Earth friendly gardening in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, Canada

Kootenay Gardening

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General Information

Hardiness and Gardening Zones     What You Need to Know about Your Soil      Understanding Organic Fertilizers  

Using Lime in the Garden      Composting     Soil Building and Regeneration  

Avoid using chemical fertilizers. Nitrous oxide, released by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels, has a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide!

Most of the articles on the best soil improvement methods, from composting and fertilization to cover crops and green manures, in the links section, relate to organic, sustainable gardening methods. Many are written by gardeners and scientists from outside of our region but the information there is either universal or can be easily adapted to the climatic conditions in the Kootenays.

Promote global worming!

Canadian seed companies and nurseries that sell heirloom and rare or endangered varieties

 

Kootenay Gardening

Hardiness and gardening zones

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    Hardiness refers to the plant ability to withstand low winter temperatures.
    When buying new plants for your garden the first thing you need to know is: are they hardy enough for my climatic zone?

    You will find the plant hardiness zone on the label attached to the plant you are going to buy, but do you really know what zone do you live in?

    By looking at the tables on the right you will find that easily.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Temperature conversion:

 
 
 

 

Gardening zones

Zone

Minimum winter temperature

2

- 45C  to  - 40C

- 50F  to  - 40F

3

- 40C  to  - 35C

- 40F  to  - 30F

4

- 35C  to  - 29C

- 30F  to  - 20F

5

- 29C  to  - 23C

- 20F  to  - 10F

6

- 23C  to  - 18C

- 10F  to     0F

7

- 18C  to  - 12C

   0F  to   10F

8

- 12C  to   - 7C

  10F  to   20F

9

 - 7C  to   - 1C

  20F  to   30F

     
 

 
Temperature conversion    C temperature = (F temperature - 32) / 1.8
by calculation:                  F temperature = C temperature x 1.8  + 32
 
 
    You must take into account not only regular (still air), but also wind chill temperatures in your area. In the extreme conditions the wind chill temperature can be as much as 20 degrees C lower than the still air temperature.
     Within every zone plants growing in a sheltered position will withstand lower temperatures than those exposed to cold, drying wind.
     Young plants are more susceptible to cold than older, deeply rooted ones. Therefore special protection should be afforded to plants during first few years after planting.
     Plants develop their hardiness gradually and become more cold hardy as winter progresses. With the arrival of spring cold hardiness decreases. Hardiness can decrease very rapidly if plants are exposed to warmer temperatures for a period of time.
    The greatest danger of frost damage happens at the end of winter and very early at spring, especially in locations exposed to winter sun, when plants can't withstand rapid changes in day-night temperatures. This is especially dangerous to the new growth on  evergreens. After the vegetation period has started even the hardiest plants may be considerably damaged by slight ground frosts.
     Roots are substantially less hardy than above-ground parts of the plant. In areas where severe frosts without snow cover may occur it is a good idea to put 10-15 cm winter mulch around the plant.
    The type of soil is also an important factor in ability of plants to survive in cold temperatures. Plants that survive in sandy, well drained soils may not survive in clayey, water saturated ones.
   
Plant hardiness zones for some of our locations:
Balfour 6a-6b    Castlegar 6a-6b    Christina Lake 5a-5b    Cranbrook 4a-4b    Creston 5a-6a   Fauquier 5a-6a   Fernie 4b
Fruitvale 6a    Golden 3b-4a    Grand Forks 5a-5b    Greenwood 4b-5a    Invermere 4a    Kaslo 5b-6a     Kimberley 3b
Midway 5a    Moyie 4a    Nakusp 6a    Nelson 5a-6b    New Denver 6a     Riondel 6a    Rock Creek 4b-5a     Rossland 4b-5a
Salmo 5a    Skookumchuck 4a    Slocan 5a-5b   South Slocan 5b    Sparwood 3a-4a    Thrums 5b-6a    Trail 6a-6b
Vallican 5a-5b    Wynndel 6a    Yahk 3b-4b

Based on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Plant Hardiness Zones of Canada

    Zone 1 is vulnerable to frost 365 days per year. Zone 2 in general is free from frost during June and July.  Zones 3 and 4 are usually free from frost during June, July and August.  Zones 5 is usually frost free from the middle of May through the middle of September. Zone 6 is usually free from frost May through September.

