“Decoding Gardening Advice”: 3 of My Favorite Recommendations


One of my goals as a gardener is to better understand the science behind common gardening products and practices. This interest led me to Jeff Gillman and Maleah Maynard’s book “Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations”. When I picked up the book, I was very curious to learn how well my favorite gardening recommendations held up to the latest scientific research. With the notable exception of compost tea, which the authors don’t recommend, I was pleased to learn that they consider my other core gardening practices to be well supported by science. Specifically, they consider the following three recommendations as good advice: Add organic material to all garden soil before planting Create an environment favorable to earthworms Use vermicompost to improve garden soil Today I thought I’d take a look at these recommendations and talk about why Gillman and Maynard think they’re good advice. According to the authors, “[compost] is without a doubt the most important soil amendment you can add to the garden”. They recommend adding 2 to 3 inches of compost to the topsoil every year if possible. They also recommend adding an additional 2 to 3 inches to established perennial beds and no till gardens. I was happy to see that the authors agree with my position that “regular applications of organic matter may even provide enough nutrients to make additional fertilizer unnecessary…” Getting into the specifics, they cite organic matter’s ability to improve drainage in clay soils and increase water retention in sandy soils, as well as its ability to hold nutrients and increase the amount of oxygen that reaches plant roots. According to the authors, “even if you start with the worst dirt imaginable, turning compost into the top few inches of soil each year (or even adding it as a top-dressing that you do not turn in) will significantly change the quality of soil just a few seaso will significantly change the quality of soil just a few seasons. The second recommendation is related to the first, because the best way to increase the earthworm population is by adding organic matter to the soil. Earthworms break up compacted soil and create tunnels that allow water and air to circulate more freely through the soil. They also break down organic matter, incorporate it into the soil, and leave behind castings that concentrate nutrients and make them more plant available. To sum up, the authors say “earthworms are nature’s tilling machines. They do a great job of making nutrients, air, and water available to plants”. Finally, the authors believe that the recommendation to use vermicompost to improve garden soil is good advice, and point out that vermicompost typically has a higher nutrient content than compost. Here we’re talking about the castings produced by red wigglers and other composting worms that are typically kept in worm bins to process food scraps. The authors cite a number of benefits from vermicompost, including its ability to improve soil structure, attract more earthworms to the surface, improve water-holding capacity, and nourish plants by making soil nutrients more available. To sum up, the authors say “vermicomposting is an inexpensive and very good way to boost the health of soil”. So, though, the authors don’t recommend the use of compost tea, they do recommend the rest of what I consider to be the core of my gardening practices – namely, adding organic matter to the soil, creating an environment favorable to earthworms, and using vermicompost. Because I’ve had great results while using compost tea, however, I’m not planning on abandoning its use in response to the book. Instead, I’ll test compost tea in a field trial next year in hopes of better assessing its effectiveness and make a decision at the end of the field trial. If you didn’t see the video in which I talked about the authors’ take on compost tea, and are interested in learning more, there’s a link at the end of this video and in the description below. there’s a link at the end of this video and in the description below. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching, and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.

43 thoughts on ““Decoding Gardening Advice”: 3 of My Favorite Recommendations

  1. I'm going to have to get "Decoding Gardening Advice". Great video… I defiantly agree with everything but… I really look forward to your compost tea field trials…I bet you will keep using it!(-: Thanks Patrick for such wonderful video! I look forward to the next!

  2. after seeing your amazing results, and after many many trips up and down our road, I am thinking about going out and buying a push mower with a bagger… Hmmm $250. Will it be worth it… 

  3. Thanks, Patrick. All practices I kind of hit on myself but after finding you and Rob Bob it verified I was thinking well. I'm interested to know if the book actually recommends NOT using compost tea and why or if it just doesn't address it. I don't use it myself because I usually use all of my compost to till into the soil before spring planting. Nettles are in abundance here and I use a nettle tea fertilizer that I have been quite satisfied with. I've  seen way to many videos where people use compost tea to great effect and wonder why they don't recommend it if in fact that is the case.

  4. Nice one Patrick.. Can't wait to read what the authors have to say on a few subjects.. Still waiting for my book to arrive as it got lost apparently :-/ Cheers mate & have a great week.. 

  5. I'm waiting for the book to become available at the library. Also plan to read The Informed Gardener and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again, which I think approaches gardening from a scientific perspective. Has anyone read either of those?

  6. Those are some great cornerstones to a healthy garden!  Compost, vermicompost and the addition of organic material are all part of my happy garden practices.  I really respect the fact that you are evaluating your practices as much as any others.

  7. Really interesting point of views. What I wonder though is what parameters or context the recommendations fit within? For example, if it's to be a strict organic garden and there may be other constraints, let's say vermicomposting is not a viable option, then I don't see how compost tea would not be recommended.  My point is, general recommendations are fine but in the real world many people have additional parameters to consider.

