Tomato Lower Leaves Yellowing and Dropping with Leaf Loss Moving Upwards

cherry-tomato-ripening-macro

Tomatoes grow well during warmer weather, and that is expected since they are subtropical plants native to western South America and Central America. In cool to temperate climates tomatoes are grown as annuals, since they start to decline as temperatures drop in late autumn to early winter.

Often in mid to late summer, even if the plants are quite healthy, it’s often observed that the lower leaves yellow and curl, then the leaves drop. The leaf loss slowly creeps upwards until the plant is completely defoliated, and with no leaves the plant quickly dies off.

This decline is not temperature related, it’s caused by a tiny pest, the tomato russet mite, which can be stopped. By eliminating this pest, the productive season of tomato plants can be extended well into the cooler seasons, until they finally succumb to the colder weather.

 

Tomato Russet Mite

The tomato russet mite (Aculops lycopersici), a member of the Eriophyidae family of mites, is a tiny sap-sucking pest approximately 0.15-0.2 mm long and 0.05 mm wide. They are so small they are not visible to the unaided eye, and a hand lens or jewellers loupe is needed to see these mites.

They reproduce very quickly, and their populations can grow quite large in number before any damage is noticed. They do not produce the noticeable fine webbing which identifies the presence of red spider mites.

 

Plants Affected by Tomato Russet Mite

These pests attack tomato, chilli and capsicum plants.

 

Symptoms

Tomato russet mites attack the lower leaves first, which yellow and curl, then dry and fall off. The stems also discolour (bronze) from the pest attack. These mites move upward to feed as their population increases, and leaf loss continues moving upwards as a result.

As the sap is sucked from the plant, the green growth is weakened, flowering is reduced, and the plant’s overall health and vigour decline. If left untreated, the pest will eventually suck all the sap from the entire plant and kill it.

 

Favourable Factors

The tomato russet mite populations grow more rapidly under warm, dry, windless conditions, making infestations worse. They prefer locations on target plants which provide them with adequate shelter and humidity.

 

How the Pest Spreads

Due to their small size, tomato russet mites are spread by the wind, and are also carried on clothing, in removed garden debris, on tools and machinery, and even on other pest insects such as whitefly and aphids.

 

Management of Tomato Russet Mite

Tomato russet mite can be managed with both cultural controls and organic-gardening approved chemical controls. Combining both increases the effectiveness of pest control measures.

 

Cultural Controls

Cultural controls are integrated pest management (IPM) practices which disrupt the environment of the disease, reducing establishment, reproduction, dispersal, and survival. These cultural practices are the most effective methods currently available for control of white leaf spot in organic farming systems.

The following cultural controls can be used to reduce tomato russet mite:

  • Planting location – do not plant downwind of infested plantings as this pest is carried by the wind.
  • Plant hygiene – check that seedlings are not infested with the pest before transplanting.
  • Sanitation – clean tools and equipment after working in infested areas, take necessary precautions with clothing sanitation to avoid pests hitching a ride to new areas.

 

Chemical Controls

The tomato russet mite, and other pest mites can be effectively controlled by using wettable sulphur, a miticide which is approved for use in organic gardening.

Wettable sulphur is a colloidal form of elemental sulphur that is designed to be sprayed. It is used to eradicate pest mites and is also used as a fungicide. It’s a fine yellow-brown powder which dissolves in water and is very effective at controlling this pest. From my own experience, after spraying, the leave fall ceases and the plants take on a healthier, greener colour if they had a mottled green colour previously.

IMG_20200708_161544-1

 

How to Use Wettable Sulphur to Control Mites

  • Use 2-3g wettable sulphur per litre of water when spraying for for tomato russet mite and red spider mite, 2.5-5g per litre for grape leaf rust mite and grape leaf blister mite.
  • Shake bottle frequently during spraying
  • It’s important to spray all parts of the plant, including the undersides of leaves, stems, buds and flowers.
  • Repeat application at 2 week intervals, usually two to three sprays two weeks apart will be sufficient.

 

IMG_20200708_161943-1

 

Know the Difference Between Sulphur Garden Products

Note that wettable sulphur is not the same as lime sulphur, a liquid fungicide and pesticide which is used to spray fruit trees in winter.

Granular sulphur or agricultural sulphur is elemental sulphur which is mixed into the soil to reduce the soil pH and make it more acidic. It’s insoluble in water (can’t be dissolved in water), and therefore cannot be used for spraying. It’s a soil amendment product and can’t be used to treat tomato russet mite.

 

 

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Plant Diseases – White or Tan Spots on Brassica Leaves

pak-choi-white-leaf-spot

White leaf spot is a fungal disease of cruciferous vegetables (brassicas) caused by the pathogen Mycosphaerella capsellae, which is also known as Pseudocercosporella capsellae. The distribution of this disease pathogen is worldwide, it can be found in many countries with temperate climates, where brassicas are grown.

The image above shows a pak choi (Chinese cabbage) plant displaying the symptoms of white leaf spot disease.

Detailed below are the characteristics of this plant disease and instructions on how to manage it.

 

Plants Affected by White Leaf Spot Disease

The white leaf spot fungus affects crops from the Brassicaceae (brassica, crucifer, mustard, or cabbage) family.

Certain brassica varieties are more susceptible to this disease, these include Chinese cabbage (bok choi, pak choi). mustards, turnip, rutabaga and canola (oilseed rape).

Less susceptible brassica varieties include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collards and kale.

Horseradish and radish are also susceptible to this disease.

The disease can overwinter in volunteer crop seedlings (self-seeded susceptible crop plants) and susceptible weedy brassicas such as wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis), and shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris).

 

Symptoms

The white leaf spot fungus produces tan (light brown) to white spots, approximately 10 mm in diameter, up to 20 mm, which are first observed on older leaves, usually in autumn and early winter when conditions are wet. As the season progresses, the spots on the leaves darken to become grey or black. This disease can attack the leaves, stems and pods of susceptible plants.

 

Favourable Factors

Disease emergence is favoured by wet leaves and cool temperatures. Temperatures of 10°C – 15.5°C (50°F -60°F) with moist conditions created by rain, dew or irrigation promote disease development.

 

White Leaf Spot Disease Cycle

The white leaf spot fungus survives on plant remains and seeds of infected plants, and its spores are spread by wind and water splash.

Primary infection spread – When prolonged wet weather conditions occur over autumn or winter (due to rain, dew or irrigation), and temperatures are between 10°C – 15.5°C (50°F -60°F), the lesions on the leaves produce sexual spores which are wind-borne and can spread over long distances.

Secondary infection spread – Later in the season, water splash caused by rain or overhead irrigation spreads asexual spores which will cause further disease in the next season.

The fungus can also survive by overwintering in self-seeded crops or brassica weeds such as wild mustard, wild radish, and shepherd’s purse, which can act as a source of infection to infect newly-planted crops.

 

Management of White Leaf Spot Disease

Cultural controls are integrated pest management (IPM) practices which disrupt the environment of the disease, reducing establishment, reproduction, dispersal, and survival. These cultural practices are the most effective methods currently available for control of white leaf spot in organic farming systems.

 

Cultural controls

  • Plant hygiene – remove any diseased plants immediately to prevent disease spread and build-up in the planting location.
  • Crop rotation –  rotate out of brassica crops for a minimum of 3 years.
  • Weed control – eliminate host plants that can overwinter disease by removing volunteer crop seedlings and susceptible weeds such as wild mustards, shepherd’s purse, pepper-grasses and wild radish.
  • Incorporation of crop residues – after harvest of crops, immediately remove any plant debris or bury it into the soil to allow it time to rot.
  • Seeds – use clean high-quality seed, use hot water treatment of seeds before planting by soaking in water at temperature of 50°C (125°F) for 20 minutes.
  • Isolation– avoid planting next to areas infected in the previous season to prevent infection by wind-borne spores.
  • Watering – avoid overhead sprinkler irrigation if possible as this causes water-splash spread which makes the disease worse.
  • Minimise cross-contamination – only work in garden beds when leaves are dry to prevent spread of disease through contact with hands, tools or clothing.
  • Plant health – provide adequate nutrition to reduce crop stress.
  • Row spacing and orientation – reduce potential for disease by increasing row spacing or plant spacing within rows, and orienting rows into the predominant wind direction.

 

References

  1. Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Agriculture and Food division –
    Diseases of vegetable brassicas, 1 October 2018
  2. Oregon State University, Pacific Northwest Extension Publication, PNW Plant Disease Management Handbook – Cabbage and Cauliflower (Brassica sp.)-White Leaf Spot and Gray Stem
  3. Victoria State Government, Agriculture Victoria – Asian vegetables, Note number: AG0633, Published: June 2000, Updated: March 2011
  4. Penn State University, PlantVillage project – Chinese cabbage
  5. Crop Pro, Identification and Management of Field Crop Diseases in Victoria – Canola
  6. Oregon State University – White Leaf Spot and Gray Stem in Crucifer Seed Crops in Western Oregon,2014, Cynthia Ocamb
  7. University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture Research and Extension, Agriculture and Natural Resources – FSA7549, Diseases of Turnip and  Mustard Greens, Sherrie Smith
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Soil Chemistry Fundamentals, Part 2 – How to Change Soil pH in Organic Gardening

soilpHscale_thumb2

 

Most plants prefer a neutral soil around pH 6.5 to 7.5, but many will grow favourably in the broader pH range of 5.5 to 8. When soils become too acidic or too alkaline, some essential plant nutrient will become unavailable to plants, negatively impacting plant growth and yields, so it’s desirable to correct the soil pH and bring it closer to the ideal range which plants prefer.

 

The Importance of the Soil Food Web

Before we mess around with soil pH too much though, we need to keep in mind that the soil is not just dirt, but a very complex living ecosystem, better understood as the soil-food web, an extensive community of living organisms that live all or part of their lives in the soil, which exist in complex relationship to one another. The soil-food web breaks down organic matter to build soil and make the nutrients available to plants in the process.

The organisms which comprise the soil-food web include organisms such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, earthworms, arthropods, small animals and living plant and tree roots. It has been estimated that there are about 50 billion soil organisms in 1 tablespoon of healthy soil, whereas the human population numbers just over 7 billion currently. All of these organisms play an important role in the soil-food web, which functions to keep plants alive.

Shown below is a diagram from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which shows a simplified overview of how the soil-food web works. The arrows indicate the paths of nutrient and energy flow, or point to which organisms eat them!

 

soil-food-web
Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

 

Since soil is a living ecosystems, where everything affects everything else, the health of the soil directly affects the health of the plants growing in it. Plant health in turn determines a plant’s resistance to pests and diseases, as well as it’s capacity for growth and production.

 

The Effect of Soil pH on the Soil Food Web

At this point you may be wondering what the soil-food web has got to do with changing soil pH?

Changing the soil pH will affect beneficial soil microbe activity since soil microorganisms prefer a soil pH close to neutral (pH 7.0).

If we make any drastic changes to the soil pH, making it either too acidic or too alkaline, we can disrupt the delicate ecological balance and adversely affect soil health.

Healthy plants don’t grow in unhealthy soils!

In the previous article Soil Chemistry Fundamentals, Part 1 – Understanding Soil pH and How it Affects Plant Nutrient Availability we discussed how changing the soil pH can affect soil fertility by making certain essential nutrients less available or more available. Nutrient availability is only one aspect of soil health, the other is beneficial microbe activity.

If we must change the soil pH, we need to do so in an environmentally responsible way. Some of the methods employed by conventional agriculture and gardening are ecologically unsound because they damage the soil and harm soil organisms, which ultimately affects plant health. They’re also not allowed in certified organic gardening practises, and for good reason.

 

How to Change Soil pH

Soil chemistry is a very complicated subject, but altering soil chemistry needn’t be so.

To change the soil pH in a way that is compatible with organic gardening, we can do the following:

  • add sulphur to the soil to reduce pH and make the soil more acidic.
  • add garden lime or dolomite lime to the soil to increase pH and make the soil more alkaline.
  • add lots of organic matter to the soil, as this will break down to produce humus, which buffers the soil pH to keep it stable and help maintain the desired pH levels.

 

Here is the basic procedure for altering soil pH:

  1. Start by adding a small amount of the required soil amendment (sulphur or lime) to the soil.
  2. Make sure that the soil amendment is worked (mixed) into the soil well and watered in after application.
  3. Give the soil amendment time to act in the soil.
  4. Test each year to determine if more soil amendment is needed.

Adding too much sulphur or lime all at once can create imbalance of the soil pH and disrupt soil ecology.

When changing soil pH, which soil amendment we use to change the soil pH and how much we add can make all the difference.

 

How to Decrease Soil pH to Make Soil More Acidic

If soil is too alkaline, reduce pH and make the soil more acidic by adding elemental sulphur.

It’s important to note that changing the soil pH using sulphur is a slow biological process, not a fast chemical process, so it can take a few months to a year to change the soil pH to the desired level. The process is slow because it’s dependent on soil bacteria which oxidise the sulphur (S) into sulphate (SO₄²⁻), and convert it into sulphuric acid (H₂SO₄), and the process releases hydrogen (H+) ions, which acidify soil. Incidentally, when sulphur is oxidized into sulphate (SO₄²⁻), this is the form available for uptake plants.

The oxidation of sulphur occurs more rapidly in warm, moist soils with high organic matter contents. This is because the bacteria are active when the soil is moist and warm.The soil temperature needs to be above 12.8°C (55°F). The soil must not be saturated or waterlogged, as this will exclude oxygen, and make it anaerobic, whereas the oxidation of sulphur is an aerobic process and requires oxygen. If no oxygen is available, the sulphur is instead converted by anaerobic bacteria to hydrogen sulphide (H₂S), better known as rotten egg gas, which kills plant roots.

Applying sulphur to the soil in autumn and winter is not advisable as the soil bacteria won’t be active at that time. It can be done, but no changes in soil pH will occur until the soil warms up enough in spring. If the soil is irrigated to maintain moisture levels throughout the year, the oxidation reaction will be maximised. Cultivating the soil to increase aeration can also help speed the process. It is fortunate that the oxidation of sulphur occurs faster in alkaline soils than in acidic soils, as these will be the soils where we will more commonly seek to reduce the pH.

Elemental sulphur should be incorporated (dug into the soil) to increase the speed of oxidation, because the soil bacteria will have better access to it. Additionally, the sulphur is oxidised at a greater rate by the soil bacteria when the sulphur particle size is very fine, as oxidation of sulphur is a surface-based process, and smaller particles provide a larger surface area. This is one of the most important attributes affecting oxidation.

 

When to Apply Sulphur

The recommendation is to dig the sulphur into the soil a year before planting, due to it’s slow reaction with the soil. If sulphur cannot be easily incorporated to the soil because the soil is already planted up, then it can be applied to the surface of the soil, and will lower the soil pH to the same degree, but will take much longer to do so. The best time of the year to apply sulphur to the soil is in spring and summer when the soil temperature is above 12.8°C (55°F) and the soil bacteria are active. It can be added at any time but won’t begin to take effect until the warmer weather sets in.

 

Sulphur Application Rate

How much sulphur should you add to lower the soil pH?

Remember, lowering the soil pH by one point makes the soil 10x more acidic, 2 points makes it 100x more acidic.

In established plantings, to avoid plant injury, it is important not to apply too much sulphur all at once. Some sources advise do not apply more than 180kg (400 lb) per acre or 44.8g per square metre at a time, while others suggest a greater maximum amount of 2 pounds per 100 square feet, or 97.6g per square metre at a time.

If more is required, spread the application out over several years, and wait at least 3 months to make another application.

The application rates for unplanted soil are provided below in both metric and imperial measurements.

 

Grams of Sulphur per Square Metre to Lower the Soil pH to the Recommended Level

Desired pH

6.5   6.0   5.5   5.0   4.5

Present pH

8.0                    146   195   244   293   342

7.5                     98    146   195   244   293

7.0                     49      98   146   195   244

6.5                    –         49     98   146   195

6.0                    –         –       49     98   146

 

Pounds of Sulphur per 10 Square Feet to Lower the Soil pH to the Recommended Level

Desired pH

6.5   6.0   5.5   5.0   4.5

Present pH

8.0                    0.3   0.4   0.5   0.6   0.7

7.5                    0.2   0.3   0.4   0.5   0.6

7.0                    0.1   0.2   0.3   0.4   0.5

6.5                    –      0.1   0.2   0.3   0.4

6.0                   –       –      0.1   0.2   0.3

 

Conversion: 1 lb = 0.4535924 kg, 10ft²= 0.9290304m² ,100ft²= 9.290304m², 1 acre = 4046.856m²

 

Other Methods of Decreasing Soil pH

The soil pH can also be lowered by adding sphagnum peat moss to the soil, but this method is only recommended if this resource is obtained sustainably. Most often, extensive environmental damage is caused when it is harvested commercially. The pH of sphagnum peat generally ranges from 3.0 to 4.5, it’s very acidic. Due to its high cost, it is only viable to use in small gardens. To amend the soil, add a 2.5 – 5cm (1 – 2”) layer of sphagnum peat and incorporate it into the top 20 – 30cm (8 – 12”) of soil before planting.

Using organic mulches over the soil slowly reduces the sol pH as the products of slow composting are slightly acidic.

Even better for creating an acidic soil is a pine needle mulch. Pine needles take a very long time to break down, acidify the soil much better, and can be laid over the soil in thick layers. The fallen pine needles under pine trees can be gathered to use as mulch.

 

Methods of Decreasing Soil pH not Compatible with Organic Gardening

These chemical methods lower the soil pH very quickly, but are damaging to plants and the soil ecology, and are therefore not recommended.

 

Iron sulphate (FeSO₄) has an immediate effect on soil pH, but it’s also important to consider that this is sold as a herbicide to kill broad leaved weeds in lawns, and also a moss killer for paths.

 

Aluminium sulphate (Al2(SO4)3) is also used to acidify soils quickly but should not be used as aluminium availability increases greatly at soil pH below 5.5, it can limit the ability of plants to take up phosphorus by reducing phosphorus solubility, and aluminium may reach high levels where it can lead to aluminium toxicity in plants, as it can be extremely toxic to plant roots, including blueberries.

Even though aluminium sulphate and iron sulphate react more quickly with the soil than elemental sulphur, they must be applied at a 5 to 6 times greater rate than sulphur. Do not apply either of these at more than 5 pounds per 100 square feet or 244g per square metre, as they can cause injury to plants.

