Editor's note: organic gardening techniques for preventing soil erosion.

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by Mort Mather

Yes! I did get the peas planted before the torrential rains. The were not drowned nor washed out of the ground though there was a puddle over part of a row for almost a day. If my garden was not on level ground, rains like that might well have caused some erosion unless I was careful.

The first measure to take against erosion is to plant rows across the slope, not up and down. This will help keep water from running. Three inches of rain in thirty hours or so will soak all but the most porous soil and when that happens to tilled soil the water that accumulates on the surface will find a way to flow downhill.

Barriers need to be put in place to check the flow of water. These may be strips of untilled soil. The sod or other established growth will slow the water and cause it to fan out. The roots and any thatch will also absorb more water than bare soil. Slowing the water will cause any silt that was picked up on the tilled area to settle out rather than having it continue to wash farther down the slope.

In the case of my peas I could have mulched them after planting. I would have used a thick hay mulch which would have kept any soil from moving. The mulch would first absorb the splashing force of the rain drops, then absorbed an amazing amount of the rain before it even reached the soil and, lastly, once the mulch and soil were thoroughly soaked it would have impeded any flow of water on the soil surface. My peas were planted in rows that I dug by hand leaving the rest of the garden covered with last year's mulch and plant remains. That ground cover would provide protection against erosion, too, if I needed it.

The most labor-intensive way to control erosion is needed only on more severe slopes. That is contouring the land into level terraces. The slopes between the terraces are either planted in some good ground cover that will hold the soil or they are actually vertical structures—stone walls or timbers.

As pleased as I am with planting my peas I am disappointed at being parsnip deprived, a perennial disgrace. I should be digging parsnips fresh from the garden right now. Those sweet earthy vegetables are at their best after a winter frozen in the ground where they stored the sun's goodness for the task of putting forth a blossom and making seeds for the next generation. They are especially wonderful if you have been trying to live off the garden's bounty all year 'round. The root cellar vegetables are getting kind of tired by now and canned and frozen vegetables are getting tiresome.

Why doesn't Mr. Long-Range-Planning have parsnips? Why does he forget to plant them year after year?

I don't know. I had the seed last spring and I had a place on the plot for them to be planted. It must be some kind of mental block. They can be planted right now. I think I better put the seeds out on the table where I'll be sure to remember to plant them.

April 20, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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