Earl Hall is a member of AOG and has a large garden at his home just west of Austin. Roughly half of his garden is in 4x4 square foot beds filled with "Mel's Mix" and the other half consists of garden rows of native soil. Below, Earl describes how he took what he learned on his father's farm in North Carolina and extended it with his own experimentation to enrich his native soil. For more information on Earl's gardening and seed saving techniques, please visit our blog site.
From Earl W. Hall...
An age old way of gardening often overlooked...
Aerobe: any microorganism that grows on oxygen
Microbe: a microscopic organism usually of vegetable nature
On the family farm in North Carolina, my father plowed under all of the crop residue six weeks before planting time. About once a week he would disk (aerate) the soil letting in air. By planting time, this crop residue had fully decomposed. Today, this is called sheet composting - made in place, used in place. He planted the seed and the sprouts came out of the ground growing strong. When the soil was dry, he cultivated (aerated) the soil often as the plants were growing. Cultivating does for microbes in the soil what turning does for microbes in the compost pile and what aerating with a pump does for microbes when making compost tea.
Applying what I learned from my father, I mulch my garden with light, fluffy compost. Mulch conserves moisture, prevents a crust from forming, and helps keep the soil soft. When uncomposted mulch makes soil contact, it robs fertility in the process of decomposing. However, when compost makes soil contact, it adds fertility. Mulch is not a substitute for cultivating. I cultivate around my plants to a depth of one to two inches creating moisture-saving mulch and admitting air to the soil which is essential both to plant growth and to the aerobic microbes.
When properly done, mulching with compost combined with cultivating greatly improves the life of the soil and plant growth. Following is the method I developed for mulching row-furrows in the native soil startng 4 weeks in advance of planting - a method that greatly enhances microbial activity:
- Till the soil in a 4 foot by 4 foot area (the rows can be longer if desired)
- Open 2 row-furrows 18 inches apart and 6 inches deep
- Mark both ends of the furrows and spread fertilizer in the troughs (see the photo below)
- Fill the furrows with compost
- Open a furrow on both sides of the previous 2
- Fill the new furrows with compost
- Drench the rows with aerobic compost tea and keep the rows moist so that the microbes stay active
- Leave a 4 foot walk space and add additional furrows as called out in step 2
- About once a week, rake the soil (aerate) to a depth of 1 inch
- When planting, open the original, fertilized furrows to a depth of 5 inches and plant the seeds. This ensures deep roots and conserves moisture.
- As the plants grow, backfill the furrows
- Every week or so, when the soil is dry, cultivate around the plants to a depth of 1 to 2 inches
Using this mulching method this year, I have the best garden I've ever had.