 

Acidifying nitrogen fertilizers that contain the ammonium (NH₄) form of nitrogen, such as ammonium sulphate, diammonium phosphate, monoammonium phosphate, urea, and ammonium nitrate will acidify soil. Soil bacteria convert the ammonium (NH₄) form of nitrogen to the nitrate (NO3–) form, and the process releases hydrogen (H+) ions, which acidify soil. Ammonium sulphate is more acidifying then ammonium nitrate or urea, which are equal in effect, as it supplies twice as much acidity as they do. Ammonium phosphate’s ability to acidify soil is slightly less than ammonium nitrate or urea.

One of the problems with acidifying fertilisers is that they decrease soil pH more gradually than elemental sulphur, and it can take more than 2 years to decrease the soil pH by 0.4 pH units. Additionally, being synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, they’re very harmful to the environment and to the soil ecology. If they’re used in autumn or on unplanted ground, the winter rains will carry nitrate down where it will leach through the the soil to contaminate groundwater.

 

How to Increase Soil pH to Make Soil More Alkaline

Garden lime (calcium carbonate) is added to highly acidic soils to increase soil pH and make them more alkaline or basic. It’s also a source of calcium, an essential plant nutrient, and is added to the soil to prevent deficiency diseases such as blossom end rot in tomatoes, and to support fruiting trees, as tree fruiting is very sensitive to calcium shortages.

Lime should be incorporated (dug into the soil) to work properly. Increasing contact with the soil increases its effectiveness because most liming materials are only slightly soluble in water. Soil moisture is required for the lime-soil reaction to occur, and lime will have little effect on the soil pH if the soil is dry, even if it is mixed in really well.

Changing the soil pH with lime is a slow process, and several repeat applications may be required. Don’t add too much lime all at once as it can throw the soil chemistry out of balance.

Don’t add any form of lime to wood ashes to alkaline soils as this will create excessively alkaline conditions which will make soil nutrients unavailable to plants and cause nutrient deficiencies. It is unnecessary to increase the soil pH of acidic soils above 6.5, as this may cause deficiencies of trace elements such as manganese.

 

Different Forms of Lime

Garden lime is calcium carbonate (CaCO₃), and it’s exactly the same thing as ground limestone or agricultural lime. It’s also the same material that seashells (shell lime) and eggshells are made of. This is the cheapest form of lime, but it’s the least reactive, though the premium grades are more finely ground.

 

Dolomite lime is calcium magnesium carbonate (CaMg(CO3)2) and contains a mixture of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, so it also adds large amounts of magnesium to the soil, an important plant nutrient. The disadvantage of dolomite lime is that it is less reactive than calcium carbonate, and won’t increase the pH as well because the magnesium carbonate doesn’t work quite as effectively even though it’s alkaline just like calcium carbonate. Use dolomite lime when magnesium is required, it’s similar to adding Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to correct magnesium deficiency, otherwise excesses of any nutrient can cause imbalances. Magnesium deficiency is much more common in fast draining soils, such as sandy soils. Clay soils and clay loams rarely suffer from magnesium deficiency, but excessive magnesium can make soil compaction worse, harming denser clay soils. Also, it’s harder to correct over-application of dolomite lime compared to garden lime, as it takes more work to bring the magnesium levels down.

Calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) is also known as slaked lime or hydrated lime, is better known as builders’ lime which is sold under the product name of ‘Limil’. It’s much more reactive and will raise the soil pH faster than calcium carbonate, but it’s much easier to over-lime the soil with this product. Being a building construction material, it’s a bit too expensive for agricultural use. This is a building product, garden lime is a better choice.

 

Calcium oxide (CaO) is also known as quicklime or burnt lime, and is the most reactive form of lime. It reacts with water to become Calcium hydroxide, but produces lots of heat in the process, and also swells considerably, so it must be stored dry to prevent it absorbing moisture. It should not be allowed to come into contact with young trees as it can burn tender bark and roots. This is a building product, garden lime is a better choice.

 

Additional precautions with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and quicklime (calcium oxide) – do not let either of these products make contact with animal manures or nitrogen fertilisers, as this will cause the release of ammonia gas, which will be partly partly lost to the atmosphere, but in the soil is toxic to young trees.

 

When to Apply Lime

Because of its low solubility lime should be cultivated into the soil so that it can reach the root zone of fruit trees. Ideally lime should be incorporated into the soil before planting. It is also more economical to apply fairly large quantities every five years or so once trees are established, if soil pH tests show that liming is needed. Generally, orchard soils need liming only where the top 200 mm of soil is more acidic (has a lower pH) than pH 5.6.

 

Lime Application Rate

How much lime (calcium carbonate) should you add to increase the soil pH?

Remember, increasing the soil pH by one point makes the soil 10x more alkaline, 2 points makes it 100x more alkaline.

The amount of lime that needs to be applied to correct overly acidic soils is determined by two factors:

  • The acidity of the soil
  • The soil texture – a heavy clay soil will need more lime than a sandy soil.

 

Suggested amounts of lime (tonnes per hectare)

Soil pH

Soil texture        4.0-4.5    4.6-5.0    5.0-5.5

Sands                      4.0         2.5           1.5

Loams                     5.5         3.25         2.0

Clay sand                9.5         6.25         3.5

 

Suggested amounts of lime (grams per square metre)

Soil pH

Soil texture        4.0-4.5    4.6-5.0    5.0-5.5

Sands                      400           250          150

Loams                     550           325          200

Clay sand                950            625         350

 

Conversion – 1 t/ha = 0.1 kg/m2

 

Pounds of ground limestone needed per 100 square feet to raise the pH to 6.5 in the top 6 inches of soil.

Soil pH   Sandy loam   Loam   Clay loam

5.0               8                10         15

5.5               6                 8          10

6.0               3                 4           6

 

Conversion: 1 lb = 0.4535924 kg, 100ft²= 9.290304m²

 

If using dolomite lime, to increase the soil pH by one point, apply 100g/m2 in sandy soils, and up to 250g/m2 in clay. The change in soil pH will be observed after two to three months.

 

Using Wood Ash to Increase Soil pH to Make Soil More Alkaline

Wood ashes can also be used to raise the soil pH and make the soil more alkaline. Compared to garden lime (calcium carbonate), wood ash is only around 25 to 59 percent as effective in raising soil pH. Calcium is the most abundant element in wood ash, almost 20%, with potassium at around 3%, magnesium around 2% and phosphorus at around 1%. In terms of fertiliser ratings, the average N:P:K ratio wood ash would be about 0-1-3.

Avid using large amounts or repeated use of wood ashes as they can raise the pH value of a soil very high levels and cause plant nutrient deficiencies, especially in sandy soils. They can also cause damage If they come in contact with germinating seedlings or plant roots.

The best way to use wood ashes is very sparingly, by spreading a very thin layer and incorporating (digging) it into the soil in the spring. Don’t use coal ashes or barbeque briquettes as that don’t alter the soil pH but contain lots of toxic chemicals which will cause soil contamination.

 

References:

  1. Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Agriculture and Food – Soil pH and plant health, 16 June 2014.
  2. Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Agriculture and Food – Soil pH, 17 September 2018
  3. NSW Department of Primary Industries – Leaflet no. 2, Understanding soil pH, June 2000.
  4. University of Idaho Extension, Idaho Landscapes and Gardens, Berries and Grapes, 2020.
  5. Hajnos M. (2011) Buffer Capacity of Soils. In: Gliński J., Horabik J., Lipiec J. (eds) Encyclopedia of Agrophysics. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. Springer, Dordrecht
  6. PennState Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University – Understanding Soil pH, April 5, 2019
  7. Ohio State University Extension – Soil Acidification: How to Lower Soil pH, AGF-507, Nov 3, 2016
  8. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Horticulture and Home Pest News, How To Change Your Soil’s pH by Eldon Everhart, Department of Horticulture, April 6, 1994
  9. Michigan State University, Dept of Horticultural Science – Lowering the Soil pH with Sulfur,  Authors: Mark Longstroth 
  10. Clemson University Cooperative Extension, Changing the pH of Your Soil Factsheet, HGIC 1650, Updated: Oct 20, 2012
  11. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Soil pH Levels for Plants, Optimum Soil pH Levels for Trees, Shrubs, Vegetables, and Flowers by Catherine Boeckmann, August 13, 2019
  12. Agriculture Victoria, Choosing and using lime in the orchard, Note number: AG0091, W. Thompson, Knoxfield, September, 1994
  13. Purdue University, Indiana Yard and Garden, Purdue Consumer Horticulture – What is Loam? by Rosie Lerner
  14. University of Massachusetts Amherst, Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment – Interpreting Your Soil Test Results, Jul 1, 2013 by John Spargo, Tracy Allen, Solomon Kariuki
  15. Freney, J.R. Oxidation of sulphur in soils. Mineral. Deposita 2, 181–187 (1967).
  16. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soils – Soil Food Web by Elaine R. Ingham
  17. Oregon State University Extension Service – Acidifying Soil for Blueberries and Ornamental Plants in the Yard and Garden
    West of the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon and Washington, April 2003 by J. Hart, D. Horneck, R. Stevens, N. Bell, and C. Cogger
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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – July

It’s July, Midwinter has arrived! As all of Nature’s energies turn inwards, and life comes to a standstill, we finally have a chance to rest and reflect too. This month temperatures will hit their lowest for the year, rain will fall for half the month, and the windiest time of the year in Melbourne begins.

There are still a limited range of seeds to sow, and lots of opportunity for winter pruning, relocating deciduous plants and planting new ones!

Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines and cane fruits. Wait till spring for planting citrus.
  • Divide existing perennials and plant new perennials.
  • Protect plants that are not frost-hardy in frost-prone areas. Frost-tender plants in pots are more vulnerable as roots are above ground, wrap pots of plants with plastic bubble-wrap or hessian.
  • Install windbreaks, such as the plastic tree guard sleeves, around newly planted evergreens.
  • Prune deciduous fruit trees (not apricots, best to prune these in late autumn when the leaves start yellowing, during dry, preferably windy weather to prevent diseases entering the pruning cuts). To prune fruit trees, first cut away any dead or diseased wood, then cut away any branches growing inwards towards the centre or crossing other branches (to prevent rubbing and bark damage), and finally, prune tree to shape using the appropriate technique for that species.
  • Prune deciduous shrubs (and it’s rose pruning time in July too!)
  • Finish pruning grape vines and take hardwood cuttings from these for propagation.
  • Finish pruning currants and gooseberries and take hardwood cuttings from these for propagation.
  • Apply organic fertiliser to fruit trees at the end of July, so that the slowly released nutrients will become available when the new growth commences.
  • Spray peaches and nectarines to protect against leaf curl fungus. Use lime sulphur or a copper fungicide at the bud swell stage (just before the buds begin to open) but before pink bud stage or colour shows. It is too late to spray once flowering occurs.
  • If you use horticultural glue bands on tree trunk to prevent winter insects crawling up the tree to lay their eggs, now is the time to replace the glue bands with new ones.
  • Relocate any deciduous plants (trees, shrubs, vines) or herbaceous perennial plants growing in the wrong place in winter. (Evergreens can only be moved in autumn and early spring, where they have time to regrow roots – remember, they retain leaves in winter which transpire and lose water!).
  • Sow seeds from berry producing trees and shrubs. Stratification (exposure to cold) over winter will break seed dormancy.
  • Some perennials can be propagated from root cuttings, which can be taken through winter.
  • Continue propagation of hardwood cuttings which began in autumn – prune off 30cm long shoots of current season’s growth, cut off the soft growing tip, cut off the bottom end below a bud, and dip end into rooting hormone. Make a ‘slit trench’ by pushing a spade into soil and rocking it back and forth. In clay soil, add some coarse sand for drainage. Put cuttings in so 2/3 is below the soil, and press the soil down around them. Cuttings will root and be ready to plant next autumn.
  • Continue planting strawberry runners and shallot bulbs.

 

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in July Harvest (weeks)
Beetroot ds 7-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mustard greens d 5-8
Onion ds 25-34
Peas d 9-11
Radish d 5-7
Shallots d 12-15
Snow Peas d 12-14
Strawberry runners d 11
Strawberries (seed) s 12 months

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – July

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The Difference Between Nightingale and Hachiya Persimmons

persimmon-autumn-foliage-fruit
Nightingale persimmon pictured, and Hachiya persimmon both have stunning autumn foliage, making them excellent fruiting and ornamental trees

 

There tends to be some confusion about Nightingale and Hachiya persimmons. Despite what some claim, they are not the same thing, they’re two different varieties of Oriental persimmon, Diospyrus kaki, which look fairly similar in appearance.

Both of these are astringent varieties, they can only be eaten when the fruit is soft and ripe, as their unripe fruit contains water-soluble tannins in the flesh which make your mouth pucker and dry, making them quite unpalatable if eaten too early. Astringent varieties are completely ripe when the skin becomes translucent, the fruit is soft to the touch and flesh is like jelly.

By contrast, the non-astringent varieties such as Fuyu and Jiro lose their astringency quite early during maturity and can be eaten when they are still crunchy in texture like an apple, all the way through to when they soften.

By comparing Hachiya and Nightingale persimmons side by side, we can see that there are differences between the two varieties.

 

Hachiya Persimmon Description

  • Fruit Shape: Oblong-conical or heart-shaped and pointed at the apex, meaning that the fruit is wider at the top and has a pointed end.
  • Fruit Size: Very large in size, up to 9.5 cm (3-3/4”) long x 8cm (3-1/4”) wide.
  • Fruit Colour: Bright deep orange-red glossy skin with occasional black streaks, and dark-yellow flesh inside.
  • Fruit Seeds:  Seedless or with a few seeds.
  • Fruit Quality: Excellent
  • Fruit Season: Mid-season to late. In (northern hemisphere) US, this is from late October to November, or later in the season, from mid-November to mid December in California. In Australia (southern hemisphere), mid season corresponds to May.
  • Tree Description: Large upright-spreading, vigorous tree, height 6-10m (20-35’) x width 4.5-7.5m (15-25’), prolific bearing.
  • Other Description: Excellent dual purpose fruit and ornamental specimen, In Japan, Hachiya is mostly used for drying rather than eating.  The fruit will often have concentric ring cracking at the apical (pointed) end and will ripen unevenly starting from these points.

 

Since the Hachiya is a common variety in the US which is reasonably well documented, the above information which I have compiled from various reliable, authoritative sources will serve as our benchmark for comparison of the two varieties.

I happen to have a Nightingale persimmon tree growing in my garden, which was fruiting at the time of writing of this article, allowing me to make a very accurate comparison against the Hachiya. All photographs in this article are of my Nightingale persimmon tree.

In the description below, I have highlighted the similarities and differences between the two varieties in bold-italics to make them easier to identify.

 

Nightingale Persimmon Description

  • Fruit Shape: Oblong-conical or heart-shaped and pointed at the apex, meaning that the fruit is wider at the top and has a pointed end. The fruit is the same shape as the Hachiya, as can be seen in all the persimmons pictured in this article, which are of my Nightingale tree.
  • Fruit Size: Very large in size, up to 9cm (3-1/2”) long x 8cm (3-1/4”) wide. I measured the largest fruit on my Nightingale tree and can confirm the fruit size is basically the same size as Hachiya.

IMG_0497-1-1
Nightingale persimmon produces very large heart-shaped fruit

 

  • Fruit Colour: Bright deep orange-red glossy skin, same colour as Hachiya, but without the occasional black streaks which Hachiya displays, and the flesh is definitely a deep red-orange colour inside, not dark-yellow inside like Hachiya.
  • Fruit Seeds:  Seedless or with a few seeds (average of 2.5 seeds per fruit). The fruit pictured below, which I picked from my Nightingale tree, has no seeds, so it’s the same as Hachiya.

IMG_20200608_144711-1-2
Nightingale persimmon fruit cut lengthwise, showing deep red-orange flesh and no seeds

 

  • Fruit Quality: Excellent, same as Hachiya.
  • Fruit Season: Fruit ripens early to late June in Melbourne, Australia  (southern hemisphere). Nightingale is described as an early season variety, but from various descriptions it appears to ripen around the same time or a bit later than Hachiya, which is a mid to late season variety. There seems to be a lack of clear information about what season Nightingale’s harvest period falls into. I have a Dai Dai Maru persimmon which is described as an early to mid-season variety which ripens before Hachiya, and this one normally ripens before my Nightingale tree in my garden. For the first time in a decade my Nightingale persimmon fruited before the Dai Dai Maru persimmon! I suspect the Nightingale is a mid-late season variety also, similar to the Hachiya.
  • Tree Description: Semi-dwarf tree, upright-spreading habit, height 2-4m (6-12’) x width 2-4m (6-12’), height up to 5m (15’) according to some sources, precocious bearing. Small compact tree, much smaller than Hachiya.

 

IMG_7718-1-2
Nightingale persimmons are a semi-dwarf tree which are very heavy bearing, with branches weighed down by the heavy crop loading!

 

  • Other Description: Excellent dual purpose fruit and ornamental specimen, just like Hachiya, but smaller in size, more suitable for small backyards, In Japan, Fruit are large and juicy, suitable for drying just like Hachiya. Unlike the Hachiya variety, I have not seen any concentric ring cracking at the apical (pointed) end of the fruit that Hachiya display or any uneven ripening starting from these points as occurs with Hachiya. I have only witnessed even fruit ripening over many years with the Nightingale variety.

 

Assessing the Differences Between Nightingale and Hachiya Persimmons

Both Hachiya and Nightingale have the same sized, excellent flavoured deep red-orange coloured fruit, with little to no seeds which are suitable for drying. Nightingale fruit do not appear to have the black steaks on the skin which Hachiya fruit sometimes display. Nightingale persimmons have a much darker red-orange flesh inside compared to the dark yellow flesh of Hachiya. Nightingale is a small, compact semi-dwarf tree while Hachiya is a very large, vigorous tree.

Both are very heavy bearing, producing large clusters of very large fruit. Descriptions of Hachiya state that the trees often bear so much fruit that the limbs have to be propped up with bamboo poles. I find I have to do the same with the Nightingale tree, I use tomato stakes with soft tree ties to support the overloaded tree branches!

The choice between one variety or the other would really be determined by the amount of available space, as both trees are excellent, highly productive astringent varieties.

The only criticism I have read of the Hachiya persimmon variety is that cropping may be unreliable as it has a habit of dropping fruit in hot weather. looking further into the matter, I found that its ability to set and hold fruit is sometimes a problem if this variety is grafted onto American Persimmon Diospyros virginiana rootstock, a common commercial practice in the US. Hachiya performs well when grafted onto D. virginiana in Florida, but growth-ring cracking occurs on the fruit. It’s stated that Hachiya is a scanty bearer in south-eastern United States, but that may only be the case when grafted this way.

