Ashes to Ashes, And One Failed Garden

I didn’t think I was putting out too much woodstove ash on the garden last winter, but apparently, the story was told mid-summer when the garden suddenly up and failed. I mean it disappeared overnight after a period of heavy rain. I blamed the rain (though I couldn’t explain why; our soil is sandy and doesn’t get waterlogged like clay soil does.)

This March I had a soil test done by sending off a sample to Virginia Tech’s soils department. We have seen the enemy, and it are us. Prescription for correcting what ails our vegetable garden (other than an excess of deer and moles): it is TOO basic! ACIDIFY!

Soils over the growing season tend to become more acidic due to leaching of basic ions, and the usual remedy is to add lime to “sweeten” the soil. But in our case, we are advised to add acidic ions. Apparently the combination of wood ash and raked leaves was too much of a good thing.

And believe me, it isn’t easy to find agricultural acidifiers! Finally, after a good bit of shopping, I found AG sulfur (to acidify) and UREA (to add nitrogen only, there’s an excess of P and K in the soil) and after some tedious calculating, I broadcast 1.7 pounds sulfur and a half cup urea for each 100 square foot of garden.

With the rains we’ve had this past week, those amendments have soaked deeply into the soil so that this next week, we can get serious about putting in our DEER SALAD PARK otherwise known herebouts and cynically as a vegetable garden.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Deer salad park??? One part of our large veggie garden is a deer salad park, and the other is a rabbit salad park, or perhaps a hare salad park (as we have both cottontails and hares cavorting about in the garden).

    Apart from shooting the rabbits, the only answer is probably to plant much more salad than we require.

  2. I don’t know the cost of urea, but alfalfa meal or pellets make a great source of nitrogen and the cost is reasonable. Feed/seed stores usually have one or the other form in stock all the time. I also use alfalfa pellets/meal to jump start nitrogen poor compost piles.

  3. Hi Fred
    I have collected a lot of ash and had plans to add it to our veffie garden – so hold back???

    No deer on PEI

  4. Fred,

    Hey! I’m finally getting around to visiting your site. I remember my grandmother doing the same thing. She lives just outside of Hillsville. I’ve been composting table scraps and paper waste and working that into my garden. The biggest trouble I have with my garden and flower beds is voles. I’ve seen them literally suck the stalk of a flower into the ground like Bugs Bunny used to do in the cartoons! My only line of defense is rodent repellent (which looks like cat litter and smells like moth balls) and a six-foot blacksnake I call Tiny. He lives under a concrete slab near my garden. I often find his skins and little pellets of fur he’s hacked back up after eating one of the rodents. I hope it’s all right that I put a link of your blog on my own. I just started one a couple of months ago. Hope things are going well for ya!