Garden Soil Care: Compost.

Compost is the best all-natural soil amendment you can use. It contains valuable plant nutrients and plant disease-fighting organisms, and it also makes soil moisture-retentive and easier to till. Best of all, compost is free when you make your own. You can make compost in a bin {3 feet square is ideal} or simply pile the ingredients on the ground. If you turn the pile periodically, it will break down faster, but even if you pile it and leave it for a year, it will break down.
6 parts dried {brown} plant material {dry leaves. straw, sawdust, paper}
1 part fresh {green} plant material {grass clippings, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, horse, cow, or chicken manure}
1. Put a layer of brown material directly on the ground, then add a layer of green material. Continue to layer brown and green material to a height of 3 feet. Water with a hose as needed to keep the pile moist as a wrung-out sponge.
2. To speed up decomposition, use a hay fork to puncture and turn the pile to allow air into its center. In rainy weather cover the pile with a tarp to prevent saturating it.
3. If the pile becomes smelly, it is too wet-mix in more brown ingredients. When the pile looks like rich, crumbly black soil and has a sweet, earthy fragrance, it is ready to use in the garden or as mulch.

Garden Soil Care: Green Manure Soil Conditioner.

Often called green manures, these annual crops thrive in cool weather, protecting garden soil from erosion and weeds.
Hairy vetch or winter rye seeds
1. After clearing vegetables or annual flowers from a bed in fall, sow hairy vetch or winter rye seeds in cleared beds according to package directions.
2. In early spring, three to four weeks before planting time, dig the green manure right into the soil. As it decomposes, it adds humus to the soil and acts as fertilizer for the coming season’s crop.

Garden Soil Care: Seaweed Soil Conditioner.

Seaweed is actually higher in nitrogen and potassium than most animal manures and is also a rich source of trace elements. Many municipalities with beaches are glad to have you haul it away.
Seaweed
1. To cleanse seaweed of salt, pile it where runoff will be directed to a storm drain, such as on your driveway. Allow several spots of rain to rinse away the sea salt, then add the seaweed to your compost pile or dig it into garden beds in the fall.
2. To make seaweed tea, steep an old pillowcase filled with seaweed in a bucket of water for a week. Remove and discard the bag, dilute the liquid to the color of weak tea, and water plants with it.

Garden Soil Care: Wood-Ash Potassium Boost.

Wood ashes from a fireplace or wood stove {not coal or charcoal ashes} are a free source of the plant nutrients potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. They can also be used, like lime, to decrease soil acidity. Benefits of treating the soil with ashes include improved hardiness and flavor of fruits. Be sure to apply in small amounts or compost well before applying to keep the caustic ashes from burning plants. Water-soluble nutrients can leach from ashes, so be sure to use fresh ones that have not been exposed to rain.
Wood ashes
1. Apply 5 to 10 pounds of ashes per 100 square feet of garden in the fall.
2. To reduce soil acidity, use as a substitute for ground limestone: Apply up to twice as much wood ashes as limestone package recommends, and allow ashes to weather over the winter before planting.

Garden Soil Care: Coffee Grounds Fertilizer.

Acidic coffee grounds make an excellent soil conditioner or mulch for acid-loving plants like conifers, azaleas, and rhododendrons.
You can often have as much of the used grounds as you need, free for the taking.
Coffee grounds
1. Apply a 3-inch-thick mulch of coffee grounds around the base of acid-loving plants, leaving a 6-inch ring of bare soil around the trunk of the plant to discourage trunk-eating insects and voles that like to nest in mulch.
2. For a complete fertilizer, 2-4-2 analysis, mix 4 parts coffee grounds with 1 part composted wood ashes, and work into the soil in autumn.

Fertilizer, Free for the Asking:

 
Healthy plants are naturally resistant to insects and disease, and natural fertilizers are the best way to ensure healthy plants and a balanced garden ecosystem.
No matter where you live, good sources of fertilizer, free for the hauling, are available at farms and from neighbors who have pet rabbits or chickens.
All you have to do is ask for animal manure to enrich your compost.

Use Scented Mulch to Keep Insects Away:

 
Trimming herbs frequently, especially removing flower stalks, helps them maintain lots of tender, flavorful new growth.
Sprinkle the sprigs and flowers that you don’t use in the kitchen along garden paths as aromatic and insect-repelling mulch.

These Animals May Actually Help Your Garden.

Planning and maintaining a garden requires a lot of effort, which can result in an aesthetically pleasing addition to the landscape. But that hard work can also fall victim to nature when local wildlife finds a garden too mouth-watering to resist.
In an effort to rid a garden of unwanted pests, gardeners may unwittingly scare away animals and insects that might just protect the garden from more ill-intentioned animals. Not every creature that scurries is out to get prized petunias or to devour tomatoes. In fact, many can prove beneficial to gardens.
Bats:
 
Bats have a reputation, as people unnecessarily fear bats because they believe them to be carriers of disease. But many bats feed off of insects or fruits and will not harm a human. The average brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour, so it’s easy to see why bats are good to have around. Mosquitoes are not only a nuisance but also harbor potentially dangerous diseases. Bats also may eat certain rodents, which can cut down on the number of animals burrowing in a yard.
Frogs:
 
Frogs and toads will prey on insects and make the local insect population more manageable. Toads eat mainly slugs, who feed on the leaves and fruits of many plants. Frogs and toads are attracted to water, so including a pond or another water feature in the garden will provide them with a habitat they like.
Birds:
While it is true that some birds can damage crops, many birds are content to feed on insects attracted to the garden, which helps to keep insect numbers in check. Chickadees, for example, will dine on aphid eggs while larger birds may prey on mice or other rodents or simply scare them out of the garden. Jays and mockingbirds are known to be feisty and can even deter dogs and cats from a yard. Hummingbirds will sip on the nectar of flowers and help pollinate plants.
Snakes:
 
Snakes in a garden can be disconcerting to some people, but snakes are ideal predators who feed on insects and rodents several times their size. Snakes are the right size and shape to invade the burrows of pest animals.
Butterflies and Bees:
 
Butterflies and bees are responsible for pollinating the vast majority of plants. Avoid using pesticides that may diminish butterfly or bee populations. A beehive right next to a garden may not be practical, but don’t make attempts to destroy it. Consult with a professional beekeeper to see what can be done to move the beehive without destroying it.
Many animals and insects can be detrimental to the health of a garden. However, several animals are handy to have around and should be welcomed to the landscape.
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