And comprehensive it is!! I have learned more about gardening in the 7 hours of class so far than I would ever have known by reading a book or researching online. I have about 18 more hours of class - I will be on information overload by the end of it for sure!
We meet every Thursday for two hours of just class time.
And then for three Saturdays we meet for five hours of mostly outside learning. This first week has been focused on soil and learning how to tend to it, what makes it healthy, how to love it and nurture it so that it will love and nurture your seeds/plants. If you have good soil, you will have very low-maintenance to do for your garden, so having healthy soil is key.
A couple of the things I learned right from the start: never ever use some kind of spray to kill bugs in your garden. If you feel like you have to spray something, soapy water is better, but using a fertilizer spray doesn't just affect your own soil negatively, but it also washes into our watershed and affects us all in the long run. So stop spraying weed/bug killer for all of our sakes. Thanks.
Another important thing that I didn't really follow 100%: don't walk on your soil! Healthy soil has pore space to move water and oxygen to your plants. Walking in your garden upsets that pore space and hurts your plants. So stop that. My garden bed isn't very big, but I sometimes walked right out into the soil to get to the backside and thought that as long as I wasn't too close to the plants it wouldn't matter, but it does. Everything matters where your soil is concerned. I'm going to add a couple stepping stones in key areas and never use my soil as a footpath. You should too! I tried to walk on the wood portion of the raised bed and it just shifted the wood and over the season last year, one of the wood pieces cracked (I'd like to think it's due to older wood, not just me being heavy!!).
And my last pearls of wisdom to share with you - don't just leave your garden at the end of the season or if you have a season you aren't planning on planting. Put in a "cover crop" and let it take over so your soil doesn't just sit there for months exposed to the elements. Never cover it with a tarp-those are horrible for soil. Cover crops will keep nutrients in your soil so it doesn't just wash away. At the very least, cover your garden with hay or some kind of mulch. The easiest way to cover your soil is with burlap bags, which you can get for free from your local coffee house (at least in our area you can).
I will admit that I have failed at every one of these things. And many more things, I'm sure.
One failure I am correcting immediately is the disposal of my food trash. I feel guilty every time I cook, as I throw away so many food bits (or put them in the garbage disposal). So wasteful!!!
Our class last Saturday looked at composting and we learned about the amazing benefits, beyond just not being wasteful, you can actually utilize your scraps to make fertilize your garden. I honestly used to think that you could just toss your food garbage in a pile and it would naturally dissolve into the soil and add the nutrients as it dies off. Ha, funny-that's so wrong.
I'm not expert at all - but this is what I learned:
We looked at hot composting, which is building layers of dry/wet (or browns and greens). You would add a layer of your food garbage, and then on top of that add your old hay or straw. Or leftover hops from your local brewery! Or coffee grounds from your local coffee shop. And then repeat. The layers sit on top of each other and then you rotate the pile so everything starts melding together.
Here's an example of a great hot compost layered look:
|This is Connor and he LOVES hot composting.|
|Moving the compost from one bin to the next, then moving back to the other in layers mixes it all together to work on an even decomposition.|
This type of composting is NOT for me. I don't have that much patience or that much food to compost. And it smells. And it's a lot of work.
The best thing for the lazy composter is a worm bin. And I went to our local depot for home items and bought some plywood and will be building my very own worm bin this week. Worm bins are great - you just fill it up with material like wet newspaper and cardboard strips (more recycling opportunities!). You can add some soil, but you don't even have to - they will eat your old paper products. You have to let the worms chew through some of the bedding before adding them but after a short bit, you can start adding food. Just move some of the bedding aside and make a hole, drop in your food waste, cover it (to avoid fruit flies) with bedding, add some wet material on top after you cover (to further avoid fruit flies and hide the smell), and then close the lid and let your worms eat! You have to just turn the bedding a bit and over time, you will have this lovely black soil - really all worm poop! Add it to your garden and then bam-healthy, lush, organic vegetables will grow like crazy! And your worms? They will just be content to eat and eat.
You're not using regular worms-you have to buy special "red wiggler" worms. Get them from an organic farm store so you know you have the best and healthiest worms to really do a good job. They cost about $40-60, but will provide the best fertilizer you can imagine so it will payoff in the long run for you. And the worms procreate and make tons of little worm babies that will help eat your food waste and produce more and more of that wonderful black gold soil for your garden.
Worm bins are awesome! I can't wait to get my worms on Friday. Stay tuned for pics of my journey with worms. Happy composting!!