  8. Pfft.  What would those experts know?  I agree with all your tips, including compost tea (mostly because I do them all as well).  LOL. Cheers mate.  

  9. I am still waiting for the book I think you have caused them to sell out lol.
    I do think If you planted something in just say sand and just fed it compost tea you would get a result better than just sand and water say you just got to keep them damp. I will try this too maybe in pots The organic material is right and the better the mix the more diversity of food minerals all the good stuff but something is always better than nothing. I read something about spraying Coke diluted on fields in India. It increased the crops and brought in lots of predatory insects and also maybe worked as a foliar spray. What hit the ground fed bacteria thats just my thoughts of how it worked.
    Dave

  10. Patrick, you inspire so many people to garden.  Your video shows people that amending your soil DOES NOT have to cost a lot of money. It does require time & effort. I am now on my fourth year of LASAGNA METHOD of amending the soil. The cost of zero dollars. WORM FARMING, zero dollars. COFFEE GROUNDS, zero dollars. WOOD ASH, zero dollars. COMFREY LEAVES, zero dollars. Oh yes, I forgot one more of my ingredients…MY URINE.  :0)  These are amendments that I use. Thank you Patrick for being on of the people that make YouTube a fun place to be.

  11. i mix worm casting straight into the molasses and water then aerate for  34 to 48 hours. then strain it using a 5 gallon paint strainer. I feel this gives a much better perk. Putting it in a teabag like environment i think lessens the surface area to interact and grow. 

    Have notice increased blossoms week or two after application, i usually try to do it once a month. 

    Dramatic, my wife had a dahlia almost completely covered with mold. I dowsed it thoroughly with the brew in less than a week the mold was all gone and the plant was blooming. I also notice doing this to my zucchini plant keeps them mold free.

    This past late spring I composted and then mulched 4" when I gently pulled back mulch to check moisture level I saw a beautiful white web between the mulch and soil as well as many many worms. 

    Thank you for your methodical testing. 

    On your char test. I believe the char concept is adapted from an area in the Amazon jungle where the native people kept adding char to the soil (over a 2000 year process). I am not sure about what the activation process should be especially how long it may take for the micro universes to setup camp in the char and then how long for the char to acclimate to the micro environment already in your soil. this may take several seasons similar to saving your own seeds and replanting year after year to acclimate them to your local environment. 

    It may be best just to mix in the char and allow it to activate with you local environment.  

      

  12. Very good Patrick! I am looking forward to seeing the results of any compost tea experiments. I am with you. I think it works.

  13. Hey Patrick! Absolutely wonderful video and I will ensure to add that 2-3 inches of compost over the topsoil to increase soil fertility. Learnt a lot as always! 

  14. Patrick, just becouse somebody wrote a book, it dosn't mean that they are experts..
    I like the way you approch the complete idea caring for the plants, tea time.
    Keep up the great videos

  15. A comment from one of your subscribers Elyse Joseph says it all you just have to look at your garden. The plants look so clean and green, great vid keep them coming. Till next time.  

  16. compost tea is suspending the water soluble nutrients into the water leaving the insoluble matter behind
    its not really an issue if your already adding compost to the soil.. everytime you water your garden with regular water the soluble nutrients are being mobilized throughout the soil
    check out Austin family gardening channel on his success with compost tea as a hydroponic nutrient… this is where compost tea is most interesting
    Kratky Method-DWC-Compost Tea Hydroponics #5 Hydroponic Tomatoes
    compost tea can be a good nutrient.. so good that it can be used hydroponically with fruiting success if the compost used is super duper top notch dinky dye ridgy didge bees knees bonza mighty ripper true blue waltzing matilda quality
    nothing wrong with compost tea if made from top quality ingredients

  17. Patrick, I've been wondering which of your videos would be best for posting a particular question under and this one fits perfectly. My question has a "yuck" factor for some gardeners but apparently 'Decoding Gardening Advice" covers the subject on pg.32(you can see it on the cover in your video). The question: What is your personal opinion on using urine in the garden?  For the sake of being open and fair I'm not looking for approval or disapproval. And regardless of what the DGA book says I've already read some studies and decided that I would use urine. From 01 December through April 30 I distribute urine on the compost pile and in the leaf bins. My intent is to provide moisture and nitrogen to further the decomposition process.

  18. I'm surprised that any recent author would even doubt compost teas.  Granted, you can do compost teas wrong and not get results but if you do it right it is crystal clear that it works.  I haven't tested anarobic compost teas but I suspect they would not be very effective because the arobic bacteria are the helpful ones.  I still suspect fertilizers made with comfrey anarobically would be beneficial.  Just not for microbial stuff.

