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Think twice before working muddy soil

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Webbed feet, anyone?
Well, the Almanac said it would be a wetter than normal spring. It seems like it just keeps raining. I know it’s hard, but resist working the soil when it’s wet. It just messes it up. I had a small field I dug wet once and it was two years before I got those clay lumps back to normal.
That’s why I like raised beds. Most raised beds are easier to work because they drain quicker, mostly because it is better soil. I have two types of raised beds, tall and short. I frame in my beds with wood and add great soil with composted manure and other trace minerals. The tall ones have at least 24 inches of soil, the short ones have only a foot.
My fields stay wet much longer. That soil has more clay in it. The raised beds also make it easy to cover the beds, either for critter protection or weather protection. The beds can also be built on hilly ground, something we have plenty of here in Anderson County.
We’ve also had plenty of wind to follow the rains we’ve been having and we should be thankful. The winds dry the soil faster. We will be able to plant everything soon and there are a few things to help our young new plants get off to a healthy start.
I like to use Epsom salts and greensand in my tomato holes. The salt adds magnesium and the sand a slow release water-soluble potassium and 32 other trace minerals. A few weeks after I plant, I’ll add bone meal. A few weeks after that I’ll use a liquid fertilizer every week until the plants are really fruiting. Then, I add oyster shells as a side dressing to help prevent blossom end rot.
When the plants are really coming on with flowers is an important time to watch. The health and color of the leaves can tell you a lot about what you’re running out of in the soil. Look at the color of the leaves and the veins within the leaves. Look at the shoots and stem.
If the leaves are pale or yellow and have purplish tints on the underside, you need to add nitrogen. If the shoots are dwarfed and thin with a dull purple or blue-green tint and leaves that curl backward you need to add phosphorus. Leaves with a purple-brown tint and that are dying back want more calcium.
There are all kinds of things you can feed the soil to fix it. Nitrogen is found in animal hair, dried blood, fish or bone meal, feathers and manure. Just never use fresh manure. Besides the greensand, phosphorus can be found in bone meal, colloidal phosphate and rock phosphate. Calcium is found in bone or fish meal, gypsum, lime and oyster shells. All of these things release their goodies slowly into the soil.
This year, I’m making a special water to use on about 75 of my plants when I put them into the soil. I’m using the tips of willow branches to make a rooting solution. Simply prune several 3-inch twigs from the ends of the small branches and place in a container with water.
Over a few days time, the water will change to a caramel color. That’s when you take out the wood. Use that water when you plant. A fistful of twigs will make a gallon of willow water. I think it’s going to make the roots really take off and give me a healthy plant faster than normal. We’ll see.
Get out your calendar and pen because the Anderson County Humane Society has lots of great things coming up in May. On May 7 we have Brianna’s Memorial Mutt Strutt and the annual shot clinic will be held May 14 from 1-4 p.m.). Both events will be at the county park. The annual Garden Party will be held at Dowling Hall on May 21.
Now, get going. May is upon us and I’ve got a feeling we’re going to have a lot of muddy prints on the linoleum this month.
I just hope none of them are webbed.
Happy growing!

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.