Monday, October 20, 2014

The Third Plate and a shifting paradigm

After hearing an interview with Dan Barber on the Splendid Table, I picked up his book, The Third Plate, at the library. Although written from a chef's perspective, this book is opening my eyes to a whole new way of seeing my yard and garden. I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about organic gardening in the backyard, but now I realize I am "old school".

I am only partway through the book, but already I am newly excited about things like weeds. Yes, weeds. Not to eat, not to eradicate, not to hate, but to use as a means of truly SEEING the soil in my garden. As an example, one of my worst enemies is Canada thistle. No matter how hard I try to beat it into submission, it keeps coming back, stronger and stronger every year. Why? Because the heavy clay beneath my raised beds is the epitome of compaction. To get rid of thistle, I need to do something about the compaction, specifically plant cover crops like spelt and red clover; both aerate the soil and suppress weeds while the latter also fixes nitrogen. Winter rye suppresses weeds as well.

Healthy soil produces healthy plants which are naturally less appealing to pests and diseases. I saw that this year, when the zucchini just went on and on (and ON). In previous years, the plants would succumb to squash beetles and/or mildew about mid-season. Ditto pumpkin and butternut, neither of which I have successfully grown before. All that horse manure paid off. Unfortunately, it is also the reason behind the proliferation of certain other weeds.

My gardening mantra has been "Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants" but there is more to healthy soil than what I have been doing. Different parts of my yard have different weed problems. I'm anxious to get a good weed reference and identify and correct those problems. Fun stuff!

Additional references:
Listen to Your Weeds
Cover Crop Planting Specification Guide

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