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A reader looks for a solution to garden soil problem

Singing Gardener: Plus, info and benefits of lecithin

Have you ever heard of lecithin? I’ve been taking it on and off for a long time and am sharing some info of what I’ve discovered about lecithin.

We’re all aware of bannock, but have you ever made it? More later.

Now the curtain rises on my make-believe stage. With mike in hand and a full house of Grainews readers to boot — I’m a happy guy. Yes — you the readers are my audience. Thanks so much for joining me again on another journey of words. My tip of hat signals it’s time to get proceedings underway starting with an email from Ituna, Sask.

From the email inbox:

Dear Ted,

Read your column in Grainews faithfully. Hoping you can help us solve our problem. A portion of our garden (in raised wood-sided beds) has had cones and needles from a row of larch/tamarack trees dropped on it. The wood garden beds are about 18-24 inches deep. Each year one has noticed that the soil in this area has been becoming less and less productive. This year when we planted our garden (carrots, lettuce, beets, peas, and spinach) in this area none of the seeds germinated. Planting was done on the May long weekend. Could it be that the needles and cones have sterilized or acidified the soil too much? The weeds and twitch grass on the ground around the beds have not been affected, but none of these grew in the beds either.

Our options are few. Removal of the trees would be very costly and difficult due to their position in the middle of the yard that has no access for vehicles into it. There is limited or no space to move the garden to. The trees are on the north side of the garden so do not block sunlight. If the soil has become sterilized or too acidic from the needles and cones would removing the top six inches of old soil and replacing it with good black soil help? Would this overcome the sterilization problem? Would lime be a product we could add? Steer manure and nitrogen fertilizer were added before planting this spring. We are located west of Yorkton in the Ituna area. The soil in the beds is heavy black soil from new breaking of bushland two years ago that had steer manure (commercial) added in the spring of ’16 and 46-0-0 dry fertilizer added this spring and watered in well prior to seeding it. All of the garden is in raised beds. Grass, twitch, various weeds between the beds, lilacs between the larches and grass under them are growing fine as are the perennials in a ground bed and annuals in a raised bed on the other side of the larches. — Duane Martin

Ted’s reply:

It would be nice to be an all-purpose guy who can resolve every challenge faced by gardeners. In other words, I’m only human and always learning, just like anyone else. By the way, as a side note, “I’m Only Human” is the name of an original song written by my accordion-playing son Chris. I’ve heard him sing and play it numerous times.

Now down to business. Hopefully, the following suggestions will help resolve the problem expressed. Depth indicated of your wood garden beds is OK. You may have sterilized the soil and cooked the seeds with 46-0-0 dry fertilizer this spring. Commercial steer fertilizer added the previous year to newly broken bushland possibly aggravated the situation. I suggest you remove the top three inches or more of soil from the raised beds, replace it with good fresh soil, then mix it in well with remaining soil in raised beds. Avoid adding any fertilizer. In other words, slow down and eliminate fertilizer use totally for a couple of years. I got the impression your raised beds are filled with virgin bush soil and it should be plenty rich without adding any fertilizer. Vegetables do not like excess nitrogen (first number indicated on fertilizer you used). For example, potatoes may produce lush top growth but no potatoes or very few spuds in the hill.

This fall, say usually about late October, I suggest covering the raised beds with tarp so all larch/tamarack needles and cones are caught on the tarp surface to be removed and disposed later. Such catch-all and disposal eliminates any contact of needles and cones with soil in raised beds. Avoid laying down the tarp before late fall as soil can bake hard resulting in destruction of beneficial organisms and bacteria. You don’t want that to happen.

To recap: lay off the fertilizer, replace the top three inches or more of raised bed soil with fresh brought-in soil, then mix it in well. Tarp the soil in late fall to catch needles and cones to be later removed. Any gardeners out there with similar or identical experience to Duane’s are invited to write and share their experience.

General information

Have you considered consulting your local area ag rep? Also, various home soil test kits to check for pH acid/alkaline levels are available at garden centres and via seed catalogues. Knowing the correct pH of your soil is ideal before making amendments. The pH scale of measurement runs between 1 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline) with 7 as neutral and suited to most veggies. Beets, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, most other greens and even peas and potatoes prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.5.

Sulphur and iron supplements help make soil more acidic as will peat moss, while lime sweetens soil. If soil needs sweetening, try ground dolomitic limestone (calcium and magnesium). Aforesaid products are available at many garden centres. Wood ashes may be substituted to help sweeten soil but make sure it’s derived from untreated burned wood. Work the ashes into the top three or four inches of soil during spring tilling.

Lecithin – A lung protector from the womb to the tomb

Remember, I am not a doctor, do not diagnose nor prescribe and these opinions are from my own personal research. From early on to advancing age I’ve come to understand that an adequate supply of lecithin is one of the first protectors of human health. The front label on my bottle of lecithin capsules says “source of choline — liver protection.” Choline is one of several elements essential for cholesterol metabolism, liver and gallbladder functions and helping with high blood pressure issues. Choline is also an aid to hair and skin beauty and has a beneficial influence on normal function of glands. The health food movement has long known that lecithin emulsifies cholesterol, keeps it from clumping and protects arteries from lumps of solid cholesterol.

Lecithin has been identified as the often lacking substance in the lining of lungs of newborn babies with challenged breathing. A way back in 1972 a scientist indicated a victory in his attempt to understand what causes some babies to have such difficulties. The question arose whether copious amounts of lecithin derived from soybeans taken by the expectant mother can protect her child from respiratory distress. His findings appeared in a leading British medical journal that “it’s become possible to predict with great accuracy if the baby is going to be born with ample, borderline or insufficient lecithin.”

In another study done by a different researcher, smokers were cautioned to be aware that their lungs in many cases can suffer from the same deficiencies of lecithin as newborns and premature babies. His astonishing findings revealed that total lipid (fat) content and particularly lecithin was seven times less in smokers compared to lungs of non-smokers. He determined that “regardless of how much lecithin a smoker consumes, it will continue to be destroyed in the lungs as long as he/she continues smoking. On the other hand, taking lecithin may help the situation somewhat, but certainly not to the degree that giving up cigarettes would.”

To conclude, this short note of the following. Various improvements to some skin disorders from lecithin therapy were noticed by several other researchers during their study of hundreds of patients. Changes ranged from varying degrees of improved skin disorders to complete cures. Lecithin capsules and lecithin granules are sold at health food stores and some pharmacies. Consult with your physician, dietitian, naturopath, chiropractor or other health-care provider for their input.

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