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November 18, 2017


We recently moved back to our home in Fayetteville. I have several large raised bed vegetable gardens. The gardens have been covered with black plastic for the 3 summers that our home was rented. The soil is very packed down and hard. What would be the best was to loosen up the dirt over the winter to prepare for planting next spring? We are thinking of covering them with mulched leaves for the winter or should we just wait until spring and then work in some compost with a pitchfork? Will it have done any damage for the soil to be covered for so long?  Folks who live in the northern tier of Arkansas have less of a problem with it spreading, as the colder it is, the better behaved it seems to be.



I think you have nailed the problem with the covering as to the compacted condition of the soil. There has not been natural air and water circulation and the soil is compressed.  I would consider working in some compost this fall, and then top it with shredded leaves to keep weeds from sprouting.  Then in the spring, work in the shredded leaves along with additional compost if you choose and you should have a better environment to grow plants.


February 11, 2017


My daughter-in-law, who is a master gardener in El Paso, told me about key gardening.  I was wondering if I could adapt the idea in my raised kitchen garden.  I have four 5-gallon buckets. I plan to drill holes in a spiral manner top to bottom,  place in  ground 10 inches deep, add new materials for compost, and this summer use the buckets for dispersing the  water with nutrients from the compost



I believe you are referring to keyhole gardening.  Keyhole gardening began in Africa, but is becoming popular across the south.  Typically keyhole gardening uses a circular raised bed design with the center hollowed out where water and compost is added.  They can be totally round or if larger, a wedge shaped area can be cut out to one side giving easy access to the center "keyhole".  Kitchen and garden waste, along with water are added to the center basket.  A keyhole garden holds moisture and nutrients due to the active compost pile placed in the center. The soil bed layers are slightly sloped away from the center to aid water and compost tea distribution. As the materials decompose, soil, composting materials, and amendments are added to the keyhole.  I think what you are proposing could work, but your space is somewhat limited in a 5 gallon bucket.


(March 2012)

QuestionI got mulch from the city this past week. It's beautiful this year but evidently toxic. I spent many hours today mulching. Later I walked around and looked at my beds and my tender perennials, lettuce and herbs, in addition to some flowering plants look like the leaves have burned. The mulch has a slight chemical smell. I can't imagine what that might be. Perhaps there is a chemical in the mulch or perhaps the mulch is very green and what I am smelling, and what is burning the plants, is excess nitrogen. What do you think would cause this problem and do you have any ideas what I can do? Should I water my beds excessively or put something on my beds to neutralize the nitrogen. Please let me know your thoughts. I'm frazzled, frustrated and worried about my plants.

AnswerThere sometimes can be a problem with what is called "Sour" mulch. What basically happens is that if the mulch pile is large and we get a heavy rain, the oxygen levels sort of bottom out in the pile when it gets waterlogged. Toxic gasses can begin to build up inside this anaerobic environment and if applied in this state, the mulch can burn or damage tender plants. If you are applying mulch and it has a rotten egg odor or ammonia smell, stop applying it. Turn the mulch pile, or spread it out to allow oxygen in. The condition in the mulch pile is quickly remedied, but if it has already damaged your plants, you may have to replace some of the more damaged plants. For more information on sour mulch look at our fact sheet at:


(February 2012)

QuestionI have built a raised bed on the North side of my home. It gets sunshine in the afternoon, especially in the summer. What vegetables can be planted in a mostly shaded area for this in the spring?/p>

AnswerMost vegetables need a minimum of six hours of sunlight to produce well. If you have less than that, your best bet would be herbs and leafy greens like kale, lettuce, chard, etc. They would prefer six hours of sun, but will usually produce in as few as 4-5, albeit not as thrifty or full. We are in the cool season planting arena now—so you can start all of the above and plant from now through mid April. Mid April through mid June is the warm season crop time, but most do need a bit more sunlight. With ample sunlight, all vegetables can be grown in containers or raised beds.

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