 

References:

  1. NSW Agriculture – Persimmon growing in New South Wales, Agfact H3.1.17, 3rd edition 2003, L Ullio , District Horticulturist, Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Research Institute, Camden
  2. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – Texas Fruit and Nut Production: Persimmons By: Larry Stein, Monte Nesbitt, and Jim Kamas
  3. California Polytechnic State University – Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute, SelecTree: Tree Detail, HACHIYA PERSIMMON
  4. University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, Japanese Persimmon Cultivars in Florida, Ali Sarkhosh, Peter C. Andersen, and Dustin M. Huff
  5. University of Hawaii – Crop Knowledge Master, Fruits and Nuts, Persimmon
  6. Arizona Cooperative Extension – Backyard Gardener, Growing Persimmons – January 7, 2004
  7. University of California – UC Davis Fruit & Nut Research & Information Center, Persimmon Fact Sheet, Prepared by Anne M. Gillen 1995
  8. The Complete Book of Fruit Growing In Australia by Louis Glowinski
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How to Make Aloe Vera Gel from Fresh Aloe Vera Leaves

IMG_20200531_151952-1

Aloe vera leaves contain a gel which is used externally to treat skin irritation, minor burns, sunburn, itching due to allergies and insect bites, sores, skin ulcers and many other conditions. The edible variety, Aloe vera barbadensis miller, is also used to make Aloe vera juice.

This useful plant has a been used medicinally for more than 2,000 years, and it’s still very widely used currently for its healing and restorative properties, in fact, it’s one of the most used medicinal plant worldwide. Aloe Vera is used extensively in the food, health care and cosmetic industries.

 

Aloe Vera Gel and Aloin

Aloe vera plants have thick green leaves which contain gel and latex.

  • The gel is viscous, colourless and transparent, and is the therapeutic part of the Aloe vera leaf.
  • The latex is a thick yellow liquid that is found between the gel and the inner rind of the leaf.

It’s important to separate the latex from the gel, because the latex contains the bitter, yellow-brown coloured compound Aloin (also known as Barbaloin), which is a powerful laxative that can cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea if taken orally.

Aloin was once used as a stimulant-laxative for treating constipation by inducing bowel movements, but it’s no longer considered safe by medical authorities, and there are concerns that it may be carcinogenic (from experiments on rats). It is considered harmful if consumed in large quantities. According to information from May Clinic, taking 1 gram a day of aloe latex (the yellow bitter laxative substance) for several days can cause kidney damage and might be fatal. Thankfully most people consuming Aloe vera want the pure gel for it’s therapeutic effects and not the latex for use as a laxative.

This is what the Aloin-containing latex looks like as it drips from the end of a freshly cut Aloe vera leaf, it’s normally allowed to drain out before the gel is extracted from the leaf. The harvested solid pieces of gel can also be gently rinsed with water to wash away any traces of latex if desired.

IMG_20200531_150943-1

 

How to Extract Aloe Vera Gel from Leaves

It’s easy to make your own homemade Aloe vera gel, and the process is explained below in 10 simple steps.

To extract Aloe vera gel from the leaves of the plant, you will need the following items:

  • Fresh Aloe vera leaves
  • Sharp kitchen knife
  • Cutting board
  • Paper towels
  • Clean glass jar with lid

 

Step 1. Harvest the larger 2-3 year old outer leaves, cut the leaves at the base, cutting the leaf at a slight angle. Select only firm, green healthy, undamaged leaves.

IMG_20200531_143632-1

 

Step 2. First wash your hands, then wash the Aloe vera leaves and dry them with a paper towel. Wash the cutting board you will use to do the cutting on also. This is done to keep everything clean as you don’t want to contaminate the Aloe vera gel, it’s a plant product that needs to be treated much like a food in terms of hygiene.

 

Step 3. Place the leaf upright at an angle to allow the inedible dark yellow bitter latex to drain out for 10-15 minutes. The angled cut at the base of the leaf helps the latex drain out more easily, as only the one side rests with the plate. After the latex has drained out, wash the cut end of the leaf to remove any remaining latex, and pat gently with a clean paper towel to dry.

IMG_20200531_150427-1

 

Step 4. Cut off approximately 10cm (4″) of the tip, as this part of the leaf contains very little gel and lots more latex.

IMG_20200531_151713-1a

 

Step 5. Cut long leaves in half to make them easier to process. You just want to cut them to lengths that will sit easily on your cutting board.

IMG_20200531_152502-1

 

Step 6. Cut off the serrated edges with a sharp knife

IMG_20200531_152620-1

 

Step 7. Remove the outer green skin layer with a knife, filleting the skin away from the gel inside. With the knife turned on its side, slide the blade under the skin along the whole length of the leaf, much like filleting a fish, trying to stay close to the skin as possible to separate as much gel from the skin as possible. You can also use a vegetable peeler for this task but make sure there is no green skin left behind in the gel though.

IMG_20200531_152823-1

 

Skin removed from one side of Aloe vera leaf, showing the clear-coloured gel inside.

IMG_20200531_152922-1

 

Note: If the leaves are a bit too wide, making them difficult to fillet, then split them lengthwise first to make the task much easier.

IMG_20200531_153233-1

 

Step 8. When the skin has been removed from one side, carefully turn the leaf over  and remove skin from the other side, leaving the clear gel.

The clear gel strips can also be gently washed under cold running water if you want to remove any remaining latex.

IMG_20200531_153119-1

 

Step 9. Cut Aloe vera gel strips into cubes for storage or processing. The cubes can be placed into a blender and blended into a gel, or they can be placed on a tray covered with non-stick baking paper, put into the freezer and frozen, then put into a tightly sealed freezer bag for storage, where they can be kept for up to six months

If using a blender to liquefy the gel, it will froth up quite a bit, so just let the gel settle and it will return to the correct consistency on its own.

IMG_20200531_154054-1

 

Step 10. Store Aloe vera gel in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge, where it can be kept for up to a week. Just spoon out as much as you need to use at any time, it’s always ready to use when kept this way.

It’s possible to extend the shelf-life of home-made Aloe vera gel by adding various antioxidants such as Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and Tocopherol (Vitamin E), but finding the exact proportions to use and the expected shelf-life from reliable sources is rather difficult.

In the book How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life? by Isabell Shipard, she suggests adding 1 teaspoon of Vitamin C powder to 3 cups of Aloe vera gel and blending at low speed.

IMG_20200531_155909-1

 

One large leaf will fill up a decent cup-sized sized jar with home-made Aloe vera gel, and it’s a fairly quick and easy process which only takes about 15 minutes!

The leftover green Aloe vera leaf skins can be put into the compost or buried in the garden to recycle the nutrients, so nothing goes to waste.

 

You might also like these other articles on Aloe vera plants:

Posted in Health & Wellbeing, What's New! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – June

June brings us the start of winter, with colder, wetter weather, but there are still some sunny days to be had, winter vegies to harvest, and some tidying up to do around the garden.

As deciduous trees and shrubs shed their leaves and become dormant, it’s a good time to both plant new ones and prune existing ones. Winter pruning of deciduous fruit trees and grape vines begins now.

Harsh cold winds can be a problem, drying out plants very quickly, so it’s important to put up windbreaks such as plastic sleeve tree guards or shadecloth around young evergreen trees to prevent wind burn.

In frost-prone areas, vulnerable plants will need to be protected. When frost is anticipated, cover the plant overnight with hessian, shadecloth, plastic sheet, cardboard, straw or newspaper – make sure that the cover is not airtight and that air can still circulate.

Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines and cane fruits (and roses!). Wait till spring for planting citrus.
  • Divide existing perennials and plant new perennials.
  • Gather and compost fallen leaves.
  • Protect plants that are not frost-hardy in frost-prone areas.
  • Install windbreaks, such as the plastic tree guard sleeves, around newly planted evergreens.
  • Prune deciduous fruit trees (not apricots, best to prune these in late autumn when the leaves start yellowing, during dry, preferably windy weather to prevent diseases entering the pruning cuts). To prune fruit trees, first cut away any dead or diseased wood, then cut away any branches growing inwards towards the centre or crossing other branches (to prevent rubbing and bark damage), and finally, prune tree to shape using the appropriate technique for that species.
  • Prune deciduous shrubs (rose pruning is done in July!) and vines (such as kiwi fruit).
  • Prune grape vines and take hardwood cuttings from these for propagation.
  • Finish pruning currants and gooseberries and take hardwood cuttings from these for propagation.
  • Prune tall shrubs to reduce height to better resist winter winds.
  • Relocate any deciduous plants (trees, shrubs, vines) or herbaceous perennial plants growing in the wrong place in winter. (Evergreens can only be moved in autumn and early spring, where they have time to regrow roots – remember, they retain leaves in winter which transpire and lose water!).
  • Collect and sow seeds from berry producing trees and shrubs.
  • Some perennials can be propagated from root cuttings, which can be taken through winter.
  • Continue propagation of hardwood cuttings which began in autumn – prune off 30cm long shoots of current season’s growth, cut off the soft growing tip, cut off the bottom end below a bud, and dip end into rooting hormone. Make a ‘slit trench’ by pushing a spade into soil and rocking it back and forth. In clay soil, add some coarse sand for drainage. Put cuttings in so 2/3 is below the soil, and press the soil down around them. Cuttings will root and be ready to plant next autumn.
  • Continue planting garlic, strawberry runners and shallot bulbs.
  • Harvest parsnips, they will taste the better now that they have experienced some cold.

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in June Harvest (weeks)
Broad beans d 12-22
Garlic d 17-25
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mustard greens d 5-8
Onion ds 25-34
Peas d 9-11
Radish d 5-7
Shallot bulbs d 12-15
Snow Peas d 12-14
Strawberry runners d 11
Strawberries (seed) d 12 months

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – June

Posted in Gardening Calendar, What's New! | Tagged | 5 Comments

Soil Chemistry Fundamentals, Part 1 – Understanding Soil pH and How it Affects Plant Nutrient Availability

soil-pH-scale

What is soil pH? How does it affect soil microorganisms and nutrient availability to plants? What is the optimum soil pH for plants? In this article we’ll answer all those questions and more, explaining soil chemistry in a practical way that is useful to gardeners.

 

What is Soil pH?

In chemistry, the pH scale is used as a measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is, which in this case is soil. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, where a pH of 7 is neutral. The lower the pH value, the more acidic a substance is, while the higher the pH value is on the scale, the more alkaline (basic) it is. By comparison, pure water has a neutral pH of 7, and sits right in the middle of the pH scale.

 

As a useful guide to gardeners, the United States Department of Agriculture classifies soil pH ranges as follows:

pH < 3.5         Ultra acidic

pH 3.5 – 4.4   Extremely acidic

pH 4.5 – 5.0   Very strongly acidic

pH 5.1 – 5.5   Strongly acidic

pH 5.6 – 6.0   Moderately acidic

pH 6.1 – 6.5   Slightly acidic

pH 6.6 – 7.3   Neutral

pH 7.4 – 7.8   Slightly alkaline

pH 7.9 – 8.4   Moderately alkaline

pH 8.5 – 9.0   Strongly alkaline

pH > 9.0         Very strongly alkaline

 

Technical detail: In case you’re wondering, pH stands for power of hydrogen and the technical definition of pH is the negative log of hydrogen ion (H+) concentration in a water-based solution.

The technical definition of pH may not mean much to most people, but what is important to note is that the pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that each pH value represents an increase or decrease of not one, but ten times!

To illustrate this point with some examples:

  • If you reduce the pH of your soil by 1 point, your soil becomes 10x more acidic.
  • If you reduce the pH of your soil by 2 points, your soil becomes 100x more acidic.
  • If you reduce the pH of your soil by 3 points, your soil becomes 1,000x more acidic.
  • If you reduce the pH of your soil by 4 points, your soil becomes 10,000x more acidic.

 

  • If you increase the pH of your soil by 1 point, your soil becomes 10x more alkaline.
  • If you increase the pH of your soil by 2 points, your soil becomes 100x more alkaline.
  • If you increase the pH of your soil by 3 points, your soil becomes 1,000x more alkaline.
  • If you increase the pH of your soil by 4 points, your soil becomes 10,000x more alkaline.

 

Understanding The Real Extent of Small pH Changes on Soil

As we can see, a change of a single point of pH represents a huge tenfold change in soil acidity or alkalinity, so it’s quite amusing when gardeners complain that they only managed to change their soil pH by ‘one’!

What about pH changes of less than one? What degree of change in acidity or alkalinity do they correspond to?

Technical detail:  The formula to calculate the the x (times) change in acidity or alkalinity = 10^(change in pH points)

To save you the maths, I’ve created the graph below, which is really easy to follow:

 

effect-of-changing-soil-ph-less-than-one-point

If we follow the horizontal (Change in pH points) axes of the graph all the way to the far right hand side of the graph, and go up to the blue line of the graph, we can see that a 1 point decrease or increase in pH creates a x10 change in acidity or alkalinity respectively.

Similarly, from the middle of the graph, a 0.5 point decrease or increase in pH creates a x3.16 change in acidity or alkalinity respectively. A decrease of 0.5 on the pH scale will make the soil a little over 3 times more acidic, while a increase of 0.5 pH will make the soil a little over 3 times more alkaline.

 

Soil pH and Buffer Capacity of Soils

All living things in nature have the capacity to self regulate to maintain a stable state, known as homeostasis. Living organisms maintain homeostatic states within their bodies, and on a larger scale, ecosystems also do the same to maintain constant conditions to support life.

Soil, being a living ecosystem, has mechanisms which allow it to maintain a stable state and resist extreme fluctuations in soil conditions, including changes soil pH.

When discussing the chemistry of acidity and alkalinity, we need to introduce another concept, and which is that of a buffer, or buffering agent. A buffer is an aqueous solution (a substance dissolved in water) that has a highly stable pH, so if you add an acid or a base (alkali) to a buffered solution, its pH will not change significantly.

By definition, buffering agents are a weak acid or weak base that helps maintain the pH of an aqueous solution after adding another acid or base.

Similarly, soil also resists changes in pH in order to maintain stable conditions. The buffer capacity of soil is defined as a soil’s ability to maintain a constant pH level when an acidifier or alkalizer is added to it.

Technical detail: How does soil do this? Soil is comprised of a mixture of buffered systems which can neutralize acids by bonding hydrogen (H+) ions, and neutralize bases (alkalis) by the release of hydrogen (H+) ions. Their effectiveness is dependent on numerous physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils.

 

The Composition of Soils and How they Behave

Soils are composed of a mixture of sand, silt and clay.

  • Sand particles are the largest, so sandy soils tend to drain quickly and don’t hold water well, but allow good aeration.
  • Clay particles are very small and tend to pack down, so clay soils tend to not drain or aerate well at all.
  • Silt particles are medium sized, so silty soils have properties in between those of sand and clay.

We’ve covered sandy, clay and silty soils, but what is loam?

A loamy soil is one that combines sand, silt and clay particles in relatively equal amounts, so it can retain moisture while draining well, and also allow sufficient air to penetrate to reach the roots, making it ideal for most garden plants.

Soils with a loam texture can contain different proportions of sand, silt and clay, so there are sandy loams, silty loams, loamy sand, and clay loams.

 

What the Buffer Capacity of Different Soil Types Means to Gardeners

Sandy soils have the lowest buffer capacity, so they can acidify faster because they don’t resist the change in pH very well, but for the same reason they can also be corrected or recovered the easiest. Less lime is needed to increase the pH of acidic sandy soils compared to clay soils for example.

Clay soils, and soils which contain lots of organic matter, have the highest buffer capacity and do resist changes in pH more strongly.

Technical detail:  soils high in clay or organic matter are able to resist a becoming acidic because they have a larger number of surface sites which are able to bind hydrogen (H+) ions, which are responsible for acidity. Due to their high buffering capacity though, once they become acidified, they are also able to resist attempts to increase the pH to make them less acidic. Adding lime will neutralise the hydrogen (H+) ions in the soil solution, but a well buffered acidified soil will release bound hydrogen (H+) ions from the soil surface to maintain equilibrium and resist increase in pH.

All soils with a high buffer capacity will acidify more slowly, but require more lime to raise the pH when they do acidify.

Clays are generally better buffered than loams, which in turn are better buffered than sands.

To put this information into practical terms, the following table below shows the expected pH change that will result from applying 1 tonne per hectare (t/ha) or 0.1 kilograms per square metre (kg/m2) of garden lime (pure calcium carbonate) to various soil types with with an acidic starting pH.

Soil type    pH change

Sand          0.5 – 0.7

Loam         0.3 – 0.5

Clay           0.2 – 0.3

 

What is the Optimum Soil pH for Plants?

 

pH-scale-optimum-plant-growth

 

Most plants prefer a neutral soil around pH 6.5 to 7.5, and will grow favourably in the broader pH range of 5.5 to 8*.

(*measured in a 0.01M CaCl2 solution instead of water for greater accuracy, and denoted as pHCa – see section ‘How to Test Soil pH’ for further information)

When the soil pH is above or below this optimum range, it changes the soil chemistry and affects the soil microbiology, which adversely impacts plant processes to reduce growth and yields.

All plants are affected by extremes of pH. but they vary widely in their tolerance of acidity and alkalinity. Some plants can grow well over a fairly wide pH range, while others have very specific soil requirements and may be very sensitive to small variations in acidity or alkalinity.

Some plants may prefer more acidic or alkaline soils, or tolerate them quite well, and these plants are listed below:

 

Plants which prefer acidic soils with a pH of 4.5 to 6.0:

Ornamentals   

  • Azalea
  • Camellia
  • Erica
  • Gardenia
  • Holly
  • Hydrangea
  • Magnolia
  • Pelargonium
  • Rhododendron

 

Fruit

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries

 

Vegetables

  • Potatoes

 

Plants which prefer  alkaline soils with a pH of 7.0 to 8.0:

Ornamentals

  • Sweet Pea
  • Cacti
  • Choisya
  • Geranium
  • Gerbera
  • Hebe
  • Hibiscus
  • Ivy
  • Poinsettia
  • Viburnum

 

Fruit

  • Melon

 

Vegetables

  • Beetroot
  • Chervil
  • Leek
  • Spinach

 

Note: When looking up reference material to find the recommended soil pH for a plant, keep in mind that the stated preferred pH may vary from one source to another, depending on where you read the information. Some sources may cite wider or narrower ranges of pH that a specific plant will tolerate, and the ranges stated may start at a higher or lower pH value, but the recommended pH ranges will always be roughly similar with enough overlap to provide useful guidance as to what a plant requires for optimum growth.

