Monthly Archives: January 2009

Greenhouse Blues

I hate to spring this on you so suddenly, but there’s really no point in tip-toeing around the matter: I have a greenhouse.

 Grnhs interior 2

Why has this not been mentioned here before? I could say that the moment never seemed quite right, or that something else always seemed to get in the way, or that I hoped to perfect it before unveiling it. All these things would be true if inadequate explanations for my silence.

In the spirit of complete disclosure that now possesses me, I’ll point out that it’s not particularly green at the moment, this greenhouse, because I couldn’t finish establishing the beds

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Compost vs. Arsenic: And the winner is–compost!

Several posts back I mentioned in passing that compost can help fix arsenic in soil, and it seems reasonable to explain what the hell I was on about there. To "fix" arsenic is get it to bond with other, stable molecules so that it can neither leach from the soil into the water supply, nor migrate into your vegetables, and thence into you.

I got onto this originally because the news articles about the great Tennessee coal ash spill of '08 kept mentioning arsenic. Arsenic, I learned, occurs in several different forms, but the one that turns up most commonly in coal ash is arsenate(V), the same form that leaches into soil from telephone poles and fences treated with copper chromate arsenate (CCA).

And yes, at least one recent study conducted at the University of Florida found that when carrots and lettuce are grown in soil that's contaminated by CCA, both vegetables absorbed less arsenic when the soil received plentiful treatments of compost. 

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Er–coal ash as a soil amendment?

I always knew the Brits were crazy.

Given the justifiable panic over the Tennessee fly ash spill here in the States, it’s almost impossible to believe that people might put anything remotely resembling coal by-products in their gardens on purpose, but they do.

Sounds nuts, I know, but experiments have been ongoing in experiments have been conducted in India, Australia, China, and the United States, Poland, Thailand, and who knows, maybe the North Pole, growing vegetables (or in China, trees) in soil amended with bottom ash. Since ash is almost always quite alkaline (pH>9), this only makes sense in soils that have low pHs, but in those it can raise pH, improve water retention, improve mineralization, and increase nutrient availability. And at normal agricultural application rates (20 tons or more (!) or so on each hectare, which is about 2.5 acres) virtually all of experiments I’ve looked at show that these unlikely amendments are not accumulating at dangerous levels in plants.

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Coal ash in the garden?

Coal ash has been coming at me from all directions; by an odd coincidence, a recent commenter on last summer’s wood ash in the garden posts wrote about coal ash, even as I worked on the post about the great ash spill at the Tennessee power plant.

Jacqueline had been putting her ashes from wood and solid fuel on her vegetable garden for a couple of years, though she did the responsible person’s internet search first, finding only sites touting the benefits of ashes in general. Then, just a week or two ago, a response to a letter in the Guardian cited the smokeless fuel folks as saying that these ashes should under no circumstances be put in gardens.

Gulp. So—how bad is this bad news?

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Thanks to James, the White Knight of the Black Pitt–

You could knock me down with a feather.

Amongst the various honors done me in my short blogging career, perhaps none ranks with this, that James Alexander-Sinclair put me on a short list of gardening blogs that might just possibly be worth reading. Publicly.

In his Gardener’s Magazine wrap-up article for 2008, “Of Cabbages and Kings,” James (Blogging at Blackpitts Garden) tips his hat to Nigel Colborn’s Silvertreedaze, Emma Townshend’s Baklava Shed Coalition (the name alone recommends it), Veg Plotting, and—the lowly Manic. This is illustrious company,.

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