Details for Pros to Know - June 9

Pat’s Corner: Soil Health the soil layers, plant roots with mycorrhizae, worm and other insect activity. It is eye opening to see the structure of the soil and this ranch is lucky to have good deep soil. If you want to check out Nicole’s website: and you can find out more about Western Sustainability Exchange at: So how does that translate to our yards? Here in the Billings area most of us know we have heavy clay soil often with an alkaline pH. Many plants that Pat Appleby we all know and love would prefer soil that drains better with lower pH. How can we make This past week Ann and I had the opportunity to attend a Soil that happen? Good compost Carbon Workshop with Nicole that offers a mixture of fungi Masters of Integrity Soils from and bacteria. Fungi and bacteria New Zealand and sponsored by are the primary decomposers of Western Sustainability Exchange organic matter that help with based in Livingston. The disease suppression, nutrient workshop leaned a bit toward retention, healthy soil smell, farming and ranching but the holding soil together and helping basic principles of soil health extract ‘locked up’ minerals. apply here at the nursery as Microbes feed on fresh green well in our yards. Nicole defines plant materials, simple sugars, soil health as the “balance of molasses, fruit juice, seaweed, natural soil properties, physical, animal manure and fulvic biological, chemical, climatic acid. Fungi like to feed on conditions and management white woods like the aspens or practices” and she stresses cottonwoods you just cut down, that “management has a willow, birch, elm, cardboard, major influence on soil health complex sugars and proteins, fish potential.” Plant photosynthesis, products, humates and humic respiration, soil fauna and acids. Yikes, this is starting to microbes, humus, mycorrhizae, sound like a college biology class! plant shoots and roots all play a The take away is part in the atmospheric carbon that you can tweak and the deep stable liquid carbon your compost to in the soil. The sugars gathered help the specific with by plants during photosynthesis problems are sent out to plant roots as you soil. A large compost liquid carbon to the soil. Soil scale carbon increases water storage, hack can be made buffers soil temperatures and out of old round improves soil structure. It also plastic-wrapped binds toxins, reduces the need hay bales that you for nitrogen and phosphorus don’t want to feed fertilization and buffers pH. to the livestock. At the Paradise Valley ranch Dig out the center that hosted the class Nicole had of one end, turn them dig a pit in the soil that the bale up on was 5 feet deep so we could see the flat end, add a heaping handful (250-500 or so) of compost worms, a good splash of water and one very fresh cow pie. In a year you will be able to spread that great compost where ever you need it. I would do this early in the year so the worms have the warm summer to get started. Another good idea is worm castings. Worm castings are what is left of your kitchen scraps mixed with a bit of soil after the worms get done eating. They are a rich source of soil amendment for you plants. Worms can be added directly to your compost pile to speed things up or directly to your soil to work their magic, relieving compaction and leaving castings. I don’t know of a local source to buy worms other than night crawlers but you can order them from the internet. For an easy way to attract worms to your yard and start a new planting bed, cut out the sod, turn it upside down and cover with cardboard you can keep damp. This takes a few months but you will have beautiful planting soil with plenty of worms. If you have trees in the middle of the lawn with grass that shouldn’t be on the root ball this would be a great way to improve the soil around the tree. You can cover the cardboard with wood mulch and maybe a couple of rocks to hold it in place. Insect, weed and disease problems = poor soil health. Bottom line, better soil health = better plant health with less insect, weed and disease problems. Just in case anyone is interested, there was some sort of shower every day of my camping trip. That did not stop my son and I from tromping along the creek looking for yew trees and spotting great wild flowers. Along the creek we found beautiful native clematis, trillium, mushrooms and lichen. In the dryer, slope areas we found blue lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot and some sort of dark gold gaillardia (I didn’t have my book) all showing beautiful color. We did find one yew tree. As an added bonus I got to pull weeds and grass in my own yard and found several gems that I planted last fall. After 20+ hours you could hardly tell I had done anything but the raspberries are tied up so my husband can keep them watered and pick them this year. Bless his heart. He knows that if he picks them my mom will turn them into rhubarb-raspberry jam. Remember when I was whining about unloading trucks in the snow? I would be happy for 20 degrees cooler than it has been this past week. The heat will bring out the last of the trees that need to leaf out. MSU Extension put out an alert about trees leafing out late. Some that try to leaf early got their buds frosted in that late cold spell. Many of those trees will have a second set of leaves that will try to push so do the scrape the bark with your thumbnail test. If it is still green under the bark it is still trying to do something. If it is brown under the bark that branch or stem is dead and should be cut off. Also check the bark of the tree all the way to the ground looking for wildlife and vole damage. Be patient until at least July 4th and longer if the branches still show life. We have a great selection of evergreens from the traditional mugo pines and blue spruce to lots of fun and funky shapes and textures for the Dr. Seuss lover. When choosing a mugo pine, be sure to consider what size you want it to be in 10 or 20 years. In the mugo pine world dwarf can be up to 6’ tall so be sure to let us help you select the dwarf you really want. Folks have been coming in looking for tomato plants and telling us they can’t seem to find them around the area. There seems to be continued concern about late blight coming into to Montana from plants grown elsewhere. To give it a bit of perspective, late blight was the cause of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840’s and Montana has a multi-million dollar seed potato industry. I don’t know for sure if late blight has been found this year but it is good to look for locally grown plants when you can find them. Hope to see you out at the nursery!

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