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Quote of the Day: Nigel Slater

October 23rd, 2011

My soil is now what I hope Monty might call “in good heart.” If I have one piece of advice for anyone “growing their own,” it is to get this right before you plant a single seed. Even if it means missing a season while you plant geen manure such as red clover or trefoil.

The soil is like a bank account. We should put in more than we take out.

Nigel Slater from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch

I was thinking about this quote last week as we were shoveling chicken manure onto the garden beds. I’m lucky enough to have found a local source for manure from organic pastured animals. The farm we purchase our milk from had some they were willing to give me for free. Since I didn’t have time to head out and load it up myself, I offered to pay their boys to load it up for me (their mom sent me this photo of them working).

They were more than happy to do it to earn some extra cash and I’m always willing to hire local kids and pay generous wages since people did that for me when I was young. I really believe this helps build an entrepreneurial mind in kids. The boys loaded up two trailer loads of manure for me.

Of course when we brought the load home, we had to unload it ourselves, which only took about 30 minutes. The first load was spread across a half of the newgarden area that was cleared this spring in the new lot.

The other load was piled below the garden area and layered with straw to compost over the winter. I wasn’t able to spread in on the remainder of the garden because it’s already planted in an overwintering rye. It will compost beautifully over the spring and will be ready to add to the beds when the cover crop is mown down.

Manure is one of those soil amendments that has fallen out of favor for some reason. I think people are scared of disease & contamination. Oddly enough, it’s the best amendment for your garden. I have noticed that when you use manure as a soil conditioner the level of microbial activity seems to skyrocket. Personally, I’d much rather use a natural organic manure than something chemical any day. It doesn’t bother me in the least bit to use in my garden. That being said, I wouldn’t use sewage sludge or manure from CAFO’s on my garden, or any kind of chemical fertilizer!

The best place to find sources of local manure seems to be Craig’s list. If you live in a rural area, pay a visit to a local farmer, you just might be surprised that they have plenty of manure they’re willing to give away.

Do you use manure on your garden? Where do you source it from?

Winter Gardening or Cover Crops

October 18th, 2011

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that the last couple years I’ve been experimenting with winter gardening. Growing spinach and other hardy greens in a hoop house over the cold winter months here in NE Ohio.

I do have a few small sections of the garden planted with some greens for a late winter harvest, but this year I’m focusing more on improving the soil. I do have garlic, perennial leeks, shallots and potato onions overwintering in one area of the garden. There are also three small squares of spinach and arugula and a few kale plants in the back raised bed, along with a few leeks left here and there.

The soil here at Chiot’s Run is very lean, as a result I decided to devote part of the garden each season to growing cover crops instead of vegetables. Of course some cover crops are edible, but I want to be able to add as much organic matter to the soil as possible, so I won’t be harvesting much if any of the cover crops.

Part of the garden was planted in mustard over a month ago. Mustard will winter kill. The remainder is planted in Fall Green manure mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, that will survive through the winter and come up early next spring.

The areas without cover crops have been spread with a partly composted chicken manure from the local farm and covered with straw. This manure will compost down over the winter and earth worms will help work it down into the soil. Next spring I should have much better soil because of my efforts this fall. It will take many years of this to develop into a deep rich loam, but I’m a patient gardener. I do believe that gardeners really are growing soil and not plants. That should be our focus. We can’t forget that it starts with the soil, without it we would have nothing.

I just purchased the book Managing Cover Crops Profitably and I have found it to be a wonderful resource for cover crop information. I’ve only looked up a few things and I already know it will come in very handy. This winter, I hope to have time to write up a series for this blog about using cover crops in the home garden with information gleaned from this book an other sources.

Do you plant cover crops in your garden? Would you be interested in a series on cover crops here on Chiot’s Run?

Homemade Potting Soil

May 18th, 2011

I grow a lot of things in containers each year and if I bought potting soil I’d spend a small fortune. So I make my own every spring. I also like knowing exactly what’s in it so I don’t have to worry about chemicals and other weirdness.


Mixing up your own potting soil is actually very quick and easy if you keep the ingredients on hand. I always have a stash of peat moss and vermiculite so I can mix up a batch whenever I need it.


I won’t write an entire post explaining how I make my own potting soil. I filmed a video explaining the process. Head on over to the Your Day Blog to watch the video on how to mix up your own potting soil.

Do you grow a lot of plants in containers?

Cover Crops – Not Just for Farmers

May 17th, 2011

Over the past couple years I’ve been experimenting with cover crops in my garden. So far I’ve planted: crimson clover, hairy vetch, winter rye, buckwheat, fall cover crop mix, spring cover crop mix and various other legumes. Cover crops play a variety of roles in your garden. Use them to protect soil during the winter, they prevent erosion while improving it. They can also help control nematodes and mitigate other soil issues. They work beautifully as a suppression crop on a newly made garden keeping the weeds at bay.


Crimson clover is my favorite, it’s a beautiful cover crop. The first time it bloomed in my garden 2 years ago I knew I’d be using it for years to come. It grows quickly, smothers weeds and brings up nutrients for future crops – all this while looking fabulous!


