Energy Efficient Gardening – What about your soil

So you have your soil test back. Hopefully you have planted several plantings of your favorite stuff to eat so that they will continue to produce for as long as the weather will allow. In a totally fluke year I had some spinach that lasted for a year and well into the next spring.

It is time to start both improving your soil and planting your “main” crops. The soil test says that you “need something”. Now I am not going to cover all of the soil additives but usually there will be somekind of chemical deficiency. Here you run smack dab into your modern industrial farming dilemma. Don’t worry, this will only last for a year. At the end of World War II the world had a total surplus of explosives and poison gas. What to do? Well they converted the explosives to nitrogen fertilizer and they turned the poison gas into herbicides and pesticides. Farmers fell in love with them and well here we are no longer loving our food. NO2 (commonly called Nox) is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 It is estimated that when farmers fertilize there fields they castoff more greenhouses gases than the entire world’s transportation fleet:

Nitrogen bomb

‘Science’: nitrogen as important as carbon in climate change

Posted by Tom Philpott at 5:05 PM on 16 May 2008

Speaking of the troubles associated with industrial agriculture and its fertilizer regime, check this out:

“The public does not yet know much about nitrogen, but in many ways it is as big an issue as carbon, and due to the interactions of nitrogen and carbon, makes the challenge of providing food and energy to the world’s peoples without harming the global environment a tremendous challenge.”

The speaker is University of Virginia environmental sciences professor James Galloway (quoted in an AP piece), talking about his paper published (abstract here) in the latest Science.

According to Galloway, “We are accumulating reactive nitrogen in the environment at alarming rates, and this may prove to be as serious as putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Nothing new here that I can tell at first glance. (I’d love to read the paper, but it’s password-protected.) I agree, though, that nitrogen’s role in climate change is way under-discussed.

The same issue of Science also contains an article about how synthesized nitrogen affects the oceans — specifically their role as greenhouse-gas sinks.


So what to do about nutrients? Well it all comes down to crap. That’s right manure, excrement or poo. Not your’s. Though there is a case to be made for that, the small scale gardener is hard pressed to deal with human crap. In fact there are better fertilizers around. But lets take a step backwards, in the “old days” of sustainable farming the farmers had all kinds of animals, goats, cows, horses, mules, and chickens to name a few. They would collect this shit and straw from their animal’s housing and their yards and toss it in a pile. At the end of the growing season they would take all this manure and spread it on their field. Over winter it would break down. Then in the spring when they plowed they would turn it into the soil and “there you have it” fertile soil.

Agriculture & Natural Resources


Using Livestock Manure As Fertilizer

ANR-723, 1992. By Charles Mitchell, Extension Agronomist, Agronomy, Auburn University

Livestock manure is an excellent fertilizer for the soil, providing such nutrients as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Manure application can also benefit the soil’s water holding capacity and tilth. When using livestock manure, however, one should follow good management practices in order to avoid hazards to the crop and the environment. Sources Of Livestock ManurePoultry waste, cattle manure, and swine manure are all used as organic fertilizers in Alabama. They are all excellent sources for nutrients; however, nutrient compositions will vary among operations and over time. Users of manures from broiler houses, lagoons, or feedlots should have an idea of the total and available nutrient content before they are applied to land.Possible ProblemsBecause nitrate-nitrogen can leach into groundwater and both nitrogen and phosphorus can erode or runoff into streams, manure applications should be based strictly on the nutrient requirement of the crop. Therefore, the soil should be tested to determine nutrient needs for the crop to be grown.Good Management PracticesThe following precautions should be taken in order to prevent nutrient losses through leaching, erosion, and runoff:

  1. Eliminate excessive applications.
  2. Time applications appropriately, rotate crops,
  3. and use winter cover crops. Apply manure when it will be utilized by the crop.
  4. Incorporate or inject the applications into the
  5. soil. Do not leave the manure on the soil surface.
  6. Do not apply manure to steep slopes or during
  7. periods prone to erosion and runoff.
  8. Document the amounts and contents of material applied.
  9. Protect soil from erosion.
  10. Use filter strips or buffer zones between fields
  11. and nearby streams


So when I end my growing season, I take a couple of big tubs to a local animal farm and I get free poo and straw from the farmer. Take it to my garden and toss it on. Big draw backs? It’s hard work and it stinks. But so what? Why did I say that this will be a problem for you only a year? Well because you have started a compost pile (hint hint) and you have located a farmer (hint hint). What to do now for you though. Well, you can go get fertilizer for one year and tell yourself everyone has to start somewhere. Or you can buy composted manure. Here again you have be to careful. Transportation and its oil use is the real issue so read the labels. Buy the composted manured produced the closest to you. If you are lucky you can find some poo from your own state. Now, if you have started your seeds inside and it’s time to plant YOUR plants. Or if you depend on a garden center it’s time to plant THEIR plants. Try to stagger them just like you did for your early crops so that they will produce for the entire growing season.

Oh, and for awhile you maybe a standard “row” gardener but there are more efficient ways to use your land:

The Official Site of Square Foot Gardening and Mel Bartholomew, Originator and Author

Welcome  To  My  Garden

No Work, Organic Gardening the Square Foot Way



or french intensive gardening

A French Lesson in Intensive Planting

Linnea Thornton

Juvenile Garden
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Wilde, L’Atelier Vert,Everything French Gardening,
This juvenile bed in a French garden shows how closely young plants are crowded together in intensive planting.

Crowding a bunch of plants in a narrow plot might not seem like a good idea at first. After all, it runs counter to everything you’ve learned about gardening. But this specialized method of planting – called French intensive gardening – is actually a tried-and-true technique to maximize your harvest in a small space. Even if you’ve only got a tiny plot, you can get amazing results if you develop it properly.
As you might’ve guessed by its name, French intensive gardening evolved in Europe. Its purpose is to make the most of limited growing space. Known as “square-foot gardening” in the US, it’s also the preferred method of many growers who want extra produce for themselves or to share with friends and neighbors.



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