 

Kootenay Gardening

What you need to know about your soil

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    To get the best results from your gardening efforts first of all you have to know your soil.
Soil is composed of disintegrated rock mixed with decayed organic matter. It contains water, air and living organisms.
Soils vary in their depth, structure, chemical composition and fertility.
The gardening practice should be directed towards the deepening of shallow soils, keeping soil in desirable physical condition, encouragement of the development of favourable soil organisms, and addition of the plant food that is not available in sufficient amount in the soil.

Rock particles

    Disintegrated rock makes up up to 90% of soil weight.
Rock particles vary in size ranging form microscopic to coarse gravel and stones. They also vary in chemical composition, depending upon the type of rock they originated from.
Small spaces between particles are occupied by water and air.
Slowly dissolving, rock particles supply nutrient minerals that can be absorbed by plants.

Humus

    The decayed organic matter of animal and plant origin in the soil is known as humus.
Humus is a necessary element of the fertile soil. Every good gardener makes effort to increase the amount of humus by addition of organic matter such as manure and compost, by mulching, and growing cover crops.
Incorporated into the soil, organic matter becomes a source of food supply for the organisms that live in the soil. With their help it gradually decays and is eventually broken down into simple chemical compounds such as carbon dioxide, water, ammonia, and other nutrients available to plants.
Humus also helps to increase the air and water holding capacity of the soil.
It gives the topsoil a color that is usually much darker than that of the subsoil.

Water in the Soil

    Of the water that enters the soil a portion is held as a film surrounding the soil particles. The remainder drains downward until it reaches the water table.
The water in the soil is a solution of a variety of substances that became directly available and can be absorbed by the root hairs of plants.
The byproduct of respiration of plants roots and of lover organisms in the soil - carbon dioxide, increases the solvent power of soil water.
A soil in good condition contains water only as a film surrounding the soil particles. If the spaces between the soil particles become filled with water, most of the air necessary for respiration of the roots and soil organisms is driven out.
Only water and bog plants are able to survive successfully on soils that are saturated for prolonged periods of time.

Soil Aeration

    In most cultivated soils 20-30 percent of the soil volume consists of air spaces. The air filling those spaces contains more carbon dioxide than air above the soil surface.
Well aerated soils are ideal for the growth of most plants, since there is a plentiful supply of water together with a sufficient supply of oxygen essential for the respiration of the roots and soil organisms.

  Essential substances

    Of the soil substances which are commonly absorbed by the roots, the most essential for the plant normal growth are: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and iron. A soil deficient in any one of these is unable to support vegetation successfully.
Most soils contain sufficient supply of calcium, magnesium, sulfur and iron. In the garden practice the fertilizing routine is usually directed towards increasing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil.              More about essential substances

 Soil Organisms

    A fertile soil is teeming with countless millions of living organisms. Some are favourable to the plant growth, others detrimental. These organisms, in the course of their life modify the chemical and mechanical condition of the soil.
Some of the smallest soil organisms, bacteria, obtain their food by decomposing more complex organic substances in the soil into simple ones, such as carbon dioxide, water, and ammonia. Still another bacteria transform ammonia into nitrate salts, the only form in which most plants can use nitrogen.
Another bacteria may form nodules on the roots of some plants and convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds available to the plant.          More about soil organisms

Soil classification

    Soils may be divided into four main groups, based on the size of rock particles they are formed of and the amount of organic matter they contain.
  • Clay soils - heavy, difficult to cultivate. Addition of sand in big quantities, humus and lime can make clay soil more porous, more fertile and more workable. It is important that the clay soil is properly drained, since it is very moisture retentive. Prolonged saturation is very detrimental to the health of most garden plants. Raised beds are a good idea for clay soils. Clay soils are cold and not suitable for early crops.
  • Sandy soils - porous, well drained, warm and suitable for early crops. Addition of humus in liberal quantities is very desirable for sandy soils. That will not only make the soil more fertile, but will also help to hold and conserve moisture and slow leaching. In dry weather sandy soils need watering at least once a week. Raised beds are not a good idea for sandy soils.
  • Loam - a mix of sand, silt, clay and humus. Loam is the ideal gardener's soil. A good loam is crumbly and easy to work with. It is well drained yet retentive of moisture.
  • Peat, Bog and Muck soils - formed of dead and decaying bog plants. Acid. Draining is needed and an application of lime. Addition of loam or good soil is advisable.

Drainage

    Good drainage is essential for the successful cultivation of most garden plants.
On well drained land plant roots extend deep into the soil and during dry periods are able to make use of the  water held deep in the ground.

Liming

    Lime granulates the particles of clayey soil and makes it more friable and crumbly. It neutralizes acid in the soil.
Lime liberates some plant foods, particularly potash, so it becomes available to the plants.
There are two kinds of lime available: agricultural or garden lime and dolomite lime (contains magnesium).