 

Some sources state the soil pH range which plants will tolerate, which is a wider range than the preferred soil pH range. This can be seen by the vegetables listed in the Old Farmer’s Almanac lists  as suitable for alkaline soils:

Only two listed are listed as being able to tolerate pH 8, which is defined as slightly to moderately alkaline.

  • Asparagus (6.0-8.0)
  • Garlic (5.5-8.0)

The rest are listed as being able to tolerate pH 7.5, which is defined as only slightly alkaline.

  • Beans, pole (6.0-7.5)
  • Beet (6.0-7.5)
  • Brussels Sprouts (6.0-7.5)
  • Cauliflower (5.5-7.5)
  • Kale (6.0-7.5)
  • Pea, sweet (6.0-7.5)
  • Pumpkin (5.5-7.5)
  • Spinach (6.0-7.5)
  • Crookneck Squash (6.0-7.5)
  • Tomato (5.5-7.5)

A point worth noting is that all these alkaline-soil tolerant vegetables listed above have a stated lower pH range rating of pH 5.5 – 6.0, which is defined as strongly to moderately acidic!

 

Most vegetable plants will perform best when the soil pH is between 6.5-6.8, which is defined as slightly acidic to neutral.

 

As a general rule, most fruit trees and berries prefer the soil to be neutral to slightly acidic.

We can see this in the optimum pH ranges for berries listed below:

  • Blackberries – Optimum pH 6.2-6.8
  • Blueberries – Optimal pH 4.2-5.2
  • Currants, gooseberries, and jostaberries – Optimal pH 5.8-6.8
  • Grapes – Optimum pH 6.0-7.0
  • Raspberries – Optimum pH 6.2-6.8
  • Strawberries – Optimum pH 5.5-7.0

There are some exceptions though. Goji berries natively grow in slightly alkaline soil (pH of 7-8), and do not grow well in acidic soils.

 

It’s safe to say that most horticultural plants grow best in soils with a pH between 6.0 (slightly acid) and 7.5 (slightly alkaline). Generally speaking, soil nutrients are most available to plants when the soil pH is between 6.5 to 7.5, which explains why many garden plants grow best when the soil pH is around 6.5 (slightly acidic). It’s no coincidence that organic matter breaking down in the soil makes it slightly acidic…

The soil pH affects which soil nutrients are available to plants and which are not. To better manage nutrient availability, we first need to understand what function the various nutrients perform, and how each one is affected by soil pH.

 

Understanding Plant Nutrition

For plants to grow, they derive some of their food through photosynthesis, they take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, water from their roots, and use the energy from sunlight to produce sugars and carbohydrates.

Plants also take up various minerals from their roots which they require to grow and function. Some nutrients, such as those present in balanced fertilizers, which are required in larger amounts, are the macronutrients, while others, even though quite essential, are only required in very small amounts, so we call these trace elements.

 

Macronutrients

Plants draw specific nutrients from the soil in order to grow, and some of these nutrients are required in greater amounts than others. The main key nutrients which plants require to grow are referred to as macronutrients, because they’re required in large quantities.

Some macronutrients are more important than others, and are termed primary macronutrients, while the remaining macronutrients which are required in lower quantities are known as secondary macronutrients.

 

Primary macronutrients

The three main macronutrients which plants obtain from the soil are:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)

All fertiliser labels list an NPK ratio such as ‘NPK analysis: 3.7 – 2 – 1.8’ which indicates the proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the fertilizer.

 

Secondary macronutrients

The secondary macronutrients, which are required in lower quantities than the primary macronutrients, but are still very important, are:

  • Magnesium (Mg)
  • Calcium (Ca)
  • Sulphur (S)

 

What do these macronutrients do?

Rather than go into complex plant chemistry which is only of concern to plant scientists and means almost nothing to the majority of gardeners, it is simpler to explain the functions in general terms that are relevant to practical gardening.

Plants use the primary and secondary macronutrients as follows:

 

  • Nitrogen for leafy green vegetative growth
  • Phosphorus for root formation, stem growth, and fruiting
  • Potassium for flowering and fruit ripening, plant immunity/disease resistance

 

  • Magnesium the key element in chlorophyll, a pigment which makes plants green and allows them to absorb energy from light, is required for photosynthesis
  • Calcium for structural purposes in the cell walls and membranes, basically to keep cell walls together, and also other for metabolic functions
  • Sulphur for the formation of amino acids, proteins, oils and chlorophyll

These are the main nutrients which plants require in large quantities, but some nutrients which are still essential for plant health and vigour are required in very small amounts.

 

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are nutrients which the plant requires in trace amounts, such as:

  • Iron (Fe)
  • Boron (B)
  • Manganese (Mn)
  • Zinc (Zn)
  • Copper (Cu)
  • Molybdenum (Mo)
  • Nickel(Ni)
  • Chlorine (Cl)

In fertilizers, these micronutrients are referred to as trace elements.

Most balanced fertilisers contain at least some of the more common trace elements, which are listed on the label. Trace elements can also be purchased as  separate product form fertilisers, often as a mixture of trace elements combined together, but in some cases, as individual elements, such as Iron in the form of Iron chelate.

Now that we’re familiar with the nutrients that plants require, we can now look at what happens to them in the soil when the pH changes.

 

How Soil pH Affects Plant Nutrient Availability

Soil is one of nature’s most complex ecosystems, and soil chemistry is exceedingly complicated, so it should be no surprise that changing the soil pH will have many flow-on effects on plants, both positive and negative.

In the diagram below, we can see how the primary and secondary macronutrients, which plants require in the greatest quantities, and the micronutrients or trace elements, which are required in smaller quantities, are most available to plants when the soil pH is between 6.5 to 7.0.

The macronutrients are most available to plants when the soil pH is between 6.5 to 7.5, a slightly wider range than the micronutrients,

At either extreme, when soils become extremely acidic or alkaline, many nutrients become locked up and less available to plants, which leads to nutrient deficiencies and negative impacts plant growth and productivity.

 

nutrient-availability-soil-ph-chart-detailed

 

From the left-hand side of the diagram, we can see that at a low pH, where the soil becomes more acidic:

  • All the primary and secondary macronutrients become less available.
  • Trace elements such as molybdenum (Mo) become less available to plants.
  • Aluminium (Al) availability increases greatly at soil pH below 5.5, it can limit the ability of plants to take up phosphorus by reducing phosphorus solubility,and Al may reach high levels which are toxic to plants.
  • Other elements such as iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) become more available, and Mn may reach high levels which are toxic to plants.

Please note that aluminium (Al) is not a plant nutrient, and is therefore not shown in the diagram, but is present in soils and the effects of a very low soil pH (very high acidity) can lead to aluminium toxicity in plants, it can be extremely toxic to plant roots.

From the right-hand side of the diagram, at a higher pH, where the soil becomes more alkaline:

  • When the pH is greater than 7.5, calcium can tie up phosphorus, making it less available to plants.
  • The trace element iron becomes less available.
  • The availability of zinc and other trace elements such as cobalt decreases, creating nutrient deficiencies which can lead to poor growth, stunted plants, and reduced yields in some crops.

 

How Soil pH Affects Soil Microorganisms

Soil pH doesn’t only affect nutrient availability, it also affects soil microbe activity and the mobility of heavy metal (including pollutants such as lead, mercury and cadmium).

Remember that soil is a complex living ecosystem, the ‘soil-food web’ which breaks down organic matter to make nutrients available to plants.

For soil organisms to function, they need:

  • large supplies of organic matter to live on
  • warmth (but not extreme heat)
  • moisture
  • oxygen
  • a soil pH close to neutral

 

Keeping the soil pH close to neutral is usually the best strategy, and if you’re gardening organically and not using synthetic fertilisers, composting and building the soil organic matter levels, then soils will usually look after themselves without the need to mess around with them.

In arid environments soils tend to be more alkaline, and in humid environments they tend to be more acidic, limestone soils will naturally be more alkaline, peat soils will be more acidic.

In the following articles in this series we;ll look at how to accurately test soil pH, and how to change the soil pH safely without causing further problems.

 

See the next article in this series here – Soil Chemistry Fundamentals, Part 2 – How to Change Soil pH in Organic Gardening

 

References:

  • Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Agriculture and Food – Soil pH and plant health, 16 June 2014.
  • Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Agriculture and Food – Soil pH, 17 September 2018
  • NSW Department of Primary Industries – Leaflet no. 2, Understanding soil pH, June 2000.
  • University of Idaho Extension, Idaho Landscapes and Gardens, Berries and Grapes, 2020.
  • Hajnos M. (2011) Buffer Capacity of Soils. In: Gliński J., Horabik J., Lipiec J. (eds) Encyclopedia of Agrophysics. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. Springer, Dordrecht
  • PennState Extension, College of Agricultural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University – Understanding Soil pH, April 5, 2019
  • Ohio State University Extension – Soil Acidification: How to Lower Soil pH, AGF-507, Nov 3, 2016
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Horticulture and Home Pest News, How To Change Your Soil’s pH by Eldon Everhart, Department of Horticulture, April 6, 1994
  • Clemson University Cooperative Extension, Changing the pH of Your Soil Factsheet, HGIC 1650, Updated: Oct 20, 2012
  • The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Soil pH Levels for Plants, Optimum Soil pH Levels for Trees, Shrubs, Vegetables, and Flowers by Catherine Boeckmann, August 13, 2019
  • Agriculture Victoria, Choosing and using lime in the orchard, Note number: AG0091, W. Thompson, Knoxfield, September, 1994
  • Purdue University, Indiana Yard and Garden, Purdue Consumer Horticulture – What is Loam? by Rosie Lerner
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst, Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment – Interpreting Your Soil Test Results, Jul 1, 2013 by John Spargo, Tracy Allen, Solomon Kariuki
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What Materials Can You Put Into Your Compost Bin and What Not to Compost

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Composting is Mother Nature’s ultimate recycling process which converts everything that was once living back into soil. We can compost a lot of organic matter in our homes and gardens, and use it to improve the quality of our soil, rather than toss it out into landfill.

For successful composting, it’s important that we use the right mix of materials. The composting process requires materials which contain both carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). The optimum ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in the final mix of compost materials needs to be between 25:1 – 30:1 parts carbon to nitrogen by weight.

The reason for this is because the composting bacteria require carbon and nitrogen in these proportions as nutrients to construct their bodies as they reproduce and multiply.

 

The Two Groups of Composting Materials, Greens and Browns

  • Materials high in carbon are typically dry, ‘brown’ materials that rot down very slowly, such as sawdust, cardboard, dried leaves, straw, branches and other woody or fibrous materials
  • Materials high in nitrogen are typically moist, ‘green’ materials that rot down very quickly, such as lawn/grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, animal manures and green leafy materials.

When composting, there’s no need to worry about carbon-nitrogen ratios, just work by volume, it’s much easier.

When composting, use 1/3 ‘greens’ (nitrogen containing) materials with 2/3 ‘browns’ (dry carbon materials). In other words, add one bucket of nitrogen-rich material to every two buckets of dry carbon-containing material.

For example, 1/3 manure mixed with of any 2/3 dry carbon materials will work well to produce compost.

When composting, lay down alternating thin layers of greens and browns, and the bacteria will do the rest. The materials will break down the fastest at the bottom of the heap where the materials were placed first.

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A mixture of composting materials is essential for a health compost, the more in the mix, the richer the compost will be!

 

Try to use a wide variety of ingredients in your compost, the more the better, as it creates a richer compost in the end. There are many ingredients that can be composted, that gardeners aren’t aware of, and there are certain ingredients that should never be put into a compost bin.

Here’s a list of what materials should and shouldn’t place in your your compost bin:

 

What You Can Put Into Your Compost

  1. Garden prunings (break down faster if mulched or mowed over with lawnmower first)
  2. Lawn clippings (use thin layers)
  3. Garden waste
  4. Mulched woody branches
  5. Straw mulch materials such as hay, lucerne, pea straw, sugarcane mulch, etc.
  6. Leaves (break down faster if mulched or mowed over with lawnmower first)
  7. Pine needles (these break down very slowly and make the compost more acidic, great for acid-loving plants such as blueberries)
  8. Cut flowers
  9. Kitchen scraps (fruits and vegetables)
  10. Breads, cereals, rice, flour
  11. Coffee grounds and tea bags (not the plastic tea bags)
  12. Egg shells (crushed)
  13. Bamboo skewers, wooden chopsticks, toothpicks (chop into smaller pieces with pruning secateurs)
  14. Vegetarian animal manures (chicken, sheep, cow, rabbit manure, etc)
  15. Pet hair and feathers
  16. Newspaper
  17. Cardboard and egg cartons
  18. Brown paper bags
  19. Unbleached non-glossy paper
  20. Saw dust and wood shavings (small amounts, best to leave them to weather outdoors first outside to leach away the oils and darken)
  21. Wood ashes (small amounts only as a source of potassium, otherwise they make the compost too alkaline)
  22. Natural fibres such as cotton, wool, leather, etc (only break down in a fast 18-day hot compost system, don’t break down easily in regular compost)

 

Hot Composting vs Cold Composting

While it is possible to compost things made of natural fabrics, even leather, this should only be attempted when using a fast and hot composting process such as the Berkeley Hot Composting Method.

Hot composting done properly (not being allowed to cool down until it’s finished!) will get very hot, around 55-65 degrees Celsius (131-149 degree Fahrenheit), and stay that hot continuously for over two weeks, which literally cooks everything, and produces very fine compost in 18 days.

Hot composting will effectively destroy disease pathogens (such as powdery mildew on pumpkin leaves), weed seeds, weed roots (such as couch and kikuyu) and weeds which reproduce through root bulbs (such as oxalis). Some farmers who use the hot compost method even put fresh animal roadkill into the middle of their hot compost heaps because they are rich in nitrogen, and they find nothing but clean bones when the compost is ready. Not a good idea for urban areas though!

The slower, cold composting methods take anywhere from three months to a year, will NOT kill disease pathogens or weed seeds and roots, and produce a coarser compost. Being a slower and less efficient process, cold composting is unsuitable for composting natural fibre fabrics.

 

What You Should Not Put Into Your Compost

  1. Diseased plants (can cause diseases to spread in the garden)
  2. Noxious weeds which regrow from cuttings, seeds or roots
  3. Pet poo from non-vegetarian animals (contain many pathogens which are a health hazard and can cause diseases)
  4. Fish and meat scraps, fats, or foods containing these (will rot, smell unpleasant and attract pests such as rodents)
  5. Dairy products (will rot, smell unpleasant and attract pests such as rodents)
  6. Cooking oil
  7. Glossy or coated paper, eg. magazines (contain toxic chemicals)
  8. Bleached paper, eg. office paper (contain toxic chlorine-based chemicals which shouldn’t be composted)
  9. Sales receipts and thermal paper (contain a mix of toxic chemicals which shouldn’t be composted)
  10. Sticky labels, such as the ones on produce and packaging (are made of plastic and/or contain toxic chemicals in the glue)
  11. Vacuum cleaner dust and dryer lint (once recommended, but now contain too many synthetic fibres which don’t break down)
  12. Ashes from coal/ barbecue briquettes (contain toxic chemicals)
  13. Treated wood pieces or sawdust (contain highly toxic copper, chromium and arsenic which will contaminate soil)
  14. Personal hygiene products, such as tissues, tampons (unhygienic, health hazard)
  15. Plants treated with toxic pesticides and herbicides (will contaminate compost, soil and food with toxic chemicals)
  16. Large branches (unless they are mulched first)
  17. Citrus peels and onions (can use in very small amounts, too much and they can kill the compost bacteria)

 

Should You Add Lime to Your Compost?

Many composting instructions recommend adding lime (gardening lime, limestone, calcium carbonate) to the compost bin, especially if it becomes a bit too acidic and ‘sours’, as the lime ‘sweetens’ it by reducing acidity.

Don’t add lime, as it will make the compost more alkaline, this will slow down the composting process, as compost microorganisms operate best under a pH range of 5.5 to 8, and ideally prefer a neutral to acidic environment, as acidic conditions are favourable for the growth of fungi and the breakdown of lignin in woody materials and cellulose which is the main compound which makes up plant cell walls.

The other problem with making compost more alkaline is that it causes ammonium nitrogen (NH4+) to be lost to the atmosphere as ammonia gas (NH3). This depletes the compost of its nitrogen, a valuable nutrient for plant growth.

Rather than add lime, it’s easier to simply aerate and mix a compost pile that has become anaerobic and too acidic, this will reduce the acidity.

During the composting process, organic acids are produced at the beginning of the composting process, and later in the process become neutralised. Depending on the ingredients used and the composting process used (slow or fast), mature compost will generally have compost a pH between 6 and 8.

 

By using the right ingredients in a compost pile, in the correct proportions, it’s easy to create an ongoing supply of nutrient rich compost to improve soil structure and fertility. There’s a little bit of an art to composting, so it pays to experiment a little and find what works best!

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How to Use Replaceable Filter Face Masks for COVID-19 Coronavirus Protection

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For protection against COVID-19 Coronavirus, people have been using disposable surgical masks or N95 /P2 respirators. With the shortage of these protective masks, people have been advised to sew their own protective cloth masks , which are not as effective but still offer some protection, and are washable.

A further development from these forms of PPE (personal protective equipment) are washable cloth mask which can take disposable filters constructed of the same materials as respirators and surgical masks.

mask-filters
Replaceable disposable filters fit into cloth masks designed for them.

 

Filter Construction

These disposable masks filters contain a layer of activated charcoal to absorb various gases and vapours such as those from exhaust fumes in traffic when riding a bicycle

The other layers in the filter will trap particles up to 2.5 microns in size, which includes car and diesel exhaust particulates, as well as respiratory droplets in the air which carry COVID-19 coronavirus when people cough or sneeze.

five-layer-mask-filter

 

These disposable mask filters have a 5 layer construction, arranged in a specific order, so it matters which way around they’re fitted into a mask!

 

Which Way Does Replaceable Filter Face in Protective Face Mask?

The front of the disposable filter, which is printed with the words ‘PM2.5’ should be inserted into the mask facing up, towards the inside of the mask, so when you are wearing the mask, it will be on the same side as your face.

 

mask-filter-front-back

 

install-filter-in-replaceable-filter-mask
When fitting disposable filter into face mask, make sure the front of the filter with the printed words ‘PM2.5’ is facing the inside of the mask which rests against your face!

 

How Long Do Disposable Mask Filters Last?

These disposable filters cannot be cleaned or washed, and can be only used be for 1-2 weeks, after which they should be discarded.

