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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Garden Spot: Toiling the Soil

Air Date: Week of

We check in with Living on Earth's traditional gardener Michael Weishan who says, since a gardeners work is never done, fall is the perfect time to work on chores such as improving garden soil.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

WEISHAN: I made a big mistake.

CURWOOD: That repentant fellow is none other than Living on Earth's traditional gardener Michael Weishan. We joined Michael on a recent chilly day to find out that even well into autumn with the growing season past, a gardener's work is never done. He says fall is the perfect time to take care of chores such as improving garden soil.

WEISHAN: As you can see the stuff (shovel against hard ground) -- it's like hard pan. It's almost impossible to dig. And the garden productivity was pretty poor this year, and it had mostly to do with the fact that the soil wasn't very good. So we just have cleared the area out so that we can get better access to it. And what I've been actually doing is digging out this commercial, very expensive soil that I very foolishly purchased, and replacing it with compost-manure mix.

CURWOOD: Now, getting the soil ready, I understand. What other parts of the garden, what do we need to worry about this time of year?

WEISHAN: What we want to do is start to clean off the garden, because in this debris hides a lot of pests and problems for next year. So not only do we want to clean out the garden to improve the soil and to get the soil ready, but we also want to take away all this debris and throw it on the compost pile.

CURWOOD: A lot of people leave this stuff in the garden. They think you're not supposed to take it down.

WEISHAN: Well, there's actually 2 schools of thought on this. In the vegetable garden everyone's pretty much united because this is where disease and pests will be harboring, and if you've had any disease problem you remove the stuff rigorously. In the perennial garden, though, it's an entirely different story, because you have sometimes very beautiful summer silhouettes in the flowers. You have things that catch the snow, the stalks are very interesting. So half the time I will clean out the perennial garden fairly rigorously. But a lot of times I'll leave it and clean it out in the early spring.

CURWOOD: I put in some raspberries this year and you've got a beautiful raspberry patch. What should I do with mine?

WEISHAN: Well, once again, I would wait till these things go dormant, but then they can be pruned back. They can also be pruned back in the springtime and will probably require it. Pruning in the garden is not as complicated as pruning trees and shrubs. Each tree and shrub has a very specific time that it needs to be pruned. In the garden you're pretty safe pruning things pretty much as you want them to be. For instance, here we have these raspberries and they're all over the pathway and they're spiked, of course, you know they have thorns, so you really want to get them out of the way. The ones that can't be easily shoved out the way I'm going to cut back now, so that we don't get caught on them.

CURWOOD: Ah, so it's a good time to get that muscular workout, huh?

WEISHAN: Yeah, I'll tell you, it's a great time for a workout in the garden. As a matter of fact, generally at this time of the year I skip the health club a couple times a week and actually do the things that need to be done in the garden. Next week it's this compost thing, getting the garden soil all going together and building a stone wall in front. Perfect weather for all that type of stuff.

CURWOOD: Well, thanks for taking this time with us today.

WEISHAN: Oh, my pleasure. Any time, Steve.

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener and publisher of Traditional Gardening. You can reach him via our Web site with your questions. The address is www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. Click on the picture of the watering can.



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