Become a student of the soil.   We should be familiar with tenets of soil physics — the dynamics of physical soil components — solid, liquids and gases. We might understand a bit of soil chemistry — the study of the chemical characteristics of soil affected by mineral composition, organic matter and environmental factors. But the study of soil ecology is recent.  more

It's time to talk about soils…because they are all different. Gardeners who start from seed look for bags of Seed Starting Mix (with NO added time-release fertilizers.) Germinating seeds do NOT need the fertilizer.  more

Toilets and gardening.  Let’s remember the gardener’s mantra: healthy soil grows healthy plants and healthy plants support healthy humans.  Many gardeners, and I am one of them, sing the praises of all sorts of animal manures as fertilizer for the soil. The science is in on this. Remarkably the manures of many animals are more carefully valued, collected, stored and used than that of the human animal – us folks.  more

Archeologists and soils.  Archeologists have found garden records and structural remnants dating back to the time of the pharaohs. Cultures knew that soil had to be fed and they, almost literally, threw everything but the kitchen sink into the gardens. Excavations have revealed potshards, bones, shells and human and animal manures. There is a record of a lease of land in ancient Greece that required the lessee to buy 150 baskets of manure (presumably from the owner) each year for the orchards. more

Water your trees during early spring

Tips from John Ball, SDSU 

     I have received a lot of questions on this subject during the last week and the answer is yes. Much of the state is experiencing cool to warm temperatures with little precipitation so the soils are becoming very dry. Trees, even deciduous trees that have lost their leaves, are still absorbing and transpiring water. 

     As long as the soils are not frozen and the day temperatures are above freezing an occasional watering is beneficial. The best recommendation is to water mid-day so the water has a chance to soak in before the temperatures dip to freezing at night and only water if the air temperature is above 40 to 45oF. You do not want to create a frozen "pond" around your trees and shrubs as this can injury the lawn. 

      You also do not need to apply as much water as you would in summer as the need is much less. Small trees and large shrubs will need about 8 to 10 gallon each watering and seedling trees and small shrubs about 2 to 5 gallons each watering. The plants should be watered about every two weeks as long as this warm, dry weather continues. 

Elke Baxter tells us about some dandy winter plants. Read about the amaryllis and the Protea. Look under the Clubs tab.morrow, December 5. The purpose and importance of the year’s events depends on which side of the shovel you are on…the producer or the consumer.  more

Drought lingers.  Few of us have a memory of a summer as difficult, as hot, dry and frankly frightening as this is. Every gardener has a story of plants blooming early,  of  birds out of sync with the season. Crops which normally mature in late August ripened as much as a month early. Neighborhoods  have been eerily quiet - no sound  of lawnmowers.  The  grass isn't growin

g. 100 degree days seem to be the norm. When storm clouds form they are dramatic...and dry.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is an excellent, informative and interactive tool. It is to a gardener's benefit to be  familiar with it.

For more information, check out this fact-filled article in American Nurseryman.

Under the Latest News tab you will find links to  Dr. John Ball's monthly information sheet which chronicles well the  effects of the  drought on our trees and shrubs. This is worth reading. Under Cost Saving Gardening Shortcuts you will find more information on  conserving water and caring for plants stressed by drought. more on outlook

Let's Review  Six Common Sense Tips for  creating and  maintaining drought-tolerant landscapes (Remember, in a Good year, our average rainfall is  15-18 inches.) No  matter  how  wet we  want it to be, the hard reality is  that we  live in  an  arid  area.

1. Pick the right plants for  the  landscape...and  here, that  basically means  native plants.  Our  climate  and  conditions  make it very difficult to have an English  border garden or a Mediterranean setting or  almost anything else  that  is not at home on the  northern  Great  Plains. But let that encourage you to explore new, hardy, beautiful native options.

2. Plant trees and shrubs together in complimentary groups which can include  native  ornamental grasses and perennials. Not only will you have planted the 'right' plants, they  will be together as a community with common water needs. Mulch them in mass and you'll have a landscape  focal point  that is  easy to manage, lovely to see, and has similar irrigation requirements.

3. Be knowledgeable  and  caring about  your  soil.  Healthy, well fed  soil  will produce  healthy plant  material...trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, veggies.

4. Mulch (with woodchips) around  trees  and  shrubs and mulch (with compost - dried  grass, old  hay, non-woody materials) the perennial beds. Consider making the tree, shrub and flower beds  larger and  separated  from the  (needs of) turf  areas.