The time of 1 to 2 weeks is based on casual use of the mask, such as wearing it only when heading outside the home, going shopping, or riding a bike to and from work, for example. If the mask is worn continuously for a whole 8 hour working day, then the filter will only last 1-2 days!

 

How Do You Wash the Mask?

  1. Remove the disposable filter from the cloth mask.
  2. Gently hand wash the mask in a neutral detergent diluted with water
  3. Hang the mask to dry in the shade in a location with good air circulation.

Do not leave the mask to soak in the washing liquid or water.
Do not use bleach to clean the mask.

 

How Well Do These Masks Work?

Studies testing surgical masks have found them around 80% effective at blocking particles in the air such as respiratory droplets that can carry COVID-19 coronavirus when people cough or sneeze, even though surgical masks don’t fit as tightly on the face as N95 / P2 respirators.

These masks fit fairly well, similar to a surgical mask, though the filter material is not as large as that of the surgical mask which are all filter, so they may offer protection close to a surgical mask, but at a much lower cost because only the filter portion is disposable.

It’s important to remember that the point of wearing masks is also to stop the virus being coughed, sneezed or breathed out of your own lungs if you’re infected but asymptomatic (not showing symptoms), as happens in the first two weeks after infection, one of the main ways that community infection spreads.

Wearing a mask that isn’t a respirator still offers a fair degree of protection, it’s way better than nothing, and is also a responsible action to protect the community from yourself in case you’re infected but don’t know it.

With the activated carbon layer in the filter, these masks are a good idea for cyclists who are forced to ride in traffic among all the exhaust fumes.

This type of mask is also commonly worn in Asian countries during the cold winter season to keep the face warm, and to help prevent catching colds or spreading them to others.

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Which Variety of Grape Vine Has Edible Leaves for Making Dolmades?

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Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) are a popular dish in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. These appetisers are made of meat, rice, various herbs and spices, all of which are wrapped in grape vine  leaves and cooked.

When cooking, it’s important to use the correct ingredients, which is why many people ask, which grape varieties are best for making dolmades?

The Sultana grape, also known as the Thompson seedless, is best grape variety with edible leaves used in making dolmades.

How do I know? i asked my ethnic mum, she grew up on a farm, and has been making this dish her entire life, so I’d say that’s a reliable source!

 

Why are Sultana (Thompson Seedless) Leaves Preferred?

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Sultana grape vine, with large bunches of sweet grapes and broad edible leaves which are ideal for making stuffed grape vine leaves.

There are several reasons why Sultana (Thompson seedless) leaves are used for their edible leaves in preference to other grape varieties:

  • Large, broad leaves with very shallow lobes provides ample wrapping material without any holes or gaps where ingredients could fall out, unlike the more deeply lobed (deeply cut) grape leaves of most wine grape varieties.
  • Stronger and more flexible leaves than other grape varieties make them perfect for use in cooking, as they’re easier to wrap and won’t come apart.
  • Leaves have a good texture and taste when cooked and are easy to chew.

Other varieties with broad leaves may also be used if they’re palatable and lend themselves to cooking. I should point out that the Vitus vinifera species (European grape varieties) are used for edible leaves.

 

Are Labrusca Grape (Fox Grape) Leaves Edible?

The Northern Fox Grape, also known as a Concorde Grape or Labrusca grape, is the species Vitis labrusca, native to the US. With it’s distinct musky flavour which many find objectionable, and large seeds which cling to the pulp of the berries, it’s an inferior grape compared  to the European Vitus vinifera species, and it’s leaves are also are not suitable for cooking this dish.

Only the young leaves of Vitis labrusca are considered edible, and are said to have a ‘pleasant acid flavour’ when cooked and used as greens or wrapped around other foods and then baked where they impart a pleasant flavour. You really don’t want the flavour of the leaves seeping into to the ingredients in dolmades, in case you’re wondering…

The leaves are actually used historically as a herbal medicine, where an infusion of the leaves has been used in treating diarrhoea, fevers, headaches, hepatitis, stomach aches and thrush, while a poultice has been used externally on rheumatic joints, sore breasts, and as a headache treatment.

In other words, just use the European Vitus vinifera species for dolmades!

 

Harvesting the Best Grape Vine Leaves for Use in Cooking

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As with any other fresh cooking ingredients, knowing what to harvest and when will determine the quality of the ingredients!

The best time to pick vine leaves  is in late spring to early summer when the leaves are nice and tender, unblemished and in great abundance. Any leaves that aren’t used immediately can be stored for later use.​

You don’t want to harvest the very delicate young leaves which can tear easily or the oldest, toughest ones, but the medium sized leaves in-between.

The traditional method my mum taught me was to start at the tip of a branch, leaving the first three leaves, and then selecting the fourth and later leaves for harvest. Select a few leaves from each branch to avoid stripping any one branch of leaves. Cut off the leaves near the branch, you want the leaf stem to stay attached to the leaves, this prevents leaves tearing and the leaf stem can be cut off later during the cooking preparation process.

Choose healthy looking leaves that are as large as the palm of your hand or larger, without any holes in them or any other damage. Make sure that the leaves haven’t been sprayed with any pesticides or fungicides, if it’s not your grape vine, ask the grower!

If leaves are going to be used immediately for cooking, rinse the leaves with cool water to wash them, then pat them dry before use.

 

Storing Grape Vine Leaves

Since the harvesting period is limited, it’s best to collect the grape vine leaves you need during the few months that they’re available, and storing what is not used.

If leaves are to be stored, they are not washed but instead wiped down with a dry paper towel, stacked, then placed in a sealed freezer bag, and put he freezer where they will keep for 6 months.

 

More Than Vine Leaves!

In permaculture, which is essentially ecological garden design, we prefer to use plants which have multiple uses to maximise efficiency

More than just a source of edible leaves for making dolmades, the Thompson seedless (sultana) grape is one of the most popular sweet table grapes worldwide, and it is also used for making dried raisins and wine also.

The berries are yellow-green in colour, oval in shape, small to medium in size, and seedless, with soft skin and sweet, firm, juicy pulp with nice grape flavour. The berries are produced in large, conical bunches which are usually well filled. This vine is vigorous, and a cane-pruned variety. It’s definitely worth growing!

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Citrus Problems – Citrus Fruit Has Thick Peel and Hollow Core

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Nutrient imbalances and deficiencies can adversely affect the quality of citrus fruit. Excess nitrogen combined with low phosphorus will cause citrus fruit to be misshapen, with thick peel, a coarse and roughly textured rind, coarse pulpy flesh without much juice, and an open centre. The juice will also be more acid in these fruit.

 

citrus-problem-phosphorus-deficiency

 

Signs of Phosphorus Deficiency in Citrus

It’s important to first point out that it’s very rare for citrus trees in gardens or orchards to encounter low soil phosphorus and show signs of phosphorus deficiency.

  • When it does occur, signs of phosphorus deficiency will show in both the fruit and leaves of citrus trees.
  • As previously mentioned, the fruit will be misshapen with thicker peel and a hollow core, and fruit will drop before the normal harvesting time.
  • The leaves will be small and narrow, with a dull bronzed green or purplish discoloration, and will shed readily.
  • Symptoms will occurs on the older leaves first.
  • Flowering will be reduced. Lack of flowers and fruit is more commonly a deficiency of potassium though.

Growth of a citrus tree is reduced when the supply of phosphorus is too low. Phosphorus is highly mobile in plants, meaning that it can be moved around easily by the tree to where it is most needed. In cases where there is a deficiency, the tree can move phosphorus from old leaves to young leaves, and to other areas which are actively growing, energy is needed to form seeds and fruit.

 

What Does the Nutrient Phosphorus Do?

Phosphorus plays an important role in plants, it is involved with the processes of metabolism, cell division & growth. Citrus trees require phosphorus for good root development and to help their flowers to bloom.

Being part of the macronutrient trio N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), the main nutrients which plants require to grow, phosphorus is an important ingredient in any balanced fertiliser.

The N:P:K ratio listed on product labels will indicate what proportions of these major nutrients are present in a fertiliser. Natural fertilisers such as blood & bone and chicken manure are very high in phosphorus, but not at the unnaturally high levels found in synthetic chemical fertilizers!

 

Understanding Soil Phosphorus

The reason why phosphorus deficiencies are quite rare in gardens and orchards is because phosphorus is immobile in soil, it doesn’t leach or wash out of soils, it stays put and accumulates up in the soil. Most phosphorus is present in the upper soil layer.

Australian soils out in the wild are naturally low in phosphorus, and many native plants are adapted to take up as much phosphorus as possible where it is extremely scarce. This is why some, such as those of the Proteaceae family, can be killed from phosphorus toxicity when fed with high phosphorus fertilisers!

The phosphorus in the soil will not all be available to tree roots. Some will be present as an available form which plants and trees can utilise, and some forms will be present which will be unavailable. The unavailable forms act as a soil reserve for the available forms.

The soil pH  will determine how much phosphorus is available to plants and trees. Phosphorus is most available in pH range of 6-7, which is from slightly acidic to neutral.

When the soil is more alkaline or acidic, phosphorus becomes less available to plant and tree roots.

  • In alkaline soils, phosphorus is fixed in calcium compounds
  • In acid soils, phosphorus is fixed in iron and aluminium compounds in acid soils.

When the nutrient is fixed into compounds, it becomes bound up, and therefore made unavailable to plants and trees.

 

Fixing the Problem

The effect of phosphorus deficiency on citrus fruit is made worse when too much nitrogen fertiliser has been used. The simple solution is to use a balanced fertiliser which has the right ratios of nitrogen and phosphorus. Manures, as well as blood & bone also contain both of these macronutrients, but no potassium (potash), so if you’re feeding citrus trees with these, add some sulphate of potash, or seaweed extract, which is also high in potash for a balanced feed.

Preventing soil loss due to erosion is important as phosphorus is mainly present in the upper layers of soil. In very sandy soils add organic matter to better retain nutrients. Reducing soil compaction is important as compacted soil reduces uptake of phosphorus.

 

Excess Phosphorus

Overfeeding a tree is as bad as underfeeding it, as both erroneous practises will cause problems.

Symptoms of excess phosphorus include:

  • Smaller fruit
  • Thinner peels
  • Higher percentage of juice
  • Increased chance of regreening (where overripe citrus fruit begin taking on a green tinge).

These are the effects on fruit quality.

Excess phosphorus won’t reduce yields, but a citrus tree’s ability to absorb certain micronutrients will be reduced, which can accentuate the effects of low zinc availability, induce iron deficiency and affect copper uptake. Zinc and iron deficiencies will lead to weakened and discoloured plant tissues.

Too much is never a good thing, and an overabundance of phosphorus in the soil may also damage or kill surrounding plants, so it’s best to feed citrus trees moderate amounts regularly.

Feeding citrus every 6-8 weeks, from the start of spring to the start of autumn, with a balanced organic fertliser, is a good way to maximise growth without harming the soil or the tree!

 

Other articles on citrus problems and how to fix them:

 

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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – May

May is the last month of autumn, when the weather starts cooling down. This is a time for pruning, taking cuttings for propagation, divide perennials, and t put in new trees, shrubs and vines. The soil is also still warm enough for moving and relocating plants around the garden.

It’s also the time to clean up the garden, to remove all the dead and dried leaves, branches and plants, which is a great source of organic matter for mulching and composting!

Things to Do This Month:

  • Continue planting new trees, shrubs, climbers, annuals and perennials.
  • Continue gathering and composting autumn leaves.
  • Continue cool season green manures crops, which will be cut down and dug into the soil in spring.
  • Continue collecting and sowing seeds from berry producing trees and shrubs.
  • Continue lifting and dividing overgrown perennial plants.
  • Continue planting garlic, strawberry runners and shallot bulbs.
  • Continue pruning brambleberries after they finish fruiting – cut out the canes that fruited, and tie in the newly grown canes to the support wires on the berry trellises.
  • Winter pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs can be done in autumn or winter and can begin now.
  • Check citrus for galls caused by gall wasp and prune to remove.
  • Cut back bamboo, and use the canes next season as plants supports and stakes in the garden.
  • Repair trellises now that leaves have fallen from deciduous plants, allowing better access.
  • Check tree ties, stakes and supports. Install windbreaks and tree guards around vulnerable plants.
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs (can be done either in autumn and early spring).
  • Lift rooted hardwood cuttings produced last autumn (the year before) and plant them out to a permanent location.
  • Some perennials plants with long fleshy roots such as horseradish can be propagated by root cuttings, take root cuttings from this time in late autumn until late winter.
  • Propagate blackcurrants, redcurrants whitecurrants and gooseberries from hardwood cuttings.
  • Propagate vines such as grapes using hardwood cuttings or ‘eye cuttings’ with a single bud.
  • Propagate rhubarb by lifting root, dividing it so each piece has one or more buds and replanting.
  • Harvest and store root crops – now is the time to begin lifting parsnips from the ground, exposure to cold improves the taste.
  • Ponds should be cleaned of old plants, and overgrown marginal plants around the pond can be divided.

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in May Harvest (weeks)
Broad beans d 12-22
Carrot d 12-18
Chives ds 7-11
Corn Salad d 5-8
Florence Fennel d 14-20
Garlic d 17-25
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mizuna d 35-50 days
Mustard greens d 5-8
Onion ds 25-34
Oregano s 6-8
Pak Choy d 6-11
Parsley ds 9-19
Peas d 9-11
Radish d 5-7
Rocket d 21-35 days
Shallots d 12-15
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Snow Peas d 12-14
Spinach d 5-11
Strawberry Plants d 11

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – May

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Why Is My Aloe Vera Plant Turning Yellow and Brown?

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Aloe vera is a hardy, succulent, semi-tropical plant native to North Africa and the SW Arabian Peninsula, which can tolerate quite harsh conditions. It will grow in poor soils in hot, dry sunny  locations with very little water, but can also tolerate dappled sun or part shade, which allows it to be grown successfully as an indoor plant when located near a window with bright natural light.

When grown outdoors, Aloe vera plants will flower. They produce clusters of dangling tubular yellow or orange flowers on  long stalk which grow from the centre of the plant around early spring. They tend not to flower when grown indoors as houseplants.

 

How Healthy Aloe Vera Plants Should Look

Healthy Aloe vera plants are grey-green or blue-green in colour, with vibrant green young leaves.

edible-aloe-vera
Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller has a green to grey-green colour and a very distinct circular rosette form

 

Aloe-vera-chinensis-nonedible-1
Aloe vera var. chinensis has a blue-green colour and a very different form, somewhat flatter and stacked rather than a rosette

 

The Symptoms of an Unhealthy Aloe Vera Plant

When Aloe vera plants are subjected to unfavourable conditions, they may show some of the following signs:

  • Leaves become pale in colour, the green colour fades to a straw yellow colour which eventually turns light brown.
  • Leaf tips darken and dry out.
  • Leaves dry out and wither.
  • Leaves become soft and mushy, and begin to rot.

 

IMG_20200418_155835-1-2
A pair of unhealthy Aloe vera plants that have been overwatered and exposed to sudden cold weather.

 

What Makes Aloe Vera Plants Unwell and How to Prevent It

When plants get exposed to conditions they don’t like, they become stressed, and start showing signs that they’re unhealthy.

What are the conditions that can stress Aloe vera plants?

 

1. Overwatering

When Aloe vera plants are overwatered, the leaves will fade in colour, yellow, brown off and eventually rot away.

Testing for overwatering is quick and easy:

  • If the plants are in the ground, push a garden hand trowel into the soil and check if the soil is waterlogged.
  • If plants are growing in pots,  lift up the container to check the weight, if it feels excessively heavy it’s because the growing medium is saturated with water.

Aloe vera plants don’t need much water. If they’re growing in containers, water once a week in summer and once every two weeks in winter. All tropical and subtropical plants don’t like too much water when it’s cold, as it rots their roots.

What about rainfall?

When growing Aloe vera in pots or containers outdoors, don’t leave them out in the open in winter where they will be exposed to rainfall, place them in a location that will shelter them from the rain. An ideal place is near a sunny house wall where the roof overhangs and protects them from the rain. I have mine containers of aloe vera growing against a west facing wall, where the afternoon winter sun warms the wall and elevates the winter night temperature around the plants.

Aloe vera plants growing in the ground will be fine if they’re subjected to rain as long as the soil drains well in winter. Heavy clay soils should be amended before planting, the soil in the planting area needs to be mixed with compost (about 25% by volume) to improve drainage.

Can the size of pot make a difference?

Overpotting a plant can cause waterlogging! Aloe vera plants, just like all other succulents, need to be grown in a soil mixture drains freely when grown in pots. Please don’t use garden soil in pots, that becomes mud in containers when it gets wet! Even when using a well draining growing medium (potting mix), if the pot is too large for the plant, the plant’s small root system isn’t capable of taking up all the water, which results in the growing medium staying excessively wet for an extended period of time. This has the same effect as overwatering on the plant.

Aloe vera plants prefer to be snug in their pot with a dense root mass, so when transplanting them, move them up to the next sized pot only, don’t put them in an overly large pot. Give the plant around 3-4 cm (1-1 ½”) of space all round the sides in the new pot. Transplant Aloe vera plants every two years to freshen to growing medium and aerate the roots.

 

2. Sudden Change in Growing Conditions

Aloe vera plants may be very tough and adaptable, but any plant will get stressed if the growing conditions are changed suddenly.

Here are some examples of sudden changes in growing conditions that can severely stress a plant:

Indoors to Outdoors – If an plant has been growing indoors for quite a while, putting it into outdoors in harsh direct sun will usually burn the leaf tips. Plants need to be ‘hardened off’ by gradually exposing them to increasing levels of sunlight from shade to dappled sun the full sun over several weeks.

Unexpected Drought Conditions –  plants dependent on rainfall can become moisture stressed during extended heatwaves which lead to drought conditions. This condition is easy to recognise as leaf tips will usually be burnt, they will be dark brown in colour, and whole leaves may be completely dried out and withered at the base of the plant.

Abrupt Seasonal Changes – when plants are adapted to warm weather, a sudden shift to very cold weather as the seasons change, such as an unseasonal freezing cold night or sudden frost can acutely stress plants. Cold affected plants will usually display a yellowing of the leaves, and frosts will burn the tips of Aloe vera plants.

 

How To Save a Sick Aloe Vera Plant

When an Aloe vera plant looks unhealthy, it doesn’t take much to bring it back to health if action is taken early enough. Plants are quite capable of recovering if the conditions causing the stress are removed, and growing conditions are corrected and returned back to normal.

