Caring for Soil in Drought

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service provides regular informative short newsletters to anyone who subscribes to this free electronic service. The information below was published in mid-April and contains extremely important facts that should be helpful and encouraging to all gardeners.
"Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.

“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, NRSC Minnesota soil health coordinator.

The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter which hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth.

“The amount of clay content is determined by glacier content left behind and cannot be changed, but the percent of organic matter in topsoil can be increased,” Miller said.

One percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil can hold about 27,000 gallons of water per acre. Increasing organic matter increases the holding capacity for water making your land more resilient to extreme weather.

Even with last year’s drought, landowners benefited from improved soil health.

“There were two farms separated by a road that had the same soils, same crops and same precipitation. While one farm thrived through extreme weather, the other one lost corn plants, soil and water. The variable here was the management of the land,” said Miller.

Landowners are the managers of soil, so it’s important to use practices that help protect and improve your soil, he added.

NRCS identified four principles that help improve soil health.
1. Keep soil covered as much as possible.
2. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil.
3. Keep living roots in the soil as long as possible.
4. Disturb the soil as little as possible.

Managing for soil health can help increase productivity and profits, decrease inputs and improve sustainability for farms and ranches.
“We need soil to be productive not just this year, but five years from now, 20 years from now, 60 years from now, and that starts with soil health,” Miller said.


Obviously, this newsletter's primary audience is farmers. However there are some very serious take-away points for the gardener. 

POINT 1 above. Keep your garden soil COVERED with organic mulch.

POINT 2 Avoid single crop row crops. Plant in wider beds. Interplant flowers and vegetables, perennials and annuals.

POINT 3 Remember that perennial plants' roots are living through the winter in undisturbed soil. About 30% of the roots die over the winter which provides nutrients to the soil.

POINT 4. DO NOT TILL YOUR SOIL. Prepare individual holes for started plants. Mark the row with a hoe or grubbing knife. MULCH the rest of the area.


Summer Food in Wintry February


16 Popular Foods You Didn’t Know You Could Freeze

1. Garlic – You can freeze whole garlic, garlic cloves or chopped fresh garlic. Frozen garlic does lose some of its texture, but the flavor remains intact.

2. Corn – You can freeze fresh-picked corn on the cob for up to one year. Pack it in freezer bags — husk and silk and all. For store-bought corn, husk and blanch it before freezing.

3. Avocados – The bad news is that frozen avocados lose their consistency. The good news is that they do not lose their taste, so you can use them for guacamole or dressing. Wash and halve them before peeling. Freeze as halves, or puree them with lime or lemon juice and then store for up to eight months.

4. Mushrooms — You can freeze raw button, creminis and portabellas mushrooms for later use. Chop and slice mushrooms and then spread them on a cookie sheet. Freeze. Then transfer the pieces to bags or containers.

5. Onion – You can save chopping time – and tears – by freezing onion for cooking later. Store peeled, chopped onion in plastic freezer bags. The best part is you can just toss them into your recipes without thawing them first.

6. Hummus – Scoop your fresh hummus into plastic containers. Then drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on the top to keep it from drying out. Thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before mixing and serving.

more such winter gardening from Off the Grid News