Editor's note: organic fertilizing strategies in the spring make a big difference early.

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by Mort Mather

Spring is always a little bit difficult for me. The garden doesn't look like it will ever get started. That is because of the way I fertilize. Not because I am organic because there are a lot of different ways to fertilize without using synthetically produced chemicals. I know one farmer whose barn is set up with drains which drain all the cow urine into a holding tank. He dips it out and side dresses his garden plants with this rich, highly soluble fertilizer.

I am at the opposite end of the spectrum, or have been for the past half dozen years or so. I spread lots of essentially unsociable, low nutrient organic material on my garden the year before it is planted. The best example of this is the hay mulch I am putting down now to smother weeds and hold in moisture this year. The soil organisms will start turning that material into plant nutrients this year and continue working on it next year. Since I am so close to the low limits of fertility the plants sometimes suffer in the early spring when the soil organisms have not gotten up to full force and activity.

This year I spread dried blood on the spinach patch to see if that would improve my results with that crop. It did. We had the best spinach crop in many years. But the rest of the garden has been fairly uncooperative this year.

I replanted corn, cucumbers and squash because of the cold soil. The seeds rotted before they got warm enough to germinate. I replanted beans because the electric fence charger broke. It was a race to see if the charger would be repaired before the beans got high enough to attract the groundhog. I lost the race. I replanted a couple of eggplant plants. Of the three varieties I'm trying this year, one appears to be particularly tasty to flea beetles. I lost one tomato plant to cutworms. I always have back-up seedlings to replace those lost to cutworms and these replantings were normal.

What is not normal is the number of cutworms in the rest of the garden. I have lost onions, corn, potatoes, cucumbers and beans. Not enough to cause concern but it is unusual. I think this is a first for onions and potatoes.

I have made many plantings of radishes and not eaten one single decent radish to date. I should be sick of radishes by now. Flea beetles and something eating the roots have frustrated me this year. I don't know if the moles have anything to do with it but I sure do have moles. You literally can't push you hand into my garden soil without encountering a mole tunnel. They don't eat vegetables and they seem to be missing the cut worms but they may be making serious inroads into other soil organism populations like earthworms. If anyone knows how to control these critters, please let me know. Windmills that vibrate the ground don't work and I'm not about to pay $50 for an electronic sound emitter that only claims to eliminate them for 100 square feet. The garden is 2,500 square feet and I'd like them gone from the yard, too.

The two nasturtium plants Bill Spaulding started and brought by for me didn't last a day. My fault. I put them out in the garden without hardening them off. Too much sun all at once.

On a brighter note we started eating peas last week. The onions, garlic and potatoes look great, knock on wood. There are tomatoes on a few plants and blossoms on the melon vine that is mulched with black plastic. I think the rest of the garden will start looking good soon. There is always a depressing week or two when I worry that the garden will be a failure. If it is, it will be the first in twenty five years.

ŠJune 28, 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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