Soil pH

    The soil pH indicates soil active acidity or alkalinity.
When the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) exceeds that of hydroxyl ions (OH-) we have an acid soil. When the concentration of OH- ions is greater than H+ ions the soil is alkaline. If there is an exact balance the soil is neutral.
On the pH scale 7 represents neutrality, higher reading indicates alkalinity, lower indicates acidity.
It should be noted that one level on the scale corresponds to ten times greater concentration of specific ions in the soil.
For example, acidity at pH5 is ten times as great as at pH6, and acidity at pH4 is ten times as great as at pH5, or one hundred times as great as at pH6.
Under cultivation soils tend to become more acid.
Use lime to increase pH (make soil less acid), or sulfur to decrease pH (make soil less alkaline, or more acid).
In general, to increase pH one level, mix 2.5 kg (about 5 lbs) )of lime with 10 square meters of soil. To decrease pH one level, mix 0.5 kg (about 1 lb) of elemental sulfur with 10 square meters of soil.
Addition of Peat moss, Pine needles, Oak leaves or sawdust will slightly increase soil acidity.
Nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, potash and iron are the most available to plants in a slightly acidic soil with pH of 5.5 - 6.5.
In alkaline soils metallic micronutrients are not easily released by chemical reactions in the soil. They are, however, made relatively abundant in acid soils.
Most vegetables and many other plants do best in slightly acidic soil.
 

 

Kootenay Gardening

Organic Fertilizers - Basics

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     Soil compaction, lack of organic matter in the soil, frequent, shallow watering and excessive or uninformed use of fertilizers are the most common reasons for a poor plant growth in the garden. Before you consider fertilizing, first make sure that none of the above applies to your garden. Though to a lesser degree than with synthetic fertilizers, excessive or unnecessary use of organic fertilizers can destroy the right nutrient levels and balances in the soil and do more harm than good. Always test your soil before proceeding with fertilizing.

   Organic fertilizers are derived from mineral sources and
plant and animal by-products. They supply nutrients, stimulate beneficial organisms in the soil and improve soil structure.
They can be used alone or in combinations with other organic materials. Organic fertilizers are most often slow-release fertilizers, what means that release of nutrients available directly to plants takes place over a period of time, typically
1-4 months. They work best when incorporated into the soil. They should be used in quantities as recommended by the manufacturer.
They contain:
N - nitrogen - vital to plant growth
P - phosphorus -  aids in root growth and good blooming and flowering
K - potassium - important for over all plant health and resistance to stress and diseases. Aids in production of carbohydrates and ripening of fruit.
Organic fertilizers are also a good source of micronutrients like iron, manganese, boron, copper, zinc and others.
Among the most popular organic fertilizers are:
 

Plant based

Alfalfa meal or pellets - balanced, low, typically 2-1-2
N-P-K ratio. Contains plant growth stimulant triacontanol. For best results apply early in spring.

Cottonseed meal - high nitrogen, typically 6 - 0.4 -1.5
N-P-K ratio. Most likely made from GMO plants. May contain insecticide residues. For best results apply early in spring.

Kelp (seaweed) meal - high potassium, typically 1-0-8
N-P-K ratio. A rich source of micronutrients, amino-acids, vitamins and plant growth hormones. Stimulates soil microbial activity. Contains salt. Release time more than 4 months. For best results apply late in fall or early in spring. Can be used as a foliar spray during summer.

Soybean meal - high nitrogen, typically 7-2-1  N-P-K ratio.
Be aware that this fertilizer may be made from GMO soybeans, since 50% of the commercial production of soy is GMO. For best results apply early in spring.

Wood ash - low, on average 0-1-3  N-P-K ratio depending on the plant material. A good source of calcium and potassium. Contains phosphorus and magnesium, very rich in micronutrients. High pH ranging 9 to 13. Decreases soil acidity. Can be used as a lime substitute. May be applied at any time of year, however autumn is generally the best time for wood ash application. Apply at the rate of 1 – 1 ˝ kg per 10 sq m.
 

Animal based

Guano - Bat and sea bird manure. There are two kinds: high phosphorus, typically 3-10-1  N-P-K ratio or high nitrogen, typically 10-3-1  N-P-K ratio. A good source of micronutrients. Increases organic matter content in the soil. Can be mixed with the soil or applied as a top dressing. For best results apply in spring or in liquid form in summer.
 
