• Lori Adams gets the scoop on dirt in her Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 5 of the Wednesday, March 14, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

Issue No. 3

By Lori Adams

THE SCOOP ON DIRT

If you have any dirt in your yard at all it is most likely ash.  This dirt has very little nutritional value and must be amended. Our local experts recommend the following recipe for building new beds:

  • One-third (1/3) sand (purchased or gathered);
  • One-third (1/3) seaweed (from the high tide line); and
  • One-third (1/3) dirt that you already have.

They also add that if you have to do without one of these three things, you can give up the dirt!  Be very cautious about bringing in someone else’s dirt to supplement what you already have because it may contain invasive weed roots that could plague you for years to come.  I use this recipe faithfully with excellent results.

These items should be gathered and mixed together in your bed as soon as the ground thaws out. Do not pile layers on top of a frozen bed or it will act like insulation and keep the ground frozen longer.  This mixture provides a good basic start.  Different types of crops require specific additional amendments to do their best, but you can add those as the years go by.

One additional thing I’d like to address about dirt is the pH level. Because of the amount of rain we get here in Sitka our soil is acidic.  From what I have read, only a few crops can tolerate this condition — potatoes, carrots, radishes, parsley, and parsnips. It would be a good idea to plant some of these crops your first year.

Rhubarb, mint and most berries thrive in acidic soil but you need to take into consideration that they come back year after year requiring a permanent spot in the garden.  Also, mint must be grown in a container as it can be quite invasive. If you have your heart set on growing something other than these crops you will need to add some fast-acting lime and read up on pH levels. The Internet or any good gardening encyclopedia will cover the subject in depth so I will not go into the details here.

Here are my recommendations for your new bed in order of importance:

  1. potatoes
  2. radishes
  3. rhubarb

This is a realistic plan that will reward you with produce spring, summer and fall.

If you want a little more variety and have time to put in some additional work consider:

  1. Amending a section with extra nitrogen and lime for lettuce;
  2. Putting up a trellis and amending a section with lime and inoculant for peas; and
  3. Sifting a section and amending it with bonemeal for carrots.

Brought to you by Down to Earth U-pick Garden

Located at 2103 Sawmill Creed Road

Open June-August / Mon-Sat 11:00-6:00

747-6108 or 738-2241

• Maximizing Space in Small Gardens handout

• Lori Adams discusses building raised garden beds in her Daily Sitka Sentinel gardening column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 3 of the Wednesday, March 7, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

                                             GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

BUILDING BEDS

The following is an overview of my method for building beds:

  1. Cut down any existing brush and use a pickax to break up the soil in the entire area to a depth of at least 6 inches. I prefer this method over simply laying down landscaping cloth and covering it up with soil. If you don’t remove the salmonberry and horsetail roots they will crawl around under the cloth trying to find light, and when they find it they will sprout up through the weak spot and become IMPOSSIBLE to eradicate.
  2. Remove any roots or large stones. Vegetable crops only require the removal of stones that are larger than an egg, unless you are going to grow carrots or parsnips. For these crops you should sift out the gravel because it can cause crooked, twisted or split roots.
  3. Mark out a space no wider than 4 feet for your bed and shovel the surrounding dirt into it. Raised beds are a MUST in rainy, cloudy Sitka. They will drain faster than they would if left the same level as the rest of your yard. Wet soil is cold soil!
  4. Bring in a “clean” material such as wood chips, sand or sea shells for the pathways. This will reduce the amount of mud that is tracked into the house and gives you a nicer surface to kneel on while working.

It is not necessary to build a traditional bottomless box to keep dirt in place. My best bed is just dirt that is mounded up about a foot high and it withstood the entire season of weeding and u-pick traffic. When we built it we simply leaned a long piece of plywood against its side and kneeled against it, then compacted the damp soil along the edge by pounding it with our fists. The plywood was removed and the dirt stayed in place.

Traditional boxes or rock edges provide ideal conditions for weeds, slugs and mold. This being said, I do need something to keep the soil in when I till and keep the ducks out when crops are growing, so I keep experimenting with different types of fencing. My latest prototype utilizes chicken wire, rebar and 2×4’s.

The next step is to amend the dirt which I will address in the next issue.

Brought to you by Down to Earth U-pick Garden

Located at 2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Mon-Sat 11:00-6:00

747-6108 or 738-2241