Rain is Good for Your Soil

rain in the garden

rain in the garden

Rainy weather is a welcome sight to anyone who lives in a Mediterranean climate such as our own, where gardening is a year-round pursuit. But a good downpour is not only an opportunity to rest from the constant tasks of fertilizing, pruning, mulching and planting. When it rains, local gardeners delight in the knowledge that the soil will be soaked evenly to a significant depth, leaching out salts that interfere with root uptake of essential micronutrients.
Plant health depends on balanced mineral nutrition. This balance is undermined by salts that are found in the water sources and flow through the pipes of people who inhabit dry regions such as our own. These salts slowly build up in the soil, and then find their way into roots, foliage, flowers and fruit. It takes a good rain to drain these salts far down into the ground where they will cease, at least for the immediate future, to make trouble for our plants.
January is the month to settle back into a comfortable chair, leaf through seed catalogs and dream great dreams. You will not order a fraction of what your eyes wish to behold or what your taste buds salivate to sample. Nevertheless, the many wonderful cataloged options that appear in your mailbox this time of year, all available to you as an adventurous gardener, are bound to lift you up to new heights of horticultural resolve. For example, it just might happen, if only for a brief moment, that you visualize devoting the remainder of your life to the cultivation of cowpeas. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Mansfield, Mo., offers 30 varieties of this tasty leguminous crop. Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), also known as black-eyed peas, are actually more like ordinary beans in their culture, preferring to be planted in spring, as opposed to regular peas, that require a fall or early winter sowing. Cowpeas will remind you of snap beans or string beans, depending on the variety, although their colors are highly varied, including red, purple, black, gray, tan and white. Even if you do not make cowpea farming a full-time occupation, you will find growing them useful, as you would legumes generally, for adding fertility to garden soil. For a free seed catalog of cowpeas and other exotic edibles, visit the folks at Baker Creek online at www.rareseeds.com or by phone at (417) 924-8887.
Have you ever grown potatoes? It’s really not hard to do. First, however, you must procure certified seed potatoes. If you take a supermarket potato and plant it, you may or may not get a few new tubers for your trouble. Although healthy enough to eat, store-bought potatoes are highly susceptible to a variety of potato diseases when planted in the garden. To guarantee a good potato crop, you must plant seed potatoes – potato pieces with two or more eyes – that are certified to be disease-free. Set the seed potatoes 2 inches deep and a foot apart in well-drained soil and mound loose soil over new tubers as they develop. Fall and spring planting is recommended. However, in California, you can even plant in midwinter, as long as the soil is not rain-saturated. Wood Prairie Farm, in Bridgewater, Maine, has 16 potato varieties to choose from. For a free potato catalog, go to www.woodprairie.com or call (800) 829-9765.
If you love lima beans, you will appreciate a new variety from Burpee called Big Mama Lima Bean, whose pods are 8 inches long. Burpee is also featuring a Red Lightning tomato with yellow stripes, a Black Pearl cherry tomato that tastes like Concord grapes when chilled, and candy-sweet Maple Sugar corn. Go to www.burpee.com or call (800) 333-5808 for a free catalog.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Two readers wondered where they could find decomposed granite (DG), a coarse, compactible sand that is used for making inexpensive walkways or as a ground cover substitute. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Sand and Gravel” and you will find suppliers who deliver DG by the cubic yard. Building supply yards also stock DG often enough.

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