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Organic Gardening Class Newsletter January 27, 2010

Thanks to Carl Rosato and Marc Kessler for a surprising vigorous and yet friendly debate on organic methods of soil fertility maintenance. Carl advocates regular soil testing and compost applications along with recommended supplements, while Marc rarely does soil testing and adds no compost. He emphasizes using frequent cover crops (also known as green manures) to supply the nitrogen, organic matter and beneficial organisms that produce abundant crops. Both of these farmers produce excellent crops and work to keep a natural balance on their farms.

For more information about how Marc uses cover crops, you can go to Click on the link in the lower left hand corner entitled "see our farm" and on that page scroll down to the video at the bottom of that page and play the youtube video where Marc shows and describes cover crops. This video is a lucid explanation of the myriad benefits of cover cropping, something we backyard gardeners should be doing more of.

To learn more about soil testing and soil nutrients, you can go to and click on the link on the left entitled "organic soil fertility." Carl describes in detail how to take a soil sample and a detailed yet clear system for understanding and improving your soil fertility.

Carl and Marc and I fielded a broad range of questions from the class. All I can say about that is, "you should have been there." In fact we had 4 times as many questions as we could answer in the second hour of class. The class will have another opportunity next Sunday to ask questions again. Hopefully by the end of the course most of your questions will have been answered. Please bring pens again next Sunday at 1:30 when I interview Bruce Balgooyen and we take a new round of audience questions on the 3x5 cards we provide.

It is not too late to sign up for the class series. You can go to and click on the link there for the details and to register. The fee for individual sessions is $15 for those who can't come to the whole series.

Soil Samples are due this coming Sunday at class. The $36 fee must accompany each soil sample. Please write your name and the sample number (like sample #1 or sample #2). Or North Sample and South Sample. To take your soil sample, scrape off the surface duff (if there is any) and then dig a shovelful of earth and place it to the side. Then with your shovel or a trowel take a slice about 1" thick and to the depth of 6 or 7 inches. Place this slice in a plastic bucket (a galvanized bucket can add zinc and distort test results), and then repeat this in 2 to 4 other spots in that garden area. Mix this soil with a trowel and put about a cup and a half into a ZipLock bag. Leave the bag open on a counter in a dry place in your house so that the sample is not sopping wet when you bring it to class. Label the sample with a 3x5 card slipped inside. Bring it to class on Sunday. Each sample should be from a single plot or field, with a cross section of spots sampled. If you want to do any additional samples of other areas on your property, for instance an area where you may be planting a garden this year, that should be a separate sample. We are sending the samples on Monday February 1, so you will need to bring it Sunday or send in your sample yourself. Carl will provide specific recommendations of organic soil amendments for your sample only on the samples which we are sending in on February 1. 

On February 21, Carl will be presenting a talk about soils, fruit trees, and other topics. He will stay an extra hour and discuss your soil test results that day. 

On February 21, Carl will also bring about 30-40 peach and nectarine bare root trees, which will be available for $10 each. This is an excellent opportunity for the home gardener to purchase high quality trees at a great price. These are first rate trees of varieties which do well in Chico, plus one new one that sounds great. More on this in a later newsletter.

Gardening Tips: You may not believe this, but a month from now the weather here is likely to be warm and dry. Order seeds now so that they are in hand when it is time to plant spring vegetables. Bruce Balgooyen is a walking encyclopedia of information about varieties and planting, so you won't want to miss next Sunday if you want to know how to plant a spring garden. Bruce and I might disagree on a few things, but that just makes it more interesting.

We have 80 copies of the Seeds of Change catalog on the way, and we may have them by Sunday, and certainly by the following Sunday. We will have some Baker Creek Seed catalogs available on Sunday if you didn't get one last week. 

If you would like to do a seed exchange at the break, email me. We will set it up if there is enough response.

Happy Gardening,

David Grau

Valley Oak Tool Company
P.O. Box 301
Chico  CA   95927
telephone 530-342-6188