The plant pictured below was overwatered and exposed to a sudden seasonal weather shift which brought erratic weather changes and very cold nights after a long warm spell. This Aloe vera plant was completely yellowed, and the outer leaves had turned a light brown colour.

To save the plant, it was placed in a greenhouse where it wouldn’t be watered by gardeners, receive rainfall, or be exposed to cold night temperatures.

After two weeks, there are signs of recovery as the inner leaves start to green once again and take on their natural colour.

IMG_20200418_155917-1-2
A stressed out Aloe vera plant showing signs of recovery – green leaves!

Restoring conditions which assist with plant recovery are fairly straightforward.

  • Overwatered plants – stop watering, and place them under cover away from rainfall.
  • Overpotted plants – transplant into a smaller pot, so the potting medium will dry more easily between waterings.
  • Drought-stricken plants – remove burnt leaves, do not remove leaves with burnt tips, water plants to restore soil moisture, also consider using seaweed extract as it acts as a root growth stimulator and also helps stressed plants recover.
  • Cold-stressed plants – place pots near a wall that receives midday or afternoon sun to keep overnight temperatures higher around the plants, water less often in winter, keep the plants out of the rain, and remove any saucers underneath that retain water.

Given time, the plants will green up on their own and totally recover, all they need is a little help!

You might also like these other articles on Aloe vera plants:

 

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How To Safely Put on, Use and Remove a Face Mask to Protect Against COVID-19 Coronavirus

how-to-wear-a-surgical-mask-2

Now that more people are beginning to wear protective face masks, either P2/N95 rated masks, surgical masks or even homemade masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus transmission,  it’s important that they use them correctly to get the best protection  and avoid accidental contamination.

Here’s how to safely put on, use and remove a protective face mask in 5 easy steps!

 

1. Wash Hands Before Putting On a Mask

Begin by washing your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.

The reason for washing first is so that you don’t transfer any germs that might be already  on your hands onto the mask, which will be touching your face. Protective masks are sterilized so they’re free of germs and viruses when you buy them. You don’t want to contaminate the mask when you’re handing it!

masks-3

 

2. Fit the Mask So It Covers Your Nose AND Mouth

For the mask to work properly, it must cover your mouth and nose, yes both!

Adjust the mask so it fits well and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

If the mask has a metal strip along the top edge, pinch it so it sits gently on the bridge of your nose.

masks-4

 

3. Don’t Touch The Mask While Wearing It – It’s NOT Clean!

Avoid touching the mask while using it, especially the front of it, as it may be contaminated!

If the mask is doing its job and capturing respiratory droplets in the air carrying the virus, it will not be safe to touch the outer layer. Treat it like any other surface in a public area – don’t touch it as you might transfer the virus to your fingers!

If you do touch the mask, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or clean them using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.

masks-5

 

4. Replace Damp Masks Immediately

When a mask becomes damp, replace the mask with a new one. Do not re-use single-use masks.

A cloth or fabric DIY face mask can be reused if it’s cleaned regularly in the correct way, either by heat sterilizing it in an oven at 70 degrees C (160 degrees F) for 30-60 minutes,  or UV sterilizing it by exposing both sides to an ultraviolet (UV) sterilizer lamp, time required will depend on the sterilizer used.

masks-6

 

5. Always Remove Masks From Behind, Don’t Touch the Front – It’s NOT Clean!

To remove the mask, take hold of the straps from the back of your head and pull forward. Do not touch the material part of the mask as it may be contaminated!

Discard used masks immediately in a closed bin and then wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or clean them using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. You don’t want to accidentally transfer the virus to your hands, because if you then touch anything, you can spread it!

masks-7

 

(Image credits – title image – Government of Singapore, all other images – United Nations World Health Organisation)

 

For more information on protective face masks, please see the following articles:

 

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Why You Should Wear a Mask for COVID-19 Coronavirus, Debunking The Bad Science!

masks-reduce-covid19-coronavirus-spread

There has been a lot of bad advice coming from government authorities and ‘experts’ during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and it usually starts with the ominous words “there is still no evidence that…”. The questionable advice which follows usually discourages people from helping themselves by taking extra precautions that take little to no effort and cost nothing, but needlessly puts lives at risk where common sense should prevail.

So far we have been mistakenly told by governments, experts and authorities that:

  • COVID-19 coronavirus has been contained, and that there is no reasonable threat of infection.
  • Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus has not been contained, it has spread worldwide due to international travel and has now become a significant global pandemic.

 

  • There is no evidence of airborne transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus remains active in the air for up to 3 hours, carried and transmitted (spread) by by respiratory droplets (tiny water droplets) in the air, which are expelled from the lungs when people are talking, coughing or sneezing. Respiratory droplets can travel six metres for a cough and up to eight metres for a sneeze.

 

  • There is no evidence of asymptomatic transmission.
  • Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus can infect a person who shows no symptoms but can pass the coronavirus to others. People who are presymptomatic (infected and will fall ill but not showing any symptoms yet) usually won’t show any symptoms for 2-4 weeks. Presymptomatic carriers begin shedding (breathing out) significant quantities of the virus about 48 hours before symptoms appear. Around 25 percent of people infected don’t present any symptoms or will not become ill but can still transmit the illness to others. Asymptomatic carriers are most likely contributing to the rapid spread of the coronavirus worldwide.

 

  • There is no evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 coronavirus
  • Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus can can spread by community transmission, where it passes from person to person, infecting people with no history of travel to affected areas, or of contact with the infected person. The spread is obviously through infected respiratory droplets making contact with the nose, mouth or eyes, or through touching surfaces contaminated with infected respiratory droplets and then touching the face.

 

Critical Thinking and Risk Reduction – Should You Wear a Mask?

The latest claims from many authorities is that the public don’t need to wear protective masks.

My first question is why not? Why would you not wear respiratory protection against an airborne respiratory disease?

If we take the politics and other subjective matters out of the question, we essentially are looking at a matter of risk mitigation, otherwise known as risk reduction, the process by which we implement specific measures to minimize or eliminate unacceptable risks, or reduce the probability of the risk materializing.

Before we even examine the science, just from a risk reduction perspective, If we weigh up the cost of wearing masks against all possible outcomes, we realise that wearing masks is a sensible precautionary measure against COVID-19 coronavirus.

As shown in the graphic below, there are four possible scenarios:

  1. If we wear masks, and they DO reduce the risk of infection, we save lives for the cost of a few dollars for a mask, a highly favourable outcome.
  2. If we wear masks, and they DO NOT reduce the risk of infection, we lose a few dollars for a mask, no big deal.
  3. If we DO NOT wear masks, and they do reduce the risk of infection, we lose needlessly, a highly unfavourable outcome.
  4. If we DO NOT wear masks, and they DO NOT reduce the risk of infection, we lose needlessly, we neither lose or gain anything, nothing changes.

It is evident that the benefit of wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19 coronavirus outweighs the risks of not wearing one.

 

coronavirus-risk-matrix-wear-mask
Risk matrix for coronavirus, wearing a mask has lots of benefits and no drawbacks, other than a few wasted dollars.

 

Scientific Facts versus Government Claims about Masks for Coronavirus

Now lets bring the science and critical thinking into the equation to see how government advise stacks up.

  • Governments tell us that we don’t need to use masks for protection against COVID-19 coronavirus infection.
  • Fact: The standard accepted and approved protection against infectious respiratory droplets is a P2 or P3 rated mask under Australia/NZ standards or the equivalent N95 or N99 mask under US standards. These are rated to filter out 95% or 99% of infectious airborne respiratory droplets respectively. Wearing respiratory protection such as masks is the standard precaution used against an airborne respiratory diseases.

 

  • Governments tell us that we shouldn’t use properly rated  P2 or N95 masks for  protection against COVID-19 coronavirus infection because the masks need to fit well to work.
  • Fact: Using a P2 or N95 rated mask is quite simple, you just have to ensure that masks are well fitted to the face with no air gaps, instructions are provided by mask manufacturers. These masks are routinely used by tradesmen, industrial workers and spray painters, it’s not rocket science. Please see instructions below and feel free to download these instructions in pdf format for your safety. Even a badly fitting mask will provide significant protection compared to wearing no mask.image
  • Governments tell us that surgical masks do not offer protection against COVID-19 coronavirus infection, they should not be worn by healthy people, only medical professionals and sick people.
  • Fact: The reason why surgical masks are used by healthy individuals working as health professionals is because the masks offer some protection, and some is better than none. Surgical masks actually offer significant protection, even though they don’t fit tightly on the face like P2/N95 industrial respirators. In a study conducted in 2009 by researchers from Edinburgh University titled “Beneficial cardiovascular effects of reducing exposure to particulate air pollution with a simple facemask“, they tested the effectiveness of various masks for blocking diesel exhaust. They tested down to a particle size of .007 microns, which is much smaller than 2.5 microns level for general pollutants, and 10 times smaller than the coronavirus which averages 0.125 microns (125 nm), with a range in size from 0.06 to 0.14 microns (60-140nm). The results showed that the surgical mask was able to block out 80% of particles. You can find the study here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662779/

 

  • Governments tell us that we shouldn’t wear surgical masks or P2/N95 respirators because they’re needed by health professionals.
  • Fact: This has to be the most fallacious argument ever proposed, and is a classical flaw in reasoning. This type of thinking is what is referred to as a  zero-sum game, where one side gains only if the other loses. This is absurd, the general public are not competing with hospitals and medical professionals for protective safety equipment! The general public buy their P2/N95 masks from industrial and paint stores, and their surgical masks from Chinese vendors on eBay and from online superstores in mainland China. They don’t buy from hospital suppliers!

 

  • Governments tell us that we shouldn’t wear any masks because they’re dangerous as they can instill a false sense of security.
  • Fact: The point of masks is to reduce risk, not to eliminate the risk completely, as only a fully sealed biohazard suit would do that. Even a P3/N99 mask will block out 99% of particles, but 1% will get through. This all-or-none mentality is seriously flawed logic. By this reasoning security personnel should never be allowed to use body armour other than the highest rated and heaviest to wear, because lower rated armour isn’t designed to protect to the highest level.Protection of all sorts comes in various levels, and it’s a continuum from the least to most effective, not an all-or-none binary option. Even crude, homemade masks offer some protection. A 2013 study at Cambridge University titled “Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic?” tested homemade masks made from a range of materials as an alternative to commercial face masks, and evaluated for the capacity to block bacterial and viral aerosols. The number of microorganisms isolated from coughs of healthy volunteers wearing their homemade mask, a surgical mask, or no mask was compared using several air-sampling techniques. Even though the median-fit factor of the homemade masks was one-half that of the surgical masks, both masks significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgical mask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the homemade mask. The conclusion was that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection.All of the materials tested for homemade masks did offer some protection, even against 0.02-micron bacteriophage particles which are smaller than 0.125 microns sized coronavirus particles. To state some figures of how effective various materials were against 0.02-micron bacteriophage particles: Surgical mask (89%), Vacuum cleaner bag (86%), Dish towel (73%), Cotton blend T-shirt (70%), Antimicrobial pillowcase (68%), Linen (62%), Pillowcase (57%), Silk (54%), 100% cotton T-shirt (51%), Scarf (49%). So, even wrapping a scarf around your face while out in public can reduce the exposure by almost half!

 

What Are N95 Masks and Surgical Masks Made Of?

Some readers may be curious about what materials P2 or N95 respirator masks and surgical masks are made of.

N95 (P2) and N99 (P3) respirator masks are made of a non-woven polypropylene melt-blown electrostatic polymer sandwiched between layers of non-woven fabric, which are ultrasonically welded or fused together. These masks are capable of filtering out very fine particles in the air, but some of these respirators also include an additional layer of activated charcoal to filter certain chemicals and vapours in the air.

Surgical masks are usually made using a three-ply (three layer) construction. They are made with a inner non-woven polypropylene melt-blown polymer filtering layer (similar to an N95 respirator mask) between a non-woven fabric front and back. Usually, the non-woven fabric side is that sits against the face is coloured white while the outer side fabric exposed to the world is light blue, this would prevent contamination if a mask is temporarily taken off and put back on the wrong way.

 

Why Any Mask Will Make a Difference Against Coronavirus

It has been observed that in many countries across East Asia, it’s common for people to wear face masks out of social responsibility. People who are ill wear masks to protect others around them, and healthy people wear masks during the cold and flu season to protect themselves.

It’s no coincidence that in countries where where mask wearing a common practice, such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, they have managed to prevent the COVID-19 coronavirus cases from spiking and have managed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 coronavirus spread. Mask wearing, combined with high social obedience, and a cultures which value the greater good of the community all contribute to reducing COVID-19 coronavirus.

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China and South Korea show the flattest curves for COVID-19 coronavirus spread amongst the nations listed above.

 

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Japan, South Korea and China display flattened curves of COVID-19 coronavirus spread.

 

Speaking on CNN, Ivan Hung, an infectious diseases specialist at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, stated:

“If you look at the data in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is probably the most important thing in terms of infection control. And it not only brings down the cases of coronaviruses, it also brings down the influenza. In fact, this is now the influenza season, and we hardly see any influenza cases. And that is because the masks actually protected not only against coronaviruses but also against the influenza viruses as well.”

Even if masks don’t work perfectly, they still reduce the amount of inhaled virus particles, which makes a significant difference. According to virologist Peter Kolchinsky, masks are helpful because they reduce the amount of virus released (even by breathing) or taken in, and the dose matters with COVID-19 exposure because your immune system is more effective if the infection starts with a low dose.

While the United Nations World Health Organisation prepares to backflip in its previous recommendations to not wear masks, and considers recommending the wearing of face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus , the US already has done a backflip. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) is now advising its citizens to voluntarily wear a basic cloth or fabric face mask to help curb the spread of the virus. This came 35 days after the US surgeon general stated that masks are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus.

 

DIY COVID-19 Fabric Mask (with Filter Pocket) Sewing Tutorial Video

If you would like to make your own mask, here’s a quick 3 minute video that shows you how.

A DIY face mask can be reused if it’s cleaned regularly in the correct way, either by heat sterilizing it in an oven at 70 degrees C (160 degrees F) for 30-60 minutes,  or UV sterilizing it by exposing both sides to an ultraviolet (UV) sterilizer lamp, time required will depend on the sterilizer used.

I’ve ordered my protective face masks from China, so I won’t be depriving hospitals of protective equipment as some governments falsely claim. Hope they get here in time! I’ll wear a mask when I venture out into public spaces, not only to protect myself from other, but to protect others from me, just in case I’m asymptomatic – it’s the responsible thing to do.

For more information on protective face masks, please see the following articles:

 

References:

  1. Davies, Anna & Thompson, Katy-Anne & Giri, Karthika & Kafatos, George & Walker, James & Bennett, Allan. (2013). Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic?. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness. 7. 413-418. 10.1017/dmp.2013.43.
  2. Langrish JP, Mills NL, Chan JK, Leseman DL, Aitken RJ, Fokkens PH, Cassee FR, Li J, Donaldson K, Newby DE, Jiang L. Beneficial cardiovascular effects of reducing exposure to particulate air pollution with a simple facemask. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2009 Mar 13;6:8. doi: 10.1186/1743-8977-6-8. PMID: 19284642; PMCID: PMC2662779.

 

News Article Quotes:

  1. February 11, 2020 – “Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has once again called for calm over the coronavirus, saying there is “no reason” for people to wear masks and no evidence of the illness being transmitted in the community”. News.com.au source article link here.
  2. February 11, 2020 – “There is still no evidence of airborne transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday, February 11. WHO country representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe made the statement on Tuesday, in response to questions on whether WHO had evidence of the airborne transmission of the virus. “I’m not quite sure what led to this rumor. It might have been something in the translation that led to this,” Abeyasinghe said, adding that the claims of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau about the airborne transmission of the disease were still being studied. He reiterated that the confirmed modes of transmission of the new coronavirus were still “via droplets or through close contact.””  Rappler source article here.
  3. February 22, 2020 – “Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says that Australians should be out in the community supporting Chinese Australians, stating emphatically that the Covid 19 cononavirus has been contained, and that there is no reasonable threat of infection. Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy backs the minister’s statement and says that avoiding Chinese restaurants and other businesses is merely xenophobic.” News.com.au source article link here.
  4. March 5, 2020 – “The latest confirmed coronavirus case in New Zealand is an important reminder that we should be mindful of our behaviour, but there is no strong evidence of asymptomatic transmission…”  NewsHub NZ source article here.
  5. April 5, 2020 – “Coronavirus Australia live updates: Deputy chief health officer Paul Kelly stresses mask use not recommended. As the US starts to demand its citizens wear masks, the Australian government is saying the opposite, with warnings they’re even dangerous. The country’s deputy chief health officer Professor Paul Kelly has stressed people shouldn’t be wearing masks out in public.” News.com.au source article link here.

 

 

 

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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – April

April brings us well into autumn, and the days are now getting shorter. While the soil is still warm, it’s a good time to plant trees, shrubs, and herbs, as their roots will have a chance to take hold before winter.

This is also the last chance to harvest fruit such as apples and pears (if they are ripe) before they’re damaged by frost. (To tell if an apple or pear is ripe, lift the fruit up gently in the palm of your hand, and give it a slight twist. Ripe fruit will come away easily with the stalk still attached to the fruit).

Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant new trees, shrubs, climbers, annuals and perennials.
  • Gather and compost autumn leaves.
  • Divide overgrown perennials, collect their seeds, prune those that have finished flowering,
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs (can be done either in autumn and early spring).
  • Prune tall shrubs to reduce their height to better resist winter winds.
  • Collect and sow seeds from berry producing trees and shrubs.
  • Propagation of hardwood cuttings is done in autumn – prune off 30cm long shoots of current season’s growth, cut off the soft growing tip, cut off the bottom end below a bud, and dip end into rooting hormone. Make a ‘slit trench’ by pushing a spade into soil and rocking it back and forth. In clay soil, add some coarse sand for drainage. Put cuttings in so 2/3 is below the soil, and press the soil down around them. Cuttings will root and be ready to plant next autumn.
  • Dig in cool season green manures that were sown in early autumn (such as rapeseed, broad beans, fenugreek, linseed, lupins, mustard, oats, subclover, and vetch) before they flower.
  • Prune brambleberries after they finish fruiting – cut out the canes that fruited, and tie in the newly grown canes to the support wires on the berry trellises.
  • Blackcurrants (and brambleberries) can be pruned from now till winter time.
  • Continue planting garlic, strawberry runners and shallot bulbs.
  • Harvest and store root crops – continue lifting beetroot and carrots and finish lifting potatoes. Leave parsnips in ground, they need some cold to taste the best.
  • Cut down asparagus foliage that has turned yellow (if it wasn’t done in March) and top-dress the asparagus crowns with compost or manure.
  • Empty compost bins into the garden to prepare soil for next season.
  • Cover ponds with netting to prevent autumn leaves rotting in the water. Also, feed the fish less food, as they are less active as the days shortens and uneaten food will foul the water.

