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A New Desert Challenge

Well, this should be interesting! My relocation to Palm Springs is hopefully nearing completion - after a near-comical series of blunders by the sellers and mortgage company. I'm sure that some day I'll laugh at the delays in closing on our new home...but not yet.

There is a 7x25 patch of scraggly-looking Bermuda grass in the back yard, surrounded by concrete and just begging to become a vegetable garden. As with any organic garden conversion, it calls for a great deal of work at the beginning, followed by little or no effort later.

First, the Bermuda grass must go. As I am firmly against the use of any chemical herbicides near my food, this is going to require hand-digging and careful root removal. As this is not exactly a thick lush stand of grass, I think I'll be able to get most of it in my first pass. Any survivors will then be dealt with on one-on-one as time goes on. I shall prevail.

Then, it's soil amending time. I'll work in several bags of compost and manure, along with volcanic mineral rock dust, dry organic fertilizer, and mycorrhizal inoculant. This will be the one and only time that I do any deep tillage to this plot. In the future, I'll just use a mulch cover and light applications of organic fertilizer to the surface of the soil. Increasing populations of earthworms will do the work of transporting nutrients down to the root zone and keeping the soil aerated.

I'll still put a light dusting of mycorrhizal inoculant on my larger plants each season - the tomatoes and melons especially - but once the beneficial fungi have colonized the entire plot, this probably is not necessary, but I like to give my plants every advantage.

This start up procedure illustrates the difference between farms and home gardens. To do this sort of radical amendment of soil is relatively easy for gardeners, but would be a near-impossible task on a large farm. For both, the goal should be to create biologically-alive sustainable soil, which is quickly done on a small plot but much more difficult when dealing with hundreds or even thousands of acres.

Home gardeners should never rototill, period, flat statement. Rototilling damages and disrupts the bio-life that help sustain gardens. Work from the top and the soil will become wonderfully rich and alive all season long, not fluffy at the start and rock-hard a few weeks later.

Farmers can also improve their topsoil every year instead of simply plowing deeper as their top layers become nonproductive. Short-term cover crops, rotations, no-till or limited-tillage, re-introducing beneficial microbial organisms when seeding, and other well-tested methods can be used to replace the plow-fertilize-seed-harvest-and repeat practices that are creating lifeless depleted soils.

I anticipate having a highly productive garden this season, where there was terrible soil before. I also expect that the garden soil will become better and better in the years to come, with virtually no added effort. It's going to be a little odd setting out tomato plants around Christmas, but summer is not exactly prime growing time around here.

Good growing, my friends. My apologies to those of you who had orders delayed during my move.

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics

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