Currently reading - The Truth about Garden Remedies" by Jeff Gillman.
The author is a horticulturist who studies the effects of various treatments on gardening. Pest control, fertilizing, stimulants, soil amendments, planting methods, and other treatments. It's under $10, downloaded onto Kindle or in my case, Kindle app on ipad and laptop.
Here's a review on About.com
The author seems reasonably nonbiased. He uses a scientific approach to evaluate each topic, including his own research. As someone who relies on science, I appreciate that approach. It's not just anecdotal, and not just "it's all over the internet so it must be true".
One section I was very interested in was mycorryzal inoculant. I've bought a few cans of this amendment, in interest of maintaining a diverse soil fungal population. His conclusion is, inoculant is not needed, probably doesn't hurt anything, but in most soils is like bringing coals to Newcastle. I've been reluctantly coming to the same conclusion. I don't think I'll waste any more money buying mycorrhyzal inoculant. Since one package of inoculant is more than the cost of the book, that makes the purchase of the book worthwhile.
Science should be listened to. His experiments are limited to particular plants, in a particular climate, and particular situations. In addition, what makes a plant grow best might also make it more susceptable to insects, drought, disease, or might not be beneficial to the environment - so that needs to be considered as well. Doubtless, they can't apply everywhere, and limitations are significant. But I am really enjoying this book, and it will have an impact on my gardening.
Sounds like a good book to get Sentient - thanks for the recommendation.
Science AND gardening. I may have to check this out. Thanks.
SB do you find most additives are unnecessary if we amend the soil properly? I added bone meal to a couple of shrubs. Only to find out my dogs really love bonemeal. They dug the shrubs up three times and I had to find another spot for them.
khughes, I like to use a lot of compost. That's especially true if it's a soil that I haven't worked before, like lawn being converted into garden.
My soil is clay-based, hard as a rock when it's dry in summer. Gloppy in the wet season although I've seen worse. There is a volcanic component as well. I haven't had it tested, but plan to. Compost adds about everything a plant needs, plus loosens up the clay soil, makes it more spongy draining better in winter and absorbing more water in summer.
We have a local composting service. They sell a truckload of yard compost for $20. I mix a generous amount into the soil, when starting out. In subsequent years I add a few inches of compost each year as a mulch. In the summer, I mulch some areas with straw.
The bone meal adds phosphorus. I could see dogs loving it. If you need phosphorus, you could add rock phosphate instead of bone meal. I haven't looked for that at the garden store. They might have it. The dogs would not eat that.
I do add fish emulsion for plants that need a a lot of nitrogen. My dogs love fish emulsion, sticking their noses deep into the watering can to lick out as much as they can. I also spread wood ashes diffusely around trees, figuring the ashes contain what trees took out of soil. But I want to get the soil tested so I don't wind up doing harm.
I, like you,love the compost. I have the heavy red clay soil too. I went through a period of mixing a lot of additives. With no obvious effect so I went back to amending with compost. I didn't know for many years that I had to work the compost into the soil to get the desired effect. Top dressing it ain't. But, it's worth the extra effort. Rock phosphate would probably improve the heavy clay areas. I'll try that in the spring. Thanks.
I've even made peace with the moles. They break the soil and eat the grubs that would otherwise become Japanese beetles that eat the plants.
Moles don't realize they are helping me. They think they are messing up the garden. But you are right. I also used them as the samplers to obtain soil for testing. I figured the molehills were a mixture from various points under the yard.
As for compost, like you I figure it contains about everything that was needed to make the plant, plus the soil texturizing properties. Makes a world of difference for me, and the more years I add it, the better it gets. Sometimes I compost in place - bury kitchen scraps - and let the earthworms do the mixing and toiling for me.
Another book in a similar vein, same author:
"The Truth About Organic Gardening". Can be purchased via amazon (can link via this site and help the cause).
I bought this book with some reservations. From the title, my preconception was the author was "debunking" the organic gardening concept. I imagine there are plenty of university professors in applied science departments, who have corporate sponsors, although I don't know that about this one.
The reality turned out much more nuanced and complex, with interwoven layers of the small picture - how nitrogen is converted from air to fertilizer, and how minerals for organic fertilizer may be strip mined, to the big picture, looking at multiple aspects of the organic gardening concept.
No one seems to get the meaning of "organic" in "organic gardening" - not that it's "Carbon Based" - as in college "organic chemistry", but rather relates to the system of working with the soil and other aspects of the garden as an interconnected web of natural processes and substances, paraphrasing the one of the dictionary definitions" :
forming an integral element of a whole : fundamental<incidental music rather than organic parts of the action — Francis Fergusson>
b : having systematic coordination of parts : organized <anorganic whole>
c : having the characteristics of an organism : developing in the manner of a living plant or animal <society is organic>
I don't know where Rodale and others derived the term, but in my mind, "organic gardening" views the pant as part of a system, and all other aspects as connected. Not just - there's an insect, kill it - but - there's an insect. it is eaten by other insects. it is stimulated bu excessively rank growth, from too much nitrogen fertilizer. it is allowed to grow by killing off predatory insects, with insecticides. So rather than "Kill the Insect", the organic gardener might attract and nourish predators (insects and birds, even the hated mole that eats insect larvae in the soil :-) ), might avoid too much nitrogen fertilizer, might aim towards more resistant varieties, etc.
Anyway, despite that diversion of my opinion, I liked the book. The author is not religious about organic gardening - and I am not religious about ANYTHING - but he leans heavily in that direction. He's skeptical about a fair number of claims, acknowledges controversy, and makes nuanced recommendations regarding each topic.
I liked the book. I thought it was thoughtful, independently thought-out, told in straightforward, lay-persons terms, and quite readable.