Working in the garden during the warmer months has revealed the rewards of organic gardening. According to numbers and calculations, Southern California is having a drought. Instead of our average of 10.46 inches of rain, we only received 7.74 this year. Of course, most of our water is imported through various waterways. In order to maintain high quality plants and beat the heat, smart conservation includes improving the water holding capacity of the soil, which also increases the nutrient holding capacity.
I found that clay soils no longer are so tightly bound that the water runs off instead of penetrating into the root zone and the ability to dig in the soil no longer makes planting a rose a daunting task. So, what has contributed to this transformation? Originally, I put berms and/or materials around each rose to hold the water so that it would soak down into the soil and I used soaker hoses wrapped around each rose and let that water the roses, checking the optimum time to leave it on. The next step was to improve the soil itself by putting down a heavy layer of cut grass and leaves around the outside of the watering areas for the roses to help keep the weeds down, enriching the soil and holding in moisture. (One year I used straw, which did the job but did not break down until I added a mulch.) Using worm castings and compost within the water basin constituted the introduction of organic "food."
From there, I bought bulk foods (alfalfa, blood, cottonseed, etc.), usually in meal form, and started applying it. The blooms were still lovely and fragrant, but the bushes and foliage suffered. I found that no matter how often I watered or applied good supplements, if the soil is tightly bound and unavailable to the roots, the nutrients cannot be released. In my case, the clay soil was like adobe with rocks intermixed. Digging beds or areas for planting was a challenge, so my search expanded.
In the early 2000s (not exactly sure what year), a company that had existed since the 1980s caught my attention. Organa described itself as "Organically Balanced Home & Garden Products." Its unique approach was offering "blends" for every garden need; they were the first company I found to be actively seeking out scientifically how soil is built and maintained, calling it "sustainable agriculture." It was a compilation of "kits" with ingredients mixed together that was meant to establish and maintain gardens and soils. They made about a dozen "soil builder kits" for different types and conditions of soil and other kits for different types of plants, fertilizers and lawn care.
Their theory revolved around the premise that creation of a sustainable soil is greatly accelerated with the use of kelp, saponin and gypsum and can be achieved within a year or less. The "secret" mixes were designed to give the optimum healthy relationship between nutrients and life forms in the soil.
I used several of these products but primarily started with the Heavy Clay Soil Kit, containing kelp meal, saponin, xanthan, algin, garlic, aloe and gypsum (added separately), which were mixed in one bag and spread over 500 square feet. On top of that, a liquid concentrate of juice extract of multi-species kelps, saponin, aloe, xanthan and garlic was applied using a hose end sprayer. The package description of these ingredients are as follows:
By taking the scientific approach to sound organic principals, Organa was one of the leaders and innovators of the organic revolution. They considered the soil's flora and fauna and the actions that take place to promote air circulation, therefore allowing for water penetration and the ability of the nutrients to dissolve to usable form. It is important for Rosarians to recognize these natural ingredients by name in order to determine how a product will work in the garden.
These products were the greatest sensation when they were made available to the public, but the company suddenly was dissolved, and the products soon disappeared. However, the idea was picked up by other innovators with ambitions of producing organic products that span the need of organic gardeners.
One of these companies, Envirepel, was also on the cutting edge of producing organic insecticide, fungicide and a soil penetrating drench called Liquid Rototiller. This product included sapponin with added ingredients in ratios that were calculated to accomplish the goals of soil penetration and increasing nutrient absorption capacity. Unfortunately, this product is also no longer available. Although these products are not on the market, they are important for innovaters intent on developing and discovering products that will advance the growth of organics made to increase the soil's ability to retain moisture.
One of these innovaters is Milo Shammus of Dr. Earth. Starting in the early 1990s, Shammus developed products that fit exactly what organic gardeners need. Shammus' products are helpful for integrating and invigorating the soil with live biomass, using humus and mychorrhizae, and supplying them with the necessary food for optimum health. Continually improving or inventing new formulas keeps Dr Earth at the peak of the market. Incorporating these products in the soil along with organic matter will yield the best results. Also available are liquid fertilizers that make the nutrients readily available.
In Southern California, but rapidly expanding into other areas, San Diego Organic Supply is the leader in our area in searching out products and bringing them to the marketplace. Aiding soils to be the best they can be, a quick acting product is Worm Magic Soil Pick Clay Buster. The active ingredient is yucca with humus and other ingredients to help achieve great results.
Products are central to the ability of soils to rebound from their natural state or from neglect. For clay soils, using products in the right combination will ensure better results, and finding them is easier than it used to be. Adding your own organic materials will start the process. Establishing the proper moisture content in the soil will go a long way in establishing sustainable agriculture in the rose garden.
This article was provided to the TVRS as a courtesy by the American Rose Society.