Let’s talk about fungi.
I first heard about mycorrhizae — pronounced my-corr-rye-zuh and literally translated to mean “root fungi” — about 8 years ago while I was travelling to promote my first book. At an event in Oregon, a fellow speaker gave a presentation on the mutually beneficial relationships that are forged between fungi and plants, both above the ground and in the soil. I regret that I only caught the final minute or so of the talk, and to this day I can’t recall his name, but the seed was planted in my brain. Fungi are more than just another organism doing its own thing out in the big bad world. They can (and do) form cooperative communities with other organisms, including plants.
And then it sat there quietly waiting in the background for 7 long years.
It must have been intimidation that caused me to avoid pursuing it, because it wasn’t disbelief. In many ways, the basic principles behind the way that mycorrhizae acts in the garden closely resemble my own personal journey with holistic healthcare. Rather than treating each symptom individually, an holistic approach to wellness takes the whole system/being into account and seeks to address the root cause of the problem in order to restore balance and harmony. These experiences with holistic health have had a profound effect in how my approach to gardening has evolved over the last decade or so. It has been a time of great learning and my commitment to looking at the bigger picture has been strengthened by the anecdotal evidence that I observe in my gardens each year.
I’ve been down for the count these past few days with some sort of epic plague. My brain is slow and foggy so now is the perfect time to republish a few of my Globe and Mail Kitchen Gardening articles.
This one on good soil for your vegetable garden is the perfect companion to my recent HGTV article on reusing container soil. Speaking of… I have a new article up on HGTV that answers the ever popular question, “Are there any edibles that I can grow in the shade?”
Originally published in the Globe and Mail on May. 23, 2009.
The subject of garden soil is conversational codeine to most people. Yet refer to that brown stuff as “dirt” in the wrong company and be prepared to have some thrown in your face.
“It’s soil, you moron, not dirt!” an obviously superior gardener recently informed me. “Only idiots like you call it dirt.”
My most recent Globe & Mail food gardening article is up on the website. This week’s topic was on how to get good soil whether you’re growing in-ground or in containers.
It looks like the previous week’s article is also still available online. That one was on seeds that you can start late in the season.
And while I’m on the topic of published articles: if you’re in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic United States I have an article and photograph on green gardening in the current (Summer 2009) issue of Breathe Magazine.
I posted this recipe a year ago but it is buried in a larger post and I decided it would be better-accessed if it had its own place. Making your own mix is SUPER easy and worth the small effort if you are growing a lot of seedlings.
These are the ratios I prefer. If you don’t need a huge batch you can use this as a basis for choosing a store-bought seed-starting mix. Always read the label and look for an ingredients list. Most popular brands have chemical fertilizers added that are unnecessary and will defeat the purpose of growing organically.
Instead, buy a basic mix and add in your own organic materials. I suggest adding a touch of vermicompost and watering your plants with a diluted sea-kelp mix. To be clear, seeds do not require any fertilizers until they produce their first set of “true leaves“. In basic terms this means the second set of leaves you will see. The first leaves that appear are called “seed leaves” and feed the seedling until the first “true leaves”appear.
- 1 part peat or coir (Coir is a sustainable peat substitute made from coconut husks. Peat is mined from marshland, destroying natural habitats. When you can, use coir.)
- 1 part perlite (popped volcanic ash that creates good drainage.)
- 1 part vermiculite (water absorbing material made from the mineral mica)
I was recently inspired by a gardener profiled in the April/May issue of Organic Gardening magazine. In the interview, gardener Dallas Hays of Lewiston, Idaho talks about making his own fish fertilizer (good for nitrogen) “..using a blender and squawfish from a nearby lake.” He also makes his own potting mix and substitutes ground up loofah that he grows himself as a substitute for peat moss. In the same mix he replaces perlite with corncobs run through a cornmeal grinder.
I love it when people take it upon themselves to go outside the usual and try new and crazy homemade substitutes in the garden. Dallas, if you are reading this, you rule!