 
 
Blood meal - Dried, powdered blood. High nitrogen, typically 12-0-0  N-P-K ratio. Quick acting. For best results apply in spring.  Because it can burn apply a few weeks in advance. Can be used in liquid form in summer.

Bone meal - high phosphorus, typically 3-15-0  N-P-K ratio. Also contains calcium and micronutrients. For best results apply before planting or as a soil amendment in fall or early spring.

Fish meal - high nitrogen and phosphorus, typically 8-12-2
N-P-K ratio. A rich source of micronutrients. For best results apply in spring.

Manure - balanced, low N-P-K ratio, a very slow, over a period of years, release. N-P-K contents depends on the manure source and is the highest in the poultry manure and lowest in the dairy cattle and swine manures. A great source of humus, micronutrients and microorganisms beneficial to biochemical reactions in the soil. Contains salts. Excessive use can lead to a salt build-up. For best results apply late in fall or in liquid form in summer.

Worm Castings - worm manure. Balanced, low N-P-K ratio, contains calcium and magnesium, rich in soil microorganisms, plant hormones and enzymes. Improves soil structure. Will not burn. Apply in spring.
 

Rock powders

   A very slow release, over a period of years. Apply in fall for the best results in the first year. Beneficial to plants in many seasons following application.

Phosphorus and calcium source:
Rock phosphate - finely ground mineral rock, typically 30% phosphate, calcium, micronutrients. A very slow release, about 3% a year. It is very insoluble in alkaline soils.
Colloidal phosphate - total phosphate about 20%. Consists of clay particles surrounded by natural phosphate. Contains calcium, iron, silicon and other micronutrients. A very slow release, about 2-3% a year.

Potassium source:
Greensand - contains potassium plus 32 trace elements.
Feldspar - contains potassium, magnesium, silicon, calcium, iron and boron.
Potassium sulfate - contains potassium and sulfur.
Biotite (black mica) - contains potassium, iron, magnesium, aluminum, silicon.

Calcium source:
Gypsum - hydrated calcium sulfate, CaSO4.2H2O, source of calcium and sulfur.
Lime - source of calcium, contains micronutrients. There are two kinds of lime: agricultural or garden lime (pulverized limestone or chalk) and dolomite lime. Agricultural lime is composed mostly of calcium carbonate CaCO3. Dolomite lime is composed of calcium magnesium carbonate CaMg(CO3)2 and is a liming agent as well as a potent magnesium fertilizer.

 

Kootenay Gardening

Using Lime in the Garden

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     Of the chemical substances in the soil the most essential for the plant normal growth are: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and iron. A soil deficient in any one of these is unable to support vegetation successfully.

The main source of calcium is lime.

    On land in need of lime more coarse, stronger growing grasses tend to take over. Weeds like sheep sorrel and others flourish, and often moss grows over the surface. Such a land does not respond to cultivation and fertilizing as expected.
Soils that are excessively acidic benefit form the application of lime. In that kind of soils some nutrients become locked up and are not available to plants. Lime sets free those plant foods. It neutralizes acid in the soil. It is a soil tonic and itself a plant food.
     Lime also improves the soil quality. It granulates the particles of clayey soil and makes it more friable and crumbly. Loose sandy soils by addition of lime become more compact and moisture retentive.
Lime helps keep in check diseases like club root and clover sickness and is distasteful to pests like slugs, wireworms and leatherjackets.
     Most soils contain sufficient supply of calcium. In such circumstances addition of lime can bring undesirable results.
There are also plants that clearly detest lime, so the decision "to lime or not to lime" should be based on both: the characteristics of your soil as well as what are you going to grow there.
 

Measuring the soil acidity/alkalinity

     When the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in the soil exceeds that of hydroxyl ions (OH-) the soil is acidic. When the concentration of OH- ions is greater than H+ ions the soil is alkaline. If there is an exact balance the soil is neutral.
     The soil alkalinity or acidity can be measured on the pH scale of 1-14. On the scale 7 represents neutrality, higher reading indicates alkalinity, lower indicates acidity.  It should be noted that one level on the scale corresponds to ten times greater concentration of specific ions in the soil. For example, acidity at pH5 is ten times as great as at pH6, and acidity at pH4 is ten times as great as at pH5, or one hundred times as great as at pH6.
     Acid soils are often referred to as “sour” and alkaline soils as “sweet”.
     Nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, potash, iron manganese and zinc are the most available to plants in a slightly acidic soil with pH of  5.5 - 6.5.
 

Increasing/decreasing the soil acidity/alkalinity

     Use lime to increase pH (make soil more alkaline or less acidic). Fertilizers containing ammonium, like ammonium sulfate and sulfur-coated urea will decrease pH (make soil less alkaline or more acidic). It is also possible to lower pH by addition of elemental sulfur or aluminum sulfate.
     In general, to increase pH one level, broadcast 2.5 kg of lime over 10 square meters (about 1 ton per acre) of soil surface and work it into the topsoil. To decrease pH one level, work 0.5 kg of elemental sulfur into 10 square meters of soil surface.  
     Light sandy soils need slightly less lime than heavy clayey soils to achieve the same results.
     Always measure pH level before liming.
     Dressing with Peat moss, Pine needles, Oak leaves or sawdust will slightly increase soil acidity.
Addition of high nitrogen fertilizers like sulfate of ammonia or urea will also lower pH and increase soil acidity. Adding manure year after year will also lower pH and make the soil more acidic.
     Since under cultivation soils tend to become more acid it is beneficial to apply lime periodically to keep soil from becoming too acidic. Light dressings in late winter or early spring, in alternate years, give the best results. It is best to broadcast lime on to surface of newly dug soil and left for the rains to wash in. The smaller the lime particles are ground, the faster the lime will work to change the pH.
     Never mix lime and fertilizer. Lime at least a month after fertilizing. Or, if you plan to fertilize in spring, apply lime in the fall and vice versa.
 

Plant Preferences

     Different plants require different levels of acidity. A well prepared soil of neutral or slightly acid character with a pH level between 6.5 and 7 is the best for the great majority of garden plants.
      Roses, Daphne, Viburnum, Elderberry, Tamarix, Hazel, Buddleia, Berberis, Lavender, Ivy, Privet, Spiraeas, Kerria, Forsythia, Boxwood, Quinces, Mock Oranges, Honeysuckle, Lilacs, Clematis, Hollies, Flowering Currant, Deutzia, Rubus family, Cotoneaster, Juniper, Yews, Pear and Plum trees, Flowering Crabs and Cherries, Mountain Ashes and Hawthorns do very well on slightly alkaline soils. Peas, Beans, and many Brassicas prefer a slightly alkaline soil, as well, with pH of 7.0 or even slightly higher.
      Many vegetables and garden flowers, however, do best in slightly acidic soil. Many Conifers, Hemlock among them, prefer slightly acid soils, as well.
     There are also plants that are clearly harmed by lime. The plant family Ericaceae (Heath) (calcifuges) consists of mostly lime-hating plants that thrive in acid soils. The family includes Blueberries, Huckleberries, Cranberries,  Heathers, Azaleas and Rhododendrons. If grown on alkaline soils those plants develop symptoms of iron deficiency, since under alkaline conditions iron becomes less soluble and less available to plants. They perform best when soil acidity ranges between 4.0 and 5.2 pH.
 

Kinds of Lime

     There are two kinds of lime available: agricultural or garden lime (pulverized limestone or chalk) and dolomite lime.
Agricultural or garden lime is composed mostly of calcium carbonate CaCO3.
Dolomite lime is composed of calcium magnesium carbonate CaMg(CO3)2. It should be considered as a liming agent as well as a potent magnesium fertilizer. If used in excess dolomite may cause undesirable magnesium buildup.
      Application of dolomite lime in rotation with agricultural lime is beneficial.

 

Kootenay Gardening

Composting

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Composting for Sustainable Organic Gardening

    "Composting improves soil structure and moisture retention. Billions of decaying organisms (25,000 bacteria placed end to end equal one inch) feed, grow, reproduce and die, recycling garden waste into an organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. Composting is the ultimate recycling process – improving soil structure, increasing the soil’s ability to hold moisture, providing soil aeration, fertilization, and nitrogen storage. It buffers pH, releases nutrients, and provides food for microbial life."
A comprehensive information on composting at the Avant-Gardening: Creative Organic Gardening website.
   

    

Kootenay Gardening

Soil building and regeneration

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Building Soil Naturally

    "Organic gardening is growing without chemical fertilizers, naturally building the soil to support healthy plant life. Chemical fertilizers and additives will, over time, damage the soil's ability to provide what plants need to resist disease, insect attacks, and stress. Soil depletion of organic nutrients is one of the main causes of unhealthy plants and disease."
Avant-Gardening: Creative Organic Gardening website.

 

Nourishing the Earth that Nourishes Us: How Compost Builds the Soil

    A very good article at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website on how compost builds the soil written by Grace Gershuny, the author of several books and articles on soil management and composting, including Start with the Soil.
   

 

 

 

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