April Meeting Summary: Organic Gardening Basics and Why We Love Chickweed!

If you have Chickweed in your garden...rejoice! You have amazing soil!

Our thanks goes out to Ayn Whytemare, owner of Found Well Farm in Pembroke. She gave a fun and entertaining talk at our April meeting. The main emphasis of her presentation was about the true essence of organic gardening. In order to garden organically, you must create and maintain REALLY GOOD SOIL. This is JOB #1 for organic gardeners! Healthy soil supports healthy plants. Healthy plants resist disease and pests in addition to producing good crop yields.

How to get started? Here we go…

• First, locate your garden plot. Ideally a south facing slope is best with full sun from 8am-4pm. You can get away with six hours of sun but you must have full sun from 10am-2pm.

• Second, consider a water source. Is a hose nearby? It’s a drag to water your garden by hand.

• Third, TEST YOUR SOIL! ( Especially if you are gardening near a house built before 1970. You might have lead in your soil.) A soil test will tell you what may or may not be lacking in your soil and it will also give you amendment recommendations. You can get your soil tested through the  UNH Cooperative Extension. Opt for the Organic Recommendations.

• Fourth, locate mulch and compost ingredients.

• Excellent mulches include wood chips, pine needles (they will not make your soil acidic), straw (not hay…hay has too many seeds), chopped up leaves (no walnut) and grass clippings. All of these can be put around your plants to keep in the moisture and reduce the need to constantly water your garden. Mulching well also reduces weeds.

• Compost: You can haul in manure (cow manure is best), buy compost or make your own compost. There are countless resources on the web for making compost. Essentially, just mix brown (carbon) materials like dead leaves and plants with green (nitrogeneous) materials like grass clipping and fresh kitchen scraps in fairly equal parts. Keep moist and turn once in a while. You do not have to wait until it looks like potting soil to mix it into your garden. As long as everything is fairly well decomposed, Ayn recommends just throwing it into the garden and using it! If you are using manure, it should be fairly well-rotted. Chicken manure should only be put on at the end of the season to decompose over the winter.

• Finally, build your garden bed. If it turns out you have lead in your soil, make a raised bed. If not, make your recommended soil amendments and get started planting!

• Ayn’s super simple raised bed recipe: On top of your soil, put on a thick layer of wet newspapers or a layer of corrugated cardboard. Add a layer of chopped up leaves. Add another layer of well-rotted manure. Add a couple inches of compost. Water it well and your are ready to plant!  Once you have planted, mulch your garden.

More posts to follow outlining crop rotation and building great soil. If you have Chickweed in your garden beds, pat yourself on the back. You are doing a great job keeping your soil healthy!


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