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2020 gardening
JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

GAYS MILLS - I’ve been busy in our two gardens this summer. Things are looking good, better than they have for a few years. Here are some updates.

I’ve decided I’m not a very good seed sprouter.  I’m more of a transplanter, glad to support the many places, where started tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables are sold. My sprouts tend to get leggy and spindly and, while it is fun to get your hands dirty starting seeds in late winter or early spring, I depend on the Village Greenhouse for healthy, robust vegetable plants. I did successfully plant squash seed directly in the lower, unfenced garden.

Our upper garden is fenced against rabbits. The fence doesn’t work for burrowing critters though and trapping doesn’t seem to work for me–stopping those diggers remains a work in progress at this point.

A major part of my satisfaction with the garden this year is that I spent a lot of time weeding.  Weeding is a satisfying job…if you don’t have to do too much of it at a time.  After tilling the garden early on, the weeds that show up are easy to pull or hoe in the loose soil. 

The most work of weeding involved uprooting, or should I say “uprhizoming,” (the pesky quack grass underground stems) that I have  let run rampant for several years. It was encroaching from the sides of the gardens in several places and is now at bay.  I’m still looking for a good mulch material between rows for weed control during the growing season.  I’m going to try using cattails.

Something I’m going to try next in my battle against weeds is using cooked soil. Remember when this used to be a tobacco growing area? The soil in the tobacco beds was usually sealed off and steamed before the tobacco seeds were planted.  It made for a weed-free mass of plants that were easily pulled and transplanted. I’m borrowing that concept in that I will cover small seeded crops with heat-sterilized soil to create a zone that won’t need to be weeded. I understand that the soil should be heated to a temperature of 180 degrees to be effective.

My ground is quite sandy, which is good: it doesn’t get muddy and is loose and easy to work with. However, it doesn’t hold much water and isn’t very fertile. Over the past 12 years, strides have been made to improve on both of those problems. I fertilize with regular granulated crop fertilizer, which is much cheaper than the, albeit attractively packaged, garden fertilizers. Referring to the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) contents, in that order, I use a 10-10-10 fertilizer on the vegetables.

To improve the tilth or workability of the sandy soil I have used several amendments. First, I’ve added generous quantities of bio-char.  Bio-char is fine particles of charcoal which was a by-product of my previous charcoal-making enterprise. It’s sort of a miracle material, it’s carbon that lasts a long time in the soil and has gazillion small and stable pore spaces to hold water and shelter beneficial soil bacteria.

I’ve also added quite a bit of manure to the garden plots. Hard to believe, but manure is harder to come by here in Dairyland than it once was.  Best is an old composted pile that doesn’t even look (or smell) like manure anymore. Ed Heisz has graciously given me access to such a pile just outside his barn.  If he’s around, he even helps me load it with a Bobcat. Composted manure has been through a heating process which cuts down on the number of weed seeds in it and it’s like black gold to my sandy soil.


All gardeners are somewhere on a learning curve to become better gardeners. These are a few tips I hope you find useful.   Pray for a good harvest, but keep hoeing.