5. The  best advice  and perhaps the most difficult  to  choose to do is this: rethink the traditional high-maintenance 'lawn' to areas where they  make sense - where  picnics, play or  other similar  activities  will  take place. Consider  planning to change most of the lawn to drought-tolerant species  that  will go  brown BUT WILL NOT DIE in  droughtytimes.

6. Spend time and  give  serious  thought to any irrigation  system. Learn  about drip  irrigation  for everything except the  lawn. This is  a smart, water-wise  system used  for  decades in Europe. Learn about  it.

In the face of a truly grim drought, it is  hard to  believe that  there  will ever be  rain to  catch...but it will happen. When  it does, be  prepared with rain barrels at the corners  of your buildings -  home, tool shed, garage. An astonishing amount of  water  can be collected and  delivered by  hose to trees and shrubs  or  by watering cans  to potted plants and deck plants. For more information about rain barrels, click on this  blackhillsgarden link.

Let's admit it...spring, summer fall we all face the same tasks: Clean up...and mulch. 


There are many of us who use these products regularly, are familiar with them and know how to use them for maximum result. Here, for convenience are links to material on the city website that might be of assistance for persons using the compost products. The information was developed by retired Rapid City employee Jerry Wright, retired SDSU Horticulture extension educator Bill Keck, and Master Gardener Cathie Draine.

To learn about Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) click here

To learn about 3/8 yardwaste compost,  click here

To learn about compost from waste,  click here

To learn how compost delivers Nitrogen to the soil,  click here.

Bacteria and Soil Growth. I understand that soils thrive under the following conditions: a diversity of plants provides a diversity of root-released, bacterially enhanced nutrients. Bacteria are critical in delivering nutrients to plants and critical in the development of good soil structure by creating a variety of slimy exudates that bind the soil particles together, provide a way for the bacteria to move and colonize, hold moisture and facilitate air movement. (I also understand the symbol for micron.) 

     Yes, color has been added to this scanning electron microscope photo of soil bacteria.  more  


Don't buy fertilizer; use compost and mulch.  Here is an opportunity to learn a bit (feed the soil and the soil will feed plants), get “green” (get that home compost pile working), save money 

 save time (forget the tilling, mulch instead) and perhaps the most important: have educated, positive attitudes about the health, vigor and basic value of our soils. 


Understanding the friendly fungus, mycorrhizae.  For most of us, it is frankly difficult to have fond feelings toward fungi. We fixate on its texture - sticky or slimy, or its appearance -remember 'dog vomit' fungus? "Mycorrhizae is widely available in powdered form ready to be mixed, following directions, into garden soils. There is also a mycorrhizal product that is to be mixed with water as a 'dip' for the roots of bare root trees and shrubs prior to planting.

  "Research seems to indicate that the use of mycorrhizae helps reduce transplant shock, promotes and supports vigorous root growth and, some suggest, increases disease resistance.  more

Garbage in, fertilizer out.  Pursue the simplest solution; reuse it all.  I learned about the 160-year old Rothamsted Agricultural Research facility in England more than 30 years ago when we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia. Our favorite haunt, Kebun Binatang Jakarta, is almost 500 acres of 500 animal species in a botanical garden.  In the early ’80s, this Eden-like setting was perilously close to being buried in a combination of animal and garden waste. How to dispose of this efficiently, economically and quickly was a huge problem.  more
Healthy soil is key to successful gardening. 
“Soon, oh sooner than we can imagine, warming days will wake the abundant life in the soil,” says Cathie Draine.  “I get giddy when the sweetness of geosmin — a fragrance produced by happy, warm, working actinomycetes in the soil — fills the air. This sublime fragrance is a reminder of sorts that the soil is hungry, ready to eat.” 

Mulch only some plants with wood chips.  There is much more going on in the soil than we understand.  What research has confirmed is: Mulch the woody plants with wood chips and feed the flowers, veggies and lawn well-aged compost. more


Miss Gardening? Grow Green Beans Indoors This Winter


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For gardeners who just can’t stand to keep their hands out of the soil for any length of time, growing food indoors in containers can be a great pastime during the winter months.


Green beans are a relatively quick-growing vegetable that can be grown inside your home and also look quite beautiful, as well.


Plants that you are growing indoors can be started any time of the year, but you still need to remember that they have certain environmental requirements. Green beans need plenty of light, so you will need to place them in a part of your home where they can get a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. Alternatively, grow lights can work if you do not have a window that gets enough sun.