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Working the beds

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Post  Cajunsmoke14 3/31/2014, 8:39 pm

Hello everyone,

I have a thought or question. What I have read in the book and researched on different sites is that if you have the right mix and proper watering all a person needs to do is sit back and watch the garden grow. Yes you may have to pull a little grass occasionally or prune the suckers off the tomatoes.

Everything so far is doing great in my beds, yes they are pretty much taking care of their on needs, but my onions seems pitiful looking. They are sitting in the bed, some are thickening, most are just sitting. I bought my onions from Dixondale Farms. The instructions said to plant them 1 inch deep. I did this. The onions just seem to be sitting on the ground, they seem not to have rooted good. When the wind blows they almost uproot. Should I pull more dirt to them?

Also on the other plants. My dad always worked the soil around the plants, stimulating the roots. Do any of you get in your beds with your hand, working the dirt around the plants? Should I be doing that or should I just leave them sitting?
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Post  Marc Iverson 3/31/2014, 9:07 pm

Sounds like a way to disturb valuable soil structure and to kill off the tiny root hairs. Every time the latter happens, it can set the plant back a few days. Frequent micro-trauma to root hairs can even eventually stunt a plant. This can happen if there is too much peat in your soil mix, for example -- the soil expands and contracts so much that the root hairs keep being broken.

Are you sure your dad didn't do that to only certain types of plants, or do it at certain times? Trees, for instance, are sometimes stimulated to fruit by purposely damaging the roots. Could there have been a very particular plant or plants your dad was trying to force into putting up flowers and fruit? Questions of the wisdom of this method aside, of course we grow some veggies for things other than what is produced by their flowering -- lettuce and other leaf crops, for example, and beets and other root crops. Maybe your memory is fine on this and I'm mistaken, but it seems more probable that your dad might have been doing this to just a particular subset of veggies rather than all of them.
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Post  landarch 3/31/2014, 10:03 pm

My freshly fluffed Mels Mix tends to settle quite a bit each spring and the only time I mess with things is to add additional compost to veggies like beets and onions that seem to expose themselves with additional settling of the soil.
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Post  Cajunsmoke14 3/31/2014, 10:20 pm

Marc Iverson wrote:Sounds like a way to disturb valuable soil structure and to kill off the tiny root hairs.  Every time the latter happens, it can set the plant back a few days.  Frequent micro-trauma to root hairs can even eventually stunt a plant.  This can happen if there is too much peat in your soil mix, for example -- the soil expands and contracts so much that the root hairs keep being broken.

Are you sure your dad didn't do that to only certain types of plants, or do it at certain times?   Trees, for instance, are sometimes stimulated to fruit by purposely damaging the roots.  Could there have been a very particular plant or plants your dad was trying to force into putting up flowers and fruit?  Questions of the wisdom of this method aside, of course we grow some veggies for things other than what is produced by their flowering -- lettuce and other leaf crops, for example, and beets and other root crops.  Maybe your memory is fine on this and I'm mistaken, but it seems more probable that your dad might have been doing this to just a particular subset of veggies rather than all of them.
I talked to my mother, she also worked in the garden. She said they worked all vegetables. They did not plant root crops except potatoes. 

She said that when they hoed the grass they loosened the dirt around the top of the plants and pulled it up against them. 

Now this was traditional row gardens, but the principle is the same. They always had successful gardens.
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Post  sanderson 4/1/2014, 3:51 am

Cajun,  There's a difference in the roots between row gardening in the ground and SFG in 6" of MM.

In row gardens, the roots go deep to find the water and nutrients, so hoeing for weeds wouldn't affect the root systems that much.  Also, being in hilled rows, my guess is that soil would slump or fall off the rows, so pulling the dirt back up would be like an automatic reaction.

In SFG MM, the roots are right there so you don't want to disturb the soil.  MM has all the nutrients the plant needs in their little squares.  Top dressing with compost or adding more MM or mulch is fine, but don't finger the soil!  Let working roots lie.   Very Happy
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Post  Marc Iverson 4/1/2014, 3:15 pm

Definitely so much more vulnerable. When a box is only six inches deep, the roots simply have nowhere else to go. SFG has proved that's enough, though.