    One of my neighbors was a little doubtful about aerobic vermicompost teas.  He let me spray his plants one year.  He had jaw dropping results and he's a believer now :).  Spraying my lettuce eliminated the bugs.  Prior to spraying them I had hundreds of bugs on every plant.

    I fully agree that adding organic matter to the soil fixes clay soil.  I have personally used this as a soil builder because my soil is hard red clay as little as 2" below the top.  I was able to fix this problem by layering several layers of cardboard with wood chips on top to keep the cardboard out of view.  In one year the 2" layer of top soil is now 8" or more.  Granted, you need to add other things to the soil if you want to grow plants because cardboard is probably missing some of the micronutrients.

    I am also a fan of no till.  I believe it is wise to add microbes back into the soil if you till.  Tilling is good for killing things such as weeds but it's not good for growing things because it exposes a lot of the microbial life to UV which kills them.

    Something I'm planning to experiment with this year is dynamic accumulators.  I'm going to plant comfrey and start using my dandylion in my compost.  I've heard some pretty fantastical rumors that sound too good to be true.  Gotta check em out.  I might plant some yarrow too.

  19. I think, mulching is a good way to add organic material and to create an favorable earthworm environment. And it saves lots of water. Are there any disadvantages of mulching? I use a mixture of wood chips and leafs for mulch now and until now it works great. The soil ist constantly moist. Without mulch the soil is alwasy dry, even if I water every day

  20. I agree with what was said a few times below, the real benefit of compost tea is it adds what I refer to as "Probiotics' for the soil..   if the Author of the book is only looking at what nutrients the compost tea adds, then they are  correct saying it's an insignificant amount… But, the amount of beneficial fungi and bacteria it adds can be off the chart. .. for example, your soil can have plenty of Boron, but if it's chemically bonded it's useless to the plant,  the 'probiotics' in the compost tea are what   breaks these bonds freeing the boron to be used by the plant. …  I think this is similar to the knowledge proven in aquaculture or people who have aquariums. To have healthy water for fish you need a good biological filter which has bacteria that changes the ammonia produced by the fish to nitrites then another bacteria changes  the nitrites into nitrates,  the nitrate is the form of nitrogen used by the plants. .. Organic soil is a living organism, and IMHO the probiotics is the most important part. A well made compost tea is the best way to make sure your probiotics are flourishing.

  21. I've watched a dozen of your videos over the last day. What a great resource! Thank you and hope you're doing well 🙂

  22. Being a guy grown up in the urban area in Hong kong and moved to Australia, I had no idea how to maintain my garden unntil your video comes up, just want to say thanks !
    P.S. now I don't need to use up to 4 green waste bin to discard the leaves from my 2 big trees, thanks to your compose ideas.

  23. A very good book. I also recommend Jeff Lowenfels' books, Teaming with Nutrients, and Teaming with Microbes. Much of it was over my head, but I absorbed enough to make me a little bit better at working with my soil. He has a third book on fungi that I have not read yet.

  24. You do a great job on your videos! I love that You prove out the benefits n reasons. One question though. I have recently started a gardening club using many f the techniques you use! I have a couple in my club that have had issues with squash bugs n other pests! Can you do a video on how to fix this problem? They use containers for gardening and would like to use natural techniques! Thank you! Debbie. From Shoshone Idaho

  25. Hi Patrick, Another great video! I always learn so much from your videos. Here’s a question for you regarding this video. It looks like you were moving the compost from the pile in the back of your property with the brown around it and pouring it into the black round composting area. Why? It looked like the leaves had all turned to rich soil?

  26. I find it difficult to keep worms in my compost bins for some reason but you still get 100 other tiny criters chewing on it.

  27. Authors nowadays change their mind every few years. Like us, they're learning. Nowadays most of the authors in France writing about no till gardening don't recommend using compost at all, while 10 years ago it was a cure-all. They recommend adding your food scraps directly on the soil, so you don't have a composting bin that releases CO2 and wastes energy. The argument is that worms, fungi and bacteria in the soil recycle the food scraps way better than the ones in the composting bin (which are slightly different apparently). I'd still need compost as a seeding substrate, especially for carrots, onions, or radishes, but apparently putting compost on your beds in autumn doesn't feed the soil unless it's half done and not mature… People are also learning about mycorrhizae, and what they learned in the 2019 6h conference I saw is that they know nothing. The farmers in the conference asked what they could do in their crop fields, especially about inoculums, that are becoming popular, and the professor said that you'd need a different inocolum for each plant, and that it's a better bet to have a good soil already, with trees and stuff, but that inoculums are pretty much a scam at the moment. They'll work for some plants, and not others, in some geographical areas and not others. Apparently very little money is invested in research, and it'll take a long time before understanding how we can maximize yields with fungi… Because some mycorrhizae are detrimental to some vegetables… It's not all good.

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