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Easy soil microorganism test

Overwintered broccoli stem

Did you ever wonder whether you have a healthy microorganism population in your soil? There's a simple way to check. Assuming you haven't tilled up the ground since last year's garden, you can go out at this time of year and look for stems of fall broccoli.

Dried up broccoli stemI usually find one or two broccoli stems just barely standing at this time of year, with the rest having dissolved completely into the soil. When I break the remaining stems apart, I see that the once-woody debris will soon have disappeared into the ground as well. On the other hand, if I still saw lots of standing broccoli stems when the time came to plant peas and cabbages, I'd start worrying that I'd done something to get the microorganism population out of whack.

Of course, you don't have to plant fall broccoli to test your microorganism levels. Cover crops also do a fine job as well. In beds where I planted oilseed radishes last fall, there's now almost no debris left on top of the ground, simply a nearly weed-free patch of soil waiting for the spring onion planting. Oat beds tend to still have some debris left at this time of year, but even that will be largely gone by our frost-free date.

I'd be curious to hear from our readers. Do your fall broccoli plants melt into the ground by early April (or by May for those of you who live way up north)?



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I haven't planted broccoli before (honestly, the little green worms you get bother me for irrational reasons), but I've planted kale before and it also has a woody stalk. It really depends on the year and how much snow we've had - some years the stalks of everything break down really easy, other years not so much. If we've had a lot of snow that seems to help with decomp in the spring.
Comment by Marie Thu Apr 2 08:45:16 2015

I, like you, have had that experience too. Do you always keep your cut plants' roots in the ground in the fall for over the winter or do you sometimes uproot plants? I have done both, wondering which is actually better practice for respecting the soil health and life. Same about "weeds" (I make use of wild plants too, so find it difficult to call anything a weed now), do use a hoe to cut off the tops and leave the roots in place or do you uproot? In response to the previous comment about the "green worms", are you referring to cabbage moth larva/caterpillars? I do find that a constant issue, especially wanting to support biodiversity in all its forms. Some years, when they were in large numbers, and killing my plants, I have had to try to relocate the caterpillars to wild mustard plants by cutting and moving them on the already chewed up broccoli leaves. I have also heard that garlic and chili powder on the leaves will keep the moths from landing and laying eggs.

Comment by kym pedicelli Fri Apr 3 18:31:34 2015

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime