvest and use in beer, I also want something that won’t poison my beer.

Enter Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk) .

BTK Is unique in that it is a bacteria that occurs in soils just about everywhere and is only known to work on leaf eating caterpillars and worms. More importantly, it is safe for human consumption and anecdotally, the bottle of concentrate smells exactly like the yeast cake in the bottom of my fermenters when a batch of beer is complete. It can be applied right up to the day of harvest.

We will see how this goes. I applied the BTK in the evening shade as sunlight immediately begins weakening and killing the bacteria. If I had to guess, I’d wager all they hops under the tents are a lost cause but time will tell!

 

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Garden

Trying to set up a cheap, more passive system for irrigation

This is stupidly simple, but to be honest, I’m not sure it if really saves work or even irrigates evenly at least as far as the garden goes. I adapted this system from watering trees.

I drilled 1/16″ holes around one quarter of the base of multiple buckets. I set the buckets on a pair of bricks that raise it over the edge of the garden beds. Then I filled intact 5 gallon buckets from the well carrying a pair at a time for balance and efficiency. Hopefully the well water will be replaced with my rainwater catchment system (post).

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I like this method because I can carry the water, fill the irrigation buckets and go work on something else until they drain. Or with a total of 6 buckets, a leapfrog strategy can be conducted where the first pair is empty by the time the last two are filled. The water also goes directly in the ground rather than sprayed on the leaves which is important with plants like grapes and asparagus with which disease is promoted if the foliage is damp for too long. If I irrigate in the evening, evaporation is negligible. Also I add a small amount of vinegar to the blueberry water to make sure the water from my well is slightly acidic.

Trees need about 5 gallons per week which is the exact capacity of my buckets.

However, if a plant stem in the garden is in line with the little jet of water, the water won’t reach the middle of the bed like they holes are sized to do. It also takes more time than anticipated to continuously move bricks and buckets.

I’ve only had to irrigate once this summer so I am unsure if I’m sold on this system. For trees, definitely but I’m not so sure for the garden.

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Garden

GRRRRRRRoundhog…

…has been knocking over my buckwheat and asparagus ferns. And I believe, but not convinced it is the perpetrator of this issue, it has been climbing up the interior of the barn to snatch hops from the trellised vines. I’ve found chewed hops inside the barn as well as outside at ground level. Plus I found tracks this time!

Trampled buckwheat laying across the garden aisles:

Trampled asparagus:

Destroyed hops:

Tracks with trampled buckwheat laying across the aisle into this bed. Unfortunately grass clippings do not capture much detail. But the stride length (it made a right angle turn in the image) leaves no doubt:

Despite being trampled, my honeybees are working the buckwheat hard now along with a newly observed wasp and countless butterflies. In fact my morning routine now exists of sipping coffee while just observing the happenings of the nectar feeders. Although the tranquility of the scene is disturbed by the .22 rifle slung over my shoulder should I cross paths with the aforementioned ground hog.

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Garden

My companion plantings

I promise to do a recap on the justification for the companion plantings soon, but I want to show the progress of the plants so far.

Before I begin, I want to state a few general companion plants that I use everywhere.

Clover is planted with all of the nitrogen hungry plants, especially hops. I also mulched around the persistent clover in the asparagus and blueberry beds as they too are pretty heavy feeders.

In the fallow garden beds, I grow clover under buckwheat to utilize the nitrogen fixation of the former along with the immense soil conditioning properties of the latter. Both provide nectar to my honeybees as well as native pollinators.

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Now for the specific cases.

Geraniums and oregano with grapes:

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Nasturtium, marigolds, basil (not shown, but it now towers over the asparagus) and dill with asparagus:

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Strawberries, bay laurel and yarrow with blueberries. Strawberries were a partial failure because I let the bareroot shipment begin rotting before planting and yarrow is a failure as it never germinated… or I misidentified them with weeds and either pulled them or chopped them with a weedwacker while trimming the garden aisles.

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My king companion so far:

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Genus Persicaria but species unknown. When it flowers I should be able to determine the species. This weed has drawn most of the japanese beetles. I will let it grow wherever it pops up as it allows me to more tightly focus my soapy water extermination efforts of said beetles.

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