This case illustrates one of the things that can happen when relying on folk traditions rather than a science-based approach -- it's hard to know when a favored technique can successfully transfer out of conditions it may be well or even uniquely suited to.

It's hard to beat always knowing why something is done.
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Post  Turan 4/2/2014, 1:23 pm

I suspect what your parents were doing was actually making a dust mulch. They were hilling all vegys in the row with a well worked dirt and keeping that hilled dirt loose so it was mulching the soil. The roots were actually below that layer. This was a very common practice once.
You could do it with MM if you first establish the planting and then hill it and then routinely work the added material above the root zone. I am not sure if it makes better sense to use other material as a mulch or not in your specific circumstances.

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Post  camprn 4/2/2014, 1:53 pm

Having been a row gardener I would call the described activity is a tillage technique. It is not to stimulate roots but to disturb the roots of any weeds and kill them as any weeds growing amongst the crop plants will compete for the soil nutrients. In row cultivation can be done by hand or mechanically. 

In-row cultivation

VERY RARELY will I do cultivation in the SFG and usually as gently as possible using either my own hand or a hand held cultivator.
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Post  camprn 4/2/2014, 1:55 pm

Marc Iverson wrote:

This case illustrates one of the things that can happen when relying on folk traditions rather than a science-based approach -- it's hard to know when a favored technique can successfully transfer out of conditions it may be well or even uniquely suited to.

It's hard to beat always knowing why something is done.
 Folk traditions have often been backed by science, which often explain the reasons in detail for doing the things we do.


Last edited by camprn on 4/2/2014, 2:35 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post  DorothyG 4/2/2014, 1:59 pm

Cajun, we did pretty much the same thing growing up.  We would hoe to get the weeds out and to loosen the soil to assist with getting water down to the roots.  This seemed to redistribute the soil around the plant.  We then pulled some back up next to the plant to keep the soil at the proper depth around it.  Nothing really scientific to it or about it. 

This isn't anything that is necessary in SFG and as others pointed out would actually be counterproductive.  Isn't it just the most bizarre idea to not "work" the garden
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Post  Marc Iverson 4/2/2014, 10:27 pm

camprn wrote:
Marc Iverson wrote:

This case illustrates one of the things that can happen when relying on folk traditions rather than a science-based approach -- it's hard to know when a favored technique can successfully transfer out of conditions it may be well or even uniquely suited to.

It's hard to beat always knowing why something is done.
 Folk traditions have often been backed by science, which often explain the reasons in detail for doing the things we do.

True, but it is also often not. And of course, not every "we" does things the same way, and some even do contradictory things to each other. Precedent, like anecdote, is fuzzy and less than reliable.

Certainly even when relying on folk traditions, it makes sense to know, and therefore be able to question and improve, their internal logic.

Mel speaks about row gardening in the home in this light. He notes that there are many things in home gardening that have always been done a certain way, but points out that tradition sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense. SFG is in direct opposition to a great deal of tradition, and Mel is conversant with and explains clearly every bit of logic behind it.
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Post  yolos 4/3/2014, 8:18 pm

camprn wrote:Having been a row gardener I would call the described activity is a tillage technique. It is not to stimulate roots but to disturb the roots of any weeds and kill them as any weeds growing amongst the crop plants will compete for the soil nutrients. In row cultivation can be done by hand or mechanically. 
I don't know how to spell it, but we called it scutching.  Just lightly raking/hoeing the top inch or two of soil to disturb the roots of the weeds.
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Post  walshevak 4/4/2014, 1:24 pm

1946-1948  I remember daddy sharpening the hoe so he could cut down the tops of the weeds without disturbing the roots of the tobacco plants.  We just called it hoeing.
He did it in the garden too.  Think we got the cultivator tractor in 1948 which cut down on the hand hoeing.  Not sure as I was only 3-5 those summers and we moved to the city in summer 1949.

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Post  camprn 4/4/2014, 1:33 pm

I still sharpen my hoe. It certainly works better after honing.

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