This past winter I experimented with an overwintering cover crop mix. It contained: winter rye, hairy vetch and crimson clover. It started growing last fall and reached a height of about 6 inches. Throughout the winter it went dormant and protected the soil. This spring as soon as it warmed up slightly the rye started growing. Soon enough the vetch joined in and before long it was almost 4 feet tall.

I chopped it down last week as the vetch was just beginning to bloom. Using pruners, I cut it down in 6-8 inch segments and then went to work digging it into the soil. Before long my neighbor came over inquiring if I was wanting to work up the soil.  He’d just purchased a new toy and was itching to use it.  A few minutes he returned with his new tiller and starting working the cover crop into the soil.  Mr Chiots came out and did the rest while I chatted with our neighbor.

I source my cover crop seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They have a great selection of single crops and mixtures, just about everything you’ll ever need. Here’s a great chart from them to help you chose the right crop for your application (click on the image to view larger, readable version that you can save if you want to).

It’s quite amazing the difference a cover crop will make when it comes to improving the soil. It takes patience because you have to wait for it to grow, buy it’s certainly an inexpensive way to amend large areas of soil. I’m looking forward to trying a few other varieties. I currently have mustard seeds and I’m looking forward to trying a turnip as well. Now that I have a new large garden they’ll come in handy for smothering weeds on the newly cleared land and they’ll improve the soil in the process so it will be ready when it comes time to grow vegetables!

Do you ever use cover crops in your garden?

Ohio Earth Food

March 12th, 2011

Last week I finally made it up to Ohio Earth Food in Hartville, OH to get all of my soil amendments for the coming spring. When you have a big garden, buying amendments like bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal, greensand and others can break the bank if you buy those tiny bags at the local greenhouse. I highly recommend finding an organic farm supply store in your area. Even if you have to drive an hour or so to get there, you’ll save plenty, especially if you stock up once a year or every other year.

We filled our little car with bags of all sorts of things for the coming gardening season. Mr Chiots and I are expanding our garden at home so I’ll be needing to add a lot of amendments to the soil. A few of the products I purchased are trial runs to see how the product works. What made it into my little car?

RE-VITA COMPOST PLUS (3-3-3) – A 100% natural, composted fertilizer of poultry manure, kelp, and humate. One of the most complete fertilizers available. Contains a balanced source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash in a slow release form which feeds the plant throughout the season. The addition of kelp and humate provides a complex of trace minerals and bio-stimulants easily assimilated by plants. These substances enhance germination, root growth and overall health of the plant. Re-Vita improves structure, water holding capacity and aeration of the soil. It also revitalizes the biological activity in the soil. Re-Vita is in a uniform, granular form which is easy to use. Excellent for gardens, flowers, shrubs, trees, and field crops. For gardens apply 5 lbs. per 100 row ft. or 2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft; Fruit and shade trees 2-3 lbs. per inch of diameter. Lawns 50 lbs. per 3,000 sq. ft. Field crops 250-300 lbs. per acre.

JERSEY GREENSAND – A 7% potash base exchange mineral mined from a marine deposit. Also contains 22 other minerals. Helps loosen compacted soils. Highly recommended for conditioning pastures, lawns, orchards, fields, and gardens. Apply 2-4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. or up to 1,000 lbs. per acre.

DRIED BLOOD – A slow release, 12% organic nitrogen source. Excellent as a side dressing when extra nitrogen is needed. Stimulates bacterial growth. Also useful as a temporary deer and rabbit repellent. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft or as a side dress.

BONE MEAL – Steamed, finely ground bone providing 12% phosphorus, 22% calcium and 4% nitrogen. Promotes strong, vigorous bulbs and healthy root systems and good blooming. Excellent for flowers, roses, garden bulbs, shrubs and trees. Use 5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

GYPSUM – Pelletized, mined, natural calcium sulfate. Supplies 21% calcium and 16% sulfur; Loosens tight clay soils, aiding aeration and water penetration. Use when calcium and sulfur are needed and pH is high. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft

SEA-MIN KELP MEAL – Ascophyllum Nodosum kelp meal which contains 60 trace minerals in chelated form, 14 vitamins, plant growth regulators, enzymes, and hormones. Research shows that kelp improves seed germination, root and plant growth, fruit set, and overall health of plants. Makes plants more disease and stress resistant. Increases soil fertility and microbial population. Broadcast using ¾ lb. per 100 sq. ft. or 200 lbs. per acre. As animal feed supplement see Feed Supplements Section.

AGRO-LIG HUMATE – A mined, naturally occurring organic leonardite containing 65-75% high quality humic acids, 31% carbon, and a complex of other nutrients similar to chelates. Stimulates plant enzymes, root growth and beneficial soil organisms. Continued use improves the structure and organic content of the soil. For gardens apply 2 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft.; Field crops 100 lbs. per acre.


I also purchased a bag of worm castings for my homemade potting soil and a bag of their blend of potting soil to try. I used their potting soil for a planter of lettuce I started last week. I like my home mix better, so I’ll keep making it. I may have a few more things to buy so I’ll probably be heading back sometime soon as I still need some rock phosphate and more gypsum. It’s a good thing it’s only a half hour away.

Where do you buy your soil amendments? Do you have a great farm supply store to recommend for any readers in your area?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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