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in April Harvest (weeks)
Beetroot ds 7-10
Broad beans d 12-22
Burdock d 17-18
Carrot d 12-18
Chives ds 7-11
Corn Salad d 5-8
Endive ds 10-11
Florence Fennel d 14-20
Garlic d 17-25
Kale d 7-9
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mizuna d 35-50 days
Mustard greens d 5-8
Oregano s 6-8
Pak Choy d 6-11
Parsley ds 9-19
Peas d 9-11
Radish d 5-7
Rocket d 21-35 days
Shallots d 12-15
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Snow Peas d 12-14
Spinach d 5-11
Swedes d 10-14
Turnip d 6-9

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – April

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Emergency Survival Prepper Gardening – Part 4, How to Sow Seeds Directly Into the Ground and Into Seedling Trays

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Sometimes governments do give sound advice to their nations… During World War I and World War II, in a an effort to reduce the public demand on food supplies and leave more food to send to the soldiers fighting overseas, governments encouraged their people to plant ‘victory gardens’.

A victory garden, also known as a a war garden, was a garden grown in people’s homes and in public parks to produce vegetables, herbs and fruit with the aim of aiding the war effort and boost morale.

Food grown in public spaces? For a bit of a perspective check, before the industrial revolution (1760-1840) which pulled people’s work into cities and pushed food production out into rural areas, food was always grown close to where people lived!

Despite all the nonsense we hear downplaying the value of urban agriculture, victory gardens worked well enough for the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Germany that they used them over both wartime periods, and they work just as well today to produce food.

With the panic from the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, people are realising that our food production systems aren’t as resilient as they assumed, and that ignorant panic buying by a small proportion of the population can disrupt the just-in-time food supply chains used almost universally in the modern world, even if there’s plenty of food to go round.

Starting your own garden and growing your own food can be an empowering exercise in increasing self reliance. But where to start?

In this series of seven article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started growing food in an emergency!

Previous articles in this series:

 

Step 4 – Sowing Seeds Directly Into the Ground or Into Seedling Trays

Once we’ve selected the appropriate seeds or seedlings that are in season, it’s seed sowing or seedling planting time!

In this article we’ll cover the fundamentals of seed sowing, the procedure is quite straightforward and only a bit more complicated than planting seedlings.

 

Where to Sow Seeds

If you look at a gardening calendar or the seed packet instructions, you will see that there are sowing instructions which specify one of three locations where to plant the seeds:

  1. Sow seeds directly into the soil.
  2. Sow seeds into a seed tray or punnet filled with growing medium/potting mix.
  3. Sow seeds either directly into the soil or into seed tray/seedling punnet filled with growing medium/potting mix.

 

Direct Sowing Seeds

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Most seeds can be sown into pots or punnets (flat seedling trays), and then be transplanted into the garden or into larger sized pots. But there are some plants that don’t like root disturbance and get affected badly by transplanting, so these plants must be directly sown, that is, the seeds must be sown into the ground where the plant is intended to grow.

Here is a quick list of plants whose seeds are best sown directly straight into the ground:

  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Broad Beans
  • Buckwheat
  • Caraway
  • Carrots
  • Chervil
  • Chicory
  • Choko (fruit planted in the ground with top where shoot emerges just slightly above the ground)
  • Coriander
  • Cress
  • Cucumber
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Garlic (bulbs separated apart and planted below the ground)
  • Jerusalem Artichoke (tubers planted below the ground)
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lupin
  • Maize
  • Mustard
  • Oats
  • Orach
  • Parsnip
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (seed potatoes planted below the ground)
  • Radish
  • Salsify
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Spring Onions
  • Sorghum
  • Soybean
  • Squash
  • Swedes
  • Sweetpea
  • Sweet Potato (tubers planted below the ground)
  • Turnip

 

Sowing Seeds in Seedling Trays

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When sowing seeds in seedling trays, use a fine grade growing medium or potting mix, as a mixture containing large coarse pieces of material may prevent the seeds from pushing through the mix when they’re sprouting.

If you can’t find a fine potting medium, just sift the coarse bits out with a gardening sieve or through some mesh of an appropriate size, and use the fine material to sow seeds in.

The textbooks will insist that you specifically use ‘seed raising mix’ to sow seeds, you can find small bags of this in commercial stores, and it’s fairly expensive, but the reality is that you don’t need it. Many new gardeners experience problems sowing seeds in seed raising mix – they find that their seeds sprout but their seedlings only reach a very small size and then completely STOP GROWING, and the resultant seedlings are very thin and spindly!

That’s because seed raising mix has absolutely no nutrients in it, and is totally unsuitable for growing seeds in. It’s actually misnamed, it really should be called SEED COVERING MIX or SEED GERMINATION MIX, because that’s what it’s designed for, and does well.

Some gardeners will insist on using seed raising mix, so if you’re one of those gardeners who wants to spend the extra money, here’s a quick guide on how how to use seed raising mix correctly.

 

How To Use Seed Raising Mix Correctly in Seedling Trays

For seedlings to grow to the point where they are large enough to transplant, you need a nutrient-rich mix, which seed raising mix is not.

So, how do we raise seedlings using seed raising mix?

  1. Fill the seedling tray with a quality potting mix (which will contain nutrients) that has been sifted to take the coarsest particles out, or use a fairly fine grade potting mix.
  2. Place seed on soil surface and gently press so seed is level with the surface.
  3. Cover with a layer of seed raising mix equal to the height of the seed.
  4. Water in very gently with a small watering can, being careful not to wash out the seeds.

seedsowingintraywithseedraisingmix_t

If you want to use straight seed raising mix (because you bought a huge bag of it), mix it with a nutrient source such as worm castings or a very small amount of well composted cow manure, or both. If your seedlings germinate AND grow, you know you’ve got the right blend!

For more information on seed raising mix, please see my article –  Seed Raising Mix – Does It Work?

 

How to Sow Seeds, Step by Step

Sowing seeds is not that difficult, there are just a few basic steps and rules to follow, and nature does the rest!

Step 1. Make a shallow hole around 2-3 times as deep as the size of the seed into the surface of the soil or growing medium using a dibber or a stick suck as a chopstick.

Step 2. Place a seed into the hole. Some gardeners place two or three seeds into each hole as seeds don’t always germinate (sprout).

Step 3. Gently cover the seed in the hole by pushing the surrounding soil or growing medium over it using a garden trowel or other small garden tool.

Step 4. Lightly water in the covered seed with a small watering can, being careful not to wash out the seeds.

 

how-to-sow-seeds

 

When sowing seeds, there are only two rules we need to follow:

  1. Sow seeds at the correct depth.
  2. Sow seeds the correct distance apart (when directly sowing into the ground).

If seeds are planted too deeply, they won’t have enough stored energy to push through the soil to reach the light, and they die before they reach the surface. Planted too shallow and seeds can wash away from heavy rainfall or watering.

Seeds need to be planted the right distance apart, because if they’re planted too close, they have to compete with each other for light, water, nutrients and space and don’t grow as well as they could. Planted too far apart and we waste space in the garden and reduce productivity in each garden bed.

TIP: When sowing direct into the soil, and planting large areas, it’s faster to use a hoe to make a shallow furrow or trench to sow the seeds into, rather than individual holes with a dibber or stick. Sprinkle the seeds along the furrow, then use the hoe to cover the seeds, it’s much faster! Where the seed packets specify a distance between rows, make the furrows that specified  distance apart.

how-to-sow-seeds-with-hoe

 

How Deep Should Seeds Be Sown?

The general rule for planting seeds is that they should be planted two to three times as deep as the diameter of the seed.

The planting depth rule applies equally to both sowing seeds directly into the soil or into seedling trays

seedsowingdepth_thumb2

There’s no real need to get this exact, as seeds will often germinate regardless of soil depth, just try to get it fairly close.

Follow seed packet instructions for planting depth, and if sowing directly into the garden, follow the recommendations for spacing – how far apart from each other the plants should be spaced.

Most seeds need to be buried into the soil, while some seeds require light to germinate, and prefer to be sown directly on top of the soil.  This will be specified on the seed packets.

Note – if you’re collecting your own seeds or are given seeds, and don’t have ‘instructions’, you can look up the seed sowing recommendations in a good gardening book or search for the information online.

 

How Far Apart Should Seeds Be Sown?

IMG_20200404_165122-1-4

When sowing seeds, the distance between seeds will be different depending on the vegetable or herb. The sowing distance apart is listed on all seed packets, but if you are saving your own seeds, you can refer to a good gardening book or look up the details online.

IMG_20200404_165015-1-2
Planting depth and seed spacing are typically listed on seed packets.

 

How to Sow Seeds Into Seedling Trays

The advantage of sowing seeds into seedling trays is that warm season seedlings can be started indoors much earlier, giving them a good head start and allowing them to put on a lot of extra growth until the threat of frosts have passed and they’re ready to be transplanted outside in the garden.

To sow vegetable seeds into a seedling tray or punnet, you will need:

  • Some sort of growing medium, such as seed raising mix, potting mix or even regular garden soil.
  • A seedling tray of some sort of seedling punnets (small shallow rectangular pots) container to hold the growing medium (must have drainage holes).
  • Seeds of the plants you wish to grow.
  • A watering can.
  • A small garden spade or trowel to scoop up potting medium.
  • A dibber, chopstick, pencil, or similar implement to make small planting holes for the seeds in the growing medium.

 

Detailed below are step-by-step seed sowing instructions for planting into trays and containers.

 

Step 1 – Select a Seedling Tray

Since we’re sowing seeds into a container and not directly into the soil, you’ll need some kind of container to plant your seeds into. You can use anything that can hold your growing medium (seed raising mix, potting mix or even regular garden soil) and that has holes in the bottom to let excess water drain out.

Many gardeners like to use seedling punnet trays like the one pictured below. A single tray can hold many seedlings. Note, these trays have drainage holes at the bottom.

seedling-punnet-tray

An even better option is a proper seedling tray which is divided up into individual cells, this way each seedling can be removed much more easily without any root disturbance as the roots of one seedling don’t tangle with its neighbours.

 

seedling-tray

Individual seedling punnets work well too, they can be recycled after planting commercially purchased seedlings like the one pictured below.

IMG_6504-1-2

 

Step 2 – Fill Tray With Growing Medium

Fill your chosen container with your growing medium, such as seed raising mix, potting mix or even regular garden soil. Level off the surface of the growing medium and pick off any large particles such as rocks or pieces of bark in the mix if present, as they may get in the way of the seeds as they shoot. If the growing medium is way too dry, water it lightly to dampen it slightly.

 

Step 3 – Make Holes in The Growing Medium to Take Seeds

Next, you’ll need a tool to make small dents of the correct depth in the surface of the growing medium to put the seeds into.
The tool for this purpose is a dibber (also called a dibble) – this is a just a pointed stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted. They usually have depth measurements along their sides. You can also use a chopstick, the blunt end of a pencil, any anything similar.

plastic-dibber

Press the end of the dibber into the surface of the growing mix to make small holes approximately 2-3 times deeper than the diameter of the seeds.

When using a seedling tray with separate cells, I prefer to make two holes per section so I can put two seeds in. This way, if one seed fails to germinate, the space will be  occupied by the other seedling and that growing cell doesn’t go to waste.

 

Step 4 – Place Seeds Into Holes in Growing Medium

Pour some seeds into the palm of your hand, and then pick the seeds one by one and place them in the holes made with the dibber in the growing medium.

 

Step 5 – Cover the Seeds

Use the dibber to push growing medium over the holes with seeds in them, to cover the seeds.

Step 6 – Label the Seedling Trays!

When planting up seedling trays or punnets, make sure you label them. This way you know what they are several weeks later, and if the seeds haven’t sprouted, you know which ones failed. When using seedling trays that are divided up into cells, it’s possible to plant more than one type of plant into each tray – in such a case label individual rows.

Labeling is important, I can’t stress this enough. There’s nothing worse than having a large number of vigorous seedlings come up successfully, only to have forgotten what they are!!! Even if you can identify them, you won’t be able to tell apart different varieties of tomatoes for example, and that will really mess things up if you decide to save the seeds at a later date to re-sow next year! You might think you’ll remember, but plants take weeks to grow to size ready for transplanting, and everyone can forget. I know from experience…

 

Step 7 – Water the Seedling Trays

Watering the seedling trays will get the seeds started. Just keep the soil moist, as the germinating seeds will fail if the growing medium dries out, and they’ll rot if it stays too wet.

 

Step 8 – Place Seedling Trays In a Safe Location

Place seedlings in a protected location where they will not be subjected to extreme conditions such as wind, rain, frost, harsh sun as young seedlings are quite delicate. Make sure they’re located in a safe place where they will not be eaten overnight by snails or slugs!

Different seeds germinate at different rates, some can sprout in a few days, but they should come up by two weeks time.

 

Stages of Seedling Growth

It’s easy to get excited when seedlings germinate successfully, but it’s also easy to get to eager and transplant seedlings prematurely!

When seedlings first germinate, they will fold out two long leaves, these are referred to as dicot leaves. Some plants, such as onions or leaves will only have one, a monocot leaf.

After further growth, two different looking leaves will emerge, and start looking like the leaves of the parent plant. These are the seedling’s true leaves, and the rule for transplanting seedlings if that they can be transplanted after they have produced their first true leaves.

if seedlings still look too frail to transplant after their first true leaves, allow them to put on further growth and a few more leaves. When seedlings are a bit more advanced, they tend to be a lot stronger and tend to survive better when first transplanted.

Transplanting seedlings will be the next article in this series!

 

seedling-true-leaves

 

How to Start Seedlings Early by Growing Them Indoors

If you decide to start seedlings early indoors in preparation for the warm season, there are a few extra steps required.

I first place my seedlings on something warm, like the top of a refrigerator or other appliance which stays warm, the bottom heat helps start the seedlings.

If we bring seedling trays indoors though, they will eventually need to be watered, so you’ll need some form of drip tray underneath as pictured below to catch the excess water so it doesn’t run all over your furniture! Don’t overwater, having your seedlings sitting in a container of water will rot them out!

Forgive the quality of the following photos, they were taken over a decade ago on a very basic camera, but they still illustrate the point!

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The labelled seedling tray pictured below sits inside the drip tray.

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It’s also possible to cover the seedling tray to keep the moisture in until the seeds have sprouted, but this is optional.

In the picture below I’ve used a plastic propagator lid, which is designed to fir over the trays. This has the advantage of being high enough to permit some vertical growth, and lets light in. The green “butterfly” vent can be turned to open the holes in the lid to let air in, or closed to retain heat, making it a mini-greenhouse. It’s a luxury, but not a necessity.

 

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Keeping It Simple!

If you think you need a fancy setup to grow seedlings, think again! My mum grew up on a very large commercial farm, and they did things in a back-to-basics fashion way back then. All she does to grow her tomato seedlings is to fill an old rectangular shallow planter with garden soil (!) from the backyard, into which she sows the tomato seeds saved from the previous year’s tomato harvest. The first fruit are always left for seed production. Once planted up, the container is brought inside and covered with a scrap piece of wood to keep the humidity in until the seeds have sprouted, after that the seedlings are placed on top of a kitchen cabinet near a window where they can get direct morning and midday sun to grow quickly. Once the frosts have passed, they’re planted out in the garden. It’s worked successfully, year after year for her.Sure, it’s easy to overwater seedlings growing in garden soil because it holds water too well, but this just shows that people adapt to use what they have available, and they can make it work!

 

If sowing seeds seems like a bit too much work, there’s an much easier way to grow vegetables and herbs, and that’s from seedlings, which will be discussed in the next article  – Part 5, How to Plant Seedlings.

 

 

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Fact Check – Is Ibuprofen Safe? COVID-19 Coronavirus and Medications that Weaken Your Immune System

drugs-safe-covid-19-or not

Some medications are known to weaken the immune system, and would therefore compromise the body’s capacity to fight off diseases such as the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

There has been a lot of concerns about the safety of Ibuprofen use during the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, so we’ll examine the facts from credible and authoritative sources about this drug and several other to determine the truth.

 

What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is used for used for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic properties, in other words, the short-term relief of fever, mild to moderate pain and inflammation (redness, swelling and soreness).

Ibuprofen might ease some of the symptoms of:

  • headaches, such as migraines or tension headaches
  • sinus pain
  • toothache and pain after dental procedures
  • backache, muscular aches and pains
  • menstrual cramps and period pain
  • sore throat
  • joint or tendon sprains and strains such as tennis elbow
  • arthritis
  • fever or high temperature

Please note that ibuprofen only provides temporary relief and will not cure your condition.

 

How Ibuprofen Works

The simple explanation:

Ibuprofen works by reducing the body’s ability to produce compounds known as prostaglandins, which are important mediators of inflammation, fever and pain. Prostaglandins act locally at a site of injury to initiate the body’s protective responses of inflammation and pain, or to initiate a fever as part of the immune response to infection caused by a variety of microorganisms and viruses.When prostaglandins in the body are reduced, fever eases off, and pain and inflammation is reduced.

Additionally, prostaglandins also perform other important functions, such as maintaining the lining of the the digestive tract, regulating kidney function, and controlling the function of platelets, the tiny cells in the bloodstream which form blood clots to stop bleeding.

The drug Ibuprofen blocks both of these groups of functions of prostaglandins, as it is non-selective, which leads to some of the side effects associated with it, such as stomach cramps and irritation, as well as bleeding.

 

The longer explanation:

ibuprofen produces analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins. The enzyme inhibited by NSAIDs is the cyclo-oxygenase (COX) enzyme. The COX enzyme exists in two isoforms: COX-1 and COX-2.

  • COX-1 is primarily responsible for synthesis of prostaglandins important for maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract, renal function, platelet function, and other normal physiologic functions.
  • COX-2 is induced and responsible for synthesizing prostaglandins that are important mediators of pain, inflammation, and fever. However, it is known that there is some crossover of COX-1 and COX-2 effects in some situations, and COX-2 activity is important for some biological effects.

Ibuprofen is not selective for either COX-1 or COX-2, it block both enzymes.

 

Which Medications Contain Ibuprofen?

Formulations which contain Ibuprofen are sold under various brand or trade names:

US Brand Names: Advil, Ibuprofen, Midol, Motrin, Proprinal, PediaCare Children’s Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer, PediaCare Infant’s Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer

Australian Brand Names: Act-3, Advil, Brufen, Bugesic, Butafen, Butalgin, Caldolor, Dimetapp , Fenpaed, Ibuprofen , Iprofen, Nurofen, Panafen IB, Panafen IB Mini Cap, Pedea, Proven, Rafen, Tri-Profen,

 

When to NOT take Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen should NOT be used:

  • Just before or after heart bypass surgery (coronary artery bypass graft or CABG).
  • During the last 3 months of pregnancy as it may may harm the unborn baby. Do not use this medicine without a doctor’s advice if you are pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding as it is not known whether ibuprofen passes into breast milk or can affect a nursing baby.
  • For children younger than 2 years old without the advice of a doctor.
  • If you have ever had an asthma attack, hives, or severe allergic reaction after taking aspirin, acetaminophen (panadol, tylenol) or any NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, celecoxib, diclofenac, naprosyn and others.

Ibuprofen, like all NSAIDs, can also make heart, liver or kidney disease worse.

 

Ask a doctor if Ibuprofen is safe for you to take if you have any of the following conditions, especially if you are over 65:

  • asthma
  • a history of stomach ulcers or bleeding, or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (reflux)
  • a history of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, or are already taking low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease
  • liver or kidney disease
  • fluid retention
  • a connective tissue disease such as Marfan syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, or lupus
  • high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if you smoke.

 

Does Ibuprofen Weaken the Immune System?

Looking at the available research at the time of writing of this article, researchers have found that ibuprofen, along with other drugs such as tylenol, aspirin and naproxen, all strongly inhibit antibody production in human cells in in stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) in vitro. To be clear, in vitro refers to tests conducted outside of the body, in a test tube so to speak, whereas in vivo refers to tests carried out in a living body.

Why not in vivo testing? Obviously, for ethical reasons, it’s not possible to infect healthy people who have and haven’t taken Ibuprofen (and no other medication) with some form of live disease pathogen to gauge their immune response. They could possibly do it with something else that elicits an immune response, such as a influenza vaccine, and they have. The quoted unpublished research suggests that human subjects vaccinated with influenza vaccine taking NSAIDs had a decrease in antibodies against certain influenza antigens. Further research is required to determine what effect taking ibuprofen at various times, before or after vaccination, has on antibody production.

 

Ibuprofen Immune System Research, the Details

To quote the research conducted by the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY USA, titled “Ibuprofen and other widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit antibody production in human cells”, published in 2009 (bolded emphasis below is mine).

Quoted abstract:

“The widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) function mainly through inhibition of cyclooxygenases 1 and 2 (Cox-1 and Cox-2). Unlike Cox-1, Cox-2 is considered an inducible and pro-inflammatory enzyme. We previously reported that Cox-2 is upregulated in activated human B lymphocytes and using Cox-2 selective inhibitors that Cox-2 is required for optimal antibody synthesis. It is not known whether commonly used non-prescription and non-Cox-2 selective drugs also influence antibody synthesis. Herein, we tested a variety of Cox-1/Cox-2 non-selective NSAIDs, namely ibuprofen, tylenol, aspirin and naproxen and report that they blunt IgM and IgG synthesis in stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Ibuprofen had its most profound effects in inhibiting human PBMCs and purified B lymphocyte IgM and IgG synthesis when administered in the first few days after activation. As shown by viability assays, ibuprofen did not kill B cells. The implications of this research are that the use of widely available NSAIDs after infection or vaccination may lower host defense. This may be especially true for the elderly who respond poorly to vaccines and heavily use NSAIDs.”

 

Extract from introduction:

“Herein, we have investigated, (1) the effect of aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and tylenol on antibody synthesis in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells; (2) the time-frame and the concentrations of ibuprofen required to blunt antibody synthesis and (3) the effect of ibuprofen on B cell lymphocytes. Overall, our findings reveal that over-the-counter NSAIDs have potent negative effects on human B lymphocytes and on antibody production.”

 

Extract from conclusion:

The connection between NSAIDs and antibody synthesis is just beginning to be discovered. Given that NSAIDs inhibit Cox activity and Cox-2 is expressed in activated B lymphocytes and is required for optimal antibody production, it is pertinent to predict that NSAID therapy can have repercussions on antibody synthesis. Our preliminary observations (unpublished data) show that human subjects vaccinated with influenza vaccine taking NSAIDs had a decrease in antibody against certain influenza antigens. A full clinical study is required to determine if vaccinated subjects taking NSAIDs, e.g. ibuprofen, at different time points before or after vaccination will show a decrease in antibody synthesis.

In conclusion, we report that a panel of widely used NSAIDs blunts antibody synthesis in human PBMCs and in purified B cells. Ibuprofen’s ability to reduce antibody production was concentration- and time-dependent and likely occurred via Cox-2 inhibition. Our results call for awareness regarding the consequences that NSAIDs can have on immunity. NSAIDs are one of the most commonly used drugs; they are recommended for all age categories, are prescribed for relieving transient pain or in cases of serious inflammatory diseases. By decreasing antibody synthesis, NSAIDs also have the ability to weaken the immune system which can have serious consequences for children, the elderly and the immune-compromised patients.”

 

In a similar US study published in Immunity & Ageing in 2018, “Immune response to influenza vaccination in the elderly is altered by chronic medication use” researchers examined the how the immune responses to the two influenza A virus strains of the trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (TIV) were affected by patient’s history of using the prescription drugs Metformin, NSAIDs or Statins.

They found evidence for differential antibody (Ab) production, B-cell phenotypic changes, alteration in immune cell proportions in individuals with a history of long-term medication use, compared with non-users. Researchers also noticed a diminished response to the vaccine in the elderly on Metformin, while the patients on NSAIDs or Statins had higher baseline responses compared in comparison, but response levels were still reduced.

 

Assessing Risk

It’s important to recognise that the use of any medication carries some risk and can produce unwanted side effects. Human biochemistry is very complicated, and throwing a man-made chemical into a complex biological system we don’t fully understand will not produce a ‘magic bullet’ effect. What is guaranteed, is that such an action will have some unintended effect.

In respect to reliable information, I suggest you do your own fact checking and search the medical research cited online. Use only authoritative medical research sources for your information (though interpreting it may not be easy without  a background in biomedical science). and not the mass media news channels or any potentially biased sources.

Let’s not be naive, in this money-driven western world where ethics are deemed to be relative, there are plenty of reason for parties with vested interests to misrepresent the facts. According to the Маrkеt US rероrt titled, “Global Іbuрrоfеn Маrkеt bу Туре (UЅР аnd ЕР), Ву Fоrm Туре (Таblе, Сарѕulе, аnd Suspension), Ву Ѕаlеѕ Сhаnnеl (Rеtаіl, Оnlіnе, Нуреrmаrkеt & drug ѕtоrе) аnd bу Rеgіоn – Global Fоrесаѕt tо 2028.”, the global іbuрrоfеn mаrkеt іѕ estimated at UЅ$ 6,888.4 million in 2018 and projected tо rеасh UЅ$ 8,716.8 million bу 2028.

 

Medical Disclaimer . THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING MEDICAL ADVICE. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.

 

References:

  1. Drugs.com: Ibuprofen – https://www.drugs.com/ibuprofen.html
  2. Australian Government Department of Health, Healthdirect: Active ingredient: ibuprofen – https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/medicines/medicinal-product/aht,21286/ibuprofen
  3. PharmGKB (managed at Stanford University): Ibuprofen Pathway, Pharmacodynamics – https://www.pharmgkb.org/pathway/PA166121942
  4. Ibuprofen – Mark G. Papich DVM, MS, DACVCP, in Saunders Handbook of Veterinary Drugs (Fourth Edition), 2016
  5. Bancos S, Bernard MP, Topham DJ, Phipps RP. Ibuprofen and other widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit antibody production in human cells. Cell Immunol. 2009;258(1):18–28. doi:10.1016/j.cellimm.2009.03.007
  6. Agarwal D, Schmader KE, Kossenkov AV, Doyle S, Kurupati R, Ertl HCJ. Immune response to influenza vaccination in the elderly is altered by chronic medication use. Immun Ageing. 2018 Aug 31;15:19. doi: 10.1186/s12979-018-0124-9. PMID: 30186359; PMCID: PMC6119322.
  7. Market US – Global Іbuрrоfеn Маrkеt bу Туре (UЅР аnd ЕР), Ву Fоrm Туре (Таblе, Сарѕulе, аnd ѕuѕреnѕіоn), Ву Ѕаlеѕ Сhаnnеl (Rеtаіl, Оnlіnе, Нуреrmаrkеt & drug ѕtоrе) аnd bу Rеgіоn – Global Fоrесаѕt tо 2028.

 

 

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Emergency Survival Prepper Gardening – Part 3, When to Sow Seeds and Plant Seedlings

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Sometimes governments do give sound advice to their nations… During World War I and World War II, in a an effort to reduce the public demand on food supplies and leave more food to send to the soldiers fighting overseas, governments encouraged their people to plant ‘victory gardens’.

A victory garden, also known as a a war garden, was a garden grown in people’s homes and in public parks to produce vegetables, herbs and fruit with the aim of aiding the war effort and boost morale.

Food grown in public spaces? For a bit of a perspective check, before the industrial revolution (1760-1840) which pulled people’s work into cities and pushed food production out into rural areas, food was always grown close to where people lived!

Despite all the nonsense we hear downplaying the value of urban agriculture, victory gardens worked well enough for the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Germany that they used them over both wartime periods, and they work just as well today to produce food.

With the panic from the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, people are realising that our food production systems aren’t as resilient as they assumed, and that ignorant panic buying by a small proportion of the population can disrupt the just-in-time food supply chains used almost universally in the modern world, even if there’s plenty of food to go round.

Starting your own garden and growing your own food can be an empowering exercise in increasing self reliance. But where to start?

In this series of seven article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started growing food in an emergency!

Previous articles in this series:

 

Step 3 – Sowing Seeds and Planting Seedlings at The Right Time of the Year

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Once you’ve selected a good location to start a food garden, and prepared the soil in the garden bed to make it suitable for growing plants, the next step is to plant it up!

Before any planting is done though, there are a few questions that we need to answer:

  • What vegetables and herbs do we wish to grow, and are they in season?
  • Should we plant seeds or seedlings?
  • How much produce would we like to harvest?
  • How often would we like to harvest our produce?

Remember, you can’t be prepared if you don’t plan! What you do now will determine how much food you’ll have at a future date, so it’s best to be systematic. Being impulsive and taking an ad-hoc approach with matters such as this will always lead to situations of being unprepared.

In this article we’ll look at everything that needs to be done to ensure that we get a consistent harvest month after month to meet our food needs.

 

Seedlings or Seeds, What’s the Difference, Which is Better?

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Growing vegetables from seedlings is much easier than growing from vegetables seed, because the initial work of sowing seeds and raising seedlings is already done for you. If you’ve never done any food gardening before and don’t want to be needlessly discouraged at the outset, it’s best to begin with seedlings. A punnet of seedlings usually contains around 6-8 young plants.

The advantage of seeds is that they’re much cheaper, you get a lot of seeds in a packet, and they can be planted repeatedly throughout the growing season. Be aware that all seeds have a limited life, they don’t keep forever, so there’s no point hoarding them! For further information on how long different seeds can be kept, please see my article – Seed Saving – How Long Can You Keep Seeds?

Regardless of whether you choose seedlings or seeds to grow food, there are some rules of nature which all of humanity has been forced to follow since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and these rules are dictated by the seasons of the planet we all know well, spring, summer, autumn and winter, together with climate.

Nature decides when certain vegetables are planted, and when they can’t be planted, and there’s nothing much we can do about that.

We can artificially extend the productive season by growing warm season plants in greenhouses, which allow us to start warm season vegetables a bit earlier and keep them producing further into the season when the weather begins to cools down. Large greenhouses can get expensive, and artificially heated greenhouses are out of the reach of most people in terms of purchase and running costs!

What this means is we have to grow plants when they’re in season! How do we know what to grow when? We use a garden calendar.

 

Know What to Plant When, Using a Garden Calendar

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Ready to plant seeds or seedlings?

  • It’s important to plant seedlings or sow seeds in the correct season, as some plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and chillies grow in the warmer seasons (spring-summer), while others such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli grow in the cooler seasons (autumn-winter), while a few, like lettuce can grow almost all year.
  • You can’t just plant at any time during the correct season though, you must also plant seedlings or sow seeds in the correct months of their season.
  • You can plant seedlings or sow seeds every month, all year round, but the types of vegetables and herbs you can plant changes from month to month, which is why there’s a gardening calendar for each and every month of the year.

 

To know which vegetables and herbs are in season, and when they should be planted, gardeners use a gardening calendar.

You will need a gardening calendar for your location, different climates (cool, temperate, subtropical, tropical and arid) affect the planting times and what can be grown.

Gardening calendars are based around the monthly cycle, and a good gardening calendar will tell you:

  • what weather to expect for that month
  • gardening tasks that need to be carried out during that month
  • what seeds to sow, where to sow them (in the ground in in a seed tray) and how many weeks till harvest

 

Where Can I Get a Free Gardening Calendar?

  1. Check with your local gardening groups, community gardens or local government, many have free gardening calendars.
  2. Online gardening calendars are great as long as you select the correct climate zone for your location, ! recommend the website Gardenate, its very good, and also lets you search by food plants to see which months they can be sown as a seed or planted as a seedling.
  3. I produce a free gardening calendar for Melbourne Australia, which is where I’m based. I’m in a temperate climate, and some US readers who live in similar climates use my calendar and ‘flip=over’ the months so it makes sense.

 

Converting months to seasons for different hemispheres

If you’re a gardener from the Southern hemisphere (such as Australia, New Zealand) reading gardening material from the Northern hemisphere (US, UK, Canada) and need to convert seasons to months, I’ve created the seasonal conversion table shown below to make the task easier.

season timing and conversion chart

Note: click on graphic above to enlarge and save image, or download the PDF version of the gardening season timing and conversion chart for printing

Want to learn more about the various categories of seasons and how the seasons come about, see my article  – Converting Months to Seasons – Northern and Southern Hemisphere, Meteorological and Astronomical

 

How to Use a Gardening Calendar for Seedlings Rather Than Seeds

Gardening calendars are typically seed sowing calendars. What if you’re planting seedlings?

Seedlings are usually 4-6 weeks ahead of seeds, which simply means that if you plant a seed, it takes 4-6 weeks to grow into a decent seedling

So when you buy seedlings to plant, and want to know what’s in season, refer to the previous month’s calendar, because that’s when these plants were seeds!

Ethical garden nurseries will only sell seeds and seedlings when they are in season, and take them off the shelves when they’re not, the big chain stores usually don’t do that so keep this in mind.

Once we’ve selected the appropriate seeds or seedlings that are in season, it’s planting time!

 

Sowing Seeds and Planting Seedlings, How Much and How Often?

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How much lettuce do you need all at once? (Image credits – Wikipedia commons Rodney Burton / Lettuce harvest, Methwold Common, Norfolk / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Many new gardeners buy a packet of seeds and plant the lot all at once, never do that!

If you do that with lettuce seeds, of which there are a few hundred in a pack, you’ll end up with at least 100 lettuce plants after 8-12 weeks (2-3 months), and they’ll all be ready to harvest around the same time, but they only keep for a week in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

Similarly, you’d never go to the supermarket and purchase a dozen heads of cabbage all at once, so it makes no sense to plant that many all at once, because that’s what will happen after 8-15 weeks.

With a pack of seeds you decide how many you will sow, but with a punnet of seedlings usually contains around 6-9 plants, what happens of you buy one and don’t need to use all the plants all at once?

It is possible to only use part of the punnet to buy some time, and plant the rest a fortnight later. The other option is to give the spare plants to friends, or to swap their surplus seedlings with them. This is a real community-building gesture which fosters generosity and a culture of helping each other out. This is how resilient communities function.

 

Planning Seed Sowing and Seedling Planting to Meet Your Food Needs

There’s a sensible way to sow seeds and plant seedlings which makes best use of available garden space and minimises food waste:

  • Only put in as much plants (seeds or seedlings) every two weeks as you would buy from a greengrocer or supermarket every two weeks!
  • Put a mix of plants into the garden, ones with short harvest periods, medium harvest periods, and long harvest periods to keep the supply of food constant.

If you use ten lettuce plants each fortnight (2-week period), then plants a bit more than ten lettuce plants each fortnight, it’s that simple.

Using this method with the various vegetables that are in season, you’ll have a garden in which there will be something to harvest each and every week, and there will be space to plant more each fortnight.

It’s a good idea to plant a bit extra than you might use, just in case any plants die for any reason or get eaten by pests. Any excess may be able to be preserved, or swapped within the community for other food you may not have grown yourself.

If we look at any gardening calendar, we see that the time to harvest is listed. This is how many weeks it will take from when we sow the seeds to when the plants are ready to be harvested.

With seedlings, the time-to-harvest is 4-6 weeks less than seeds because they’ve already had 4-6 weeks of growing time when they’re purchased. Many seedling labels give an estimate of time-to-harvest, along with plant spacing and sun requirements.

 

Planting a Diverse Food Garden for Increased Resilience and Continuous Cropping

Looking at the gardening calendar for any month, we see that some plants can be harvested very quickly, radishes are ready to eat in 5-7 weeks, which is a bit more than a month, while garlic takes 17-25 weeks, which is almost half a year!

If you fill the garden with short harvest time plants, you’ll be forever harvesting and replanting, but conversely, a garden filled with long harvest period plants will have you waiting for ages while the garden produces nothing at all. By growing various vegetables in the garden, there is always something to pick on any day, and the garden is far more resilient. You’re not placing all your eggs in one basket so to speak. If there’s a bad season and one vegetable crop fails, there will be plenty more to carry you through.

By having a range of food crops to rely on each season, we eliminate any single point of failure in a garden. This approach to creating resilient food production systems can also be used for fruit tree orchards and any other productive crops, and is described in the permaculture design (ecological gardening design) principle ‘Each Important Function is Supported by Many Elements’.

So, to summarise, for successful food gardening, the goal is not to fill all available space all at once, but to plant a variety of crops at the same rate that you would harvest them, allowing for some surplus as a bit of insurance against mishaps. This approach will provide continuous cropping, and a regular supply of produce to the kitchen table!

Once we know what seeds we’ll be planting, how many, and how often, the next step is to sow the seeds, as discussed in the next article  – Part 4, How to Sow Seeds Directly Into the Ground and Into Seedling Trays.

 

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