Create a Healthy Foundation for Fall Plantings

August 14, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Melinda Myers

Fall is a great time to start a garden or renovate an existing planting bed. The soil is warm while the air is cool – a perfect combination for establishing new plantings. It is also a great time to prepare gardens for the next planting season. Investing time up front to create a healthy foundation for your plants will pay off with years of beautiful, healthy and productive gardens.

When you read plant tags and seed packets you’ll find that the majority of plants prefer moist well-drained soil. Unfortunately, most gardeners aren’t growing in plant-friendly soils. Heavy clay, sandy and droughty soils are much more common. Understanding what you have is the best place to start when creating a healthy soil foundation for new and existing gardens.

Start with a soil test. Contact the local office of your Extension Service or state certified soil testing lab for details. They can direct you on how to take a soil test and where to send the sample. The test results will tell you how much, if any, fertilizer, lime, or sulfur is needed.  Following soil test recommendations can save you money spent on and time applying unnecessary soil additives. Plus, following the results will increase your gardening success.

While waiting for the results you can do a bit of analysis yourself.  Soils are made of clay, sand, and silt particles. The feel and cohesive nature of this sample will tell you a bit about your soil. Take a