Welcome Winter?


It’s 10:48 PM CST on December 21st, 2015. Winter has officially arrived! Snow! Sleet! Freezing rain! Bone-chilling cold! Thirty-foot drifts! Stalled cars! And the fun goes on and on. Note to my readers in Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico: shut up, I don’t want to hear it!

Like it or not, all of that will soon be upon us. And hating it is not going to make it go away. It’s only going to make you miserable. So I’m going to ask a hard thing of all of us. Let’s make friends with winter!

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that I’m one cucumber short of a salad. And I’m sure it’s had to make friends with an entity that causes you to take your life into your hands every time you get behind the wheel. But if you can find it within yourself to step outside, you’ll find that winter has a beauty all it’s own. For starters, there’s the silence. Winter is the time of year when all nature takes a three month nap. Most of the birds have flown south, and if they haven’t they are going about their business quietly. There is no mating or nesting going on and no territory to defend, so there’s little need to chirp. The squirrels also are quiet — no chattering from them. Everywhere you look and listen there is nothing but silence. If you think about it, that can have a special beauty all its own.

Walk through a forest and you’ll see empty nests no longer hidden beneath a blanket of green leaves. What kind of nests? Well you might find robin’s nests, cedar waxwing nests, and many others. Perhaps you’ll see interesting snow sculptures created by nature around a framework of naked branches. A Canada goose landing on a now-frozen pond might provide a little amusement.

Walk through your town or even your own neighborhood and see all of the colored lights and Christmas decorations adorning every dwelling. Artificial as it may be, there is still a beauty to it even if you aren’t a member of a faith that celebrates Christmas.

Winter is also a time to, as the song says, “conspire as you dream by the fire.” Celebrate all of the successes of the past year and plan out all of the wonderful things you want to do next year. Dream a thousand dreams about all of the amazing successes you plan to have in the years to come — and then start making plans on how you’re going to accomplish them. Note: don’t make New Year’s resolutions. You’re not going to keep them and you know it.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Even in the midst of a cold, dark, seemingly never-ending season, you can find a warm bright spot that can make the season a little more tolerable. It’s there. You just have to look for it.


Hydrogen Potential


Hydrogen, We all know it as a highly volatile gas, but it is also a necessary element for life and growth. After all, hydrogen and oxygen together make water — and we all know how important that is!

In it’s ionic form in the soil, the amount of hydrogen present can determine how well your plants are able to take up nutrients. Too little or too much and the soil will become a toxic environment that will poison the plants.

The amount of hydrogen in soil can be measured and expressed as potential hydrogen or pH. Wait! Come back! This is a science lesson, but I promise that I’m not grading anyone! And my apologies if I’ve awakened anyone’s high school science nightmares.

The pH measurement scale goes from 0 to 15. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. Anything less than 7 is considered acidic. Anything greater than 7 is considered alkaline. The pH of chromic acid, for example, is around 1. If you got a drop of chromic acid on your skin, it would burn like fire, and I speak from personal experience (but that’s another story). Sodium hydroxide (household lye) has a pH of around 13.5, which is highly alkaline. Garden soil is typically at a pH of around 6.6-7.0 — between slightly acidic and neutral.

So what does this mean for us and our plants? At a soil pH of less than 6, plants are unable to take up calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. In addition, micronutrients such as zinc, manganese, boron, iron, and aluminum will become so readily available, that the plant will take up too much, resulting in a toxic condition. If the soil pH is too high, iron and phosphorous also become unavailable.

The ability of our plants to survive depends in part on their ability to take up nutrients from the soil, and they do it best if the pH conditions are favorable. This can vary from plant to plant, but the majority of our garden vegetable do best at a pH of around 4.5-8.0. Potatoes, for example, do best at a pH of 4.5-6.5 — a slightly more acidic soil than is preferred by asparagus, which grows best when pH is 6.0-8.0.

How do we know if our soil is the right pH for a successful garden? Well, the best way to find out is to test your soil. You can do it yourself with soil test kits that can be purchased at nurseries or online gardening catalogs. Or if you want more accurate results, gather a sample of your soil and send it to a laboratory.

So what if your soil pH is too high or too low? Can it be adjusted? Yes. If your soil is too acidic, you can raise it by adding in ground limestone. If your soil is too alkaline, you can lower it with sulfur — either elemental sulfur, or as part of a compound such as ammonium sulfate.

So if your vegetable crops didn’t do so well last year, it may be due to the presence — excessive or deficient — of those critical hydrogen ions.