It would be easy to think that the events of May are the ultimate tease for anxious gardeners. After all, we have Mother’s Day and that means flowers and Memorial Day and that means flowers and then, almost predictably, we could have fog, cold rain, even snow. In the spirit of the times we are in now, I take the temperature ... of the air and of the soil. When we have five nighttime air temperatures of 55 degrees or above, I get serious about planting.
But there is even a caution with that plan. Started tomato plants, for example, prefer the soil temperature to be at 60 degrees or higher. Google for that information. Ask something like this: what is the preferred soil temperature for growing (name the plant.) The key words are “temperature” and “growing.” If starting seeds is the plan, then ask this: What is the preferred temperature for germinating (name the plant) seeds. The key word is “germinating.”
This is also the time to enrich or amend the soil prior to planting. If you have home-made compost, spread it and work it into the soil before planting. We have a compost pile and I use that to enrich the soil. We also use several tons of the city yard waste compost throughout the growing season as a mulch.
An important addition to the soil enrichment is the application of manure to the soil. Feeding the soil with manure is part of the natural system, but understandably, few if any gardeners allow animals to forage in the garden.
We utilize the worm castings and chicken droppings as manure. And, like most gardeners, my ears perk up when I hear folks talking about good sources of animal manures.
Manures from goats, sheep, llama and alpaca can take a long time to break down. Cattle and horse manure are good but can contain weed seeds to torment you later. If the manure comes mixed with stable litter — so much the better. Fresh chicken manure as well as hog manure is “hot” and can damage young plants. It is best used after it has aged awhile.
Using manures requires some caution. It is a good idea to wear garden or rubber gloves, wash your hands well and be certain that your tetanus shot is up to date.
In a perfect world, a gardener would have two piles of manure — one ready to use in the spring and one that would age for use the following spring.
It seems that the gardening world is awash in various chemical fertilizers — powders, granules, liquid — but it is worth remembering that animal manures are the natural and traditional ways of enriching the soil. We are fortunate to live in an area where a variety of animals are raised, almost always on natural pastures. The manures from these animals are easily accessible and a true gift to the soil.
Cathie Draine is a South Dakota Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association. She lives and gardens in Whispering Pines. Contact her at blackhillsgarden.com.
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