Aaron Deacon of BIOS Nutrients is back on our podcast! This time, he very generously gives us a bunch of his time to answer all the questions that are fit to podcast about outdoor gardening.
In this episode of Digging in with gardenstead, the ever-knowledgeable and engaging soil/plant expert sits down with Katie to answer our community’s pressing outdoor gardening concerns.
Last time Aaron was with us on the pod, he spent an helpful half hour with Katie addressing a compilation of questions from the gardenstead community about indoor houseplant pests.
Over the last several months, our vigilant Facebook ambassadors have kept an eye on our community’s outdoor gardening queries. And while they popped in diligently into the groups to answer questions as they occurred, our ambassadors compiled a list of frequently asked questions for us to address here, on our podcast.
So let’s head outside.
Stay tuned to our podcast — over the next few months, Aaron will be back for a number of episodes. Each time, he and Katie will sift through a range of gardening questions, theme by theme. As an example, on our next episode with Aaron we’ll cover prepping our gardens for winter. (Yes, winter. It is coming. Like every year. Sorry to use the dreaded ‘w’ word.)
In an information-packed (almost) 29 minute episode, Aaron gives us solid answers to the following questions:
- Can you use regular garden soil in raised beds? The short answer? Yes, but you’ll need to amend it with good quality compost for aeration.
- How do you fix garden soil that’s super sandy? Among other things, Aaron recommends adding compost for water retention.
- How do you fix clay-heavy soil? Once again, add compost for aeration. But also, add sand to improve drainage. Additionally, you can plant vegetables that will penetrate clay-heavy soil to help to open it up — think beets, carrots, radishes. However, Aaron recommends you first ameliorate the soil with compost before planting anything. Be patient. This process will take some time.
- How do you fix a poorly draining garden? In this case, the answer is to add “a ton of amendments”. Aaron suggests adding in perlite or rice hulls (rice hulls will also decompose slowly and feed the soil). You can also add sand (coarse sand, not playground sand) or growstones (which also create homes for beneficial microbes, a very good thing).
- What are the benefits of drip irrigation? Is it worth it? Yes, it is. Aaron has used a blumat system (a needs-based system), which was delicate to set up, but worth the time. Aaron mentions the merits of a timed drip irrigation system (which also has some drawbacks, however). If you do plan to go with a drip irrigation system, Aaron strongly recommends getting a moisture sensor so plants are neither over- nor under-watered (and your water bill doesn’t go into the stratosphere). Do lots of research, and don’t be hasty with your choice.
- What is a no-till garden? With no-till you’re “not disturbing the top level of soil at all”. However, as Aaron discusses, there are low-till or “shallow-till” variations to this style of gardening, in which the first 3 or 4 inches are tilled very occasionally. Aaron goes through how to get started with no-till, and how to keep going with it over time. (Quick note: “compost is queen” may be our favourite new expression).
- What are the benefits of no-till gardening? As Aaron puts it, the benefits are huge, and the “biggest one is carbon”. When you don’t till the soil, you don’t release carbon. Keeping carbon in the soil helps feed plants, and keeps it from the atmosphere, a good thing, as certainly we’ve all come to understand the connection between carbon and climate change. But there are lots of other benefits to low- or no-till gardening. Aaron takes us through a number of them. Quick note: the documentary Aaron talks about here is Spaceship Earth.
- What should I use to fertilize my vegetable garden? Aaron loves to use organic matter and compost, but will add alfalfa or kelp meal as they contain the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plus a lot of micronutrients. Katie and Aaron also talk about the merits of adding hair to soil, eggshells (including a recipe for helping eggshells break down more quickly), and manure.
- How does Aaron feel about the banana peel fertilizer trend? Just like this blogger, not great. In a nutshell: soaking banana peels in water for 24-48 hours won’t do anything, fertilizer-wise. “Maybe [it] pulls the starches out…[but] soaking them in water for a day or two is not going to do anything for your plants.” Okay, then. We’re crossing off that TikTok trend from our list of fertilizing possibilities.
- Should we fertilize our plant leaves as well as their roots? Short answer from Aaron: yes! Particularly for a quick plant health fix, leaves are very good at absorbing micronutrients. While the entire plant should be fertilized, a foliar spray is quick fix for nutrient deficiency. (Aaron also talks here about how fertilizing the whole plant can be a key component in a pest management strategy.)
- Should I use granular or liquid fertilizer? Basic takeaway: use a combination of liquid and granular to provide full nutrition for your plants. Liquid fertilizer provides a quick fix and granular fertilizer gives long-term nutrition.
- Should I use different fertilizers for different plants? Yes, more or less. Essentially, plants have different needs at different growth stages, so your fertilizer should reflect that. But, plants will take what they need from soil, so the ideal is to nourish soil to a point where plants can just ask soil for what it needs — and get it.
- What is weedless gardening? Surprisingly, for this one Aaron had to do a little research. However, in essence, in weedless gardening various materials are used to suppress weeds. For example, to build a raised bed, you might use cardboard or newspaper is as a base layer to prevent weeds from coming up through the soil. But, “at the end of the day, weeds have more to do with aesthetics”, says Aaron, since weeds add nutrients to soil, and growing specific weeds will suppress the growth of other less useful (or invasive) weeds.
- What are soil-loving plants? While, as Aaron puts it, “most plants are soil-loving plants”, there are air-loving plants. Here, Aaron touches on soil-less growing and LECA, but we get the feeling this question might warrant a whole other episode (noted).
- Do potatoes like more acidic soil? Perhaps the simplest answer in the whole episode here: as a rule plants prefer slightly acidic soil, including potatoes. Potatoes can grow in a more acidic soil (down to 5 pH) but they prefer 5.5 to 6.5, like most vegetables.
More outdoor gardening questions? Find answers in our community!
We hope this episode answered some of your outdoor gardening questions. That being said, we know there are many (many) questions involved in all aspects of growing things outdoors. So, if there’s something you need to know that we haven’t covered here, you might find the answer you seek in one of our Facebook groups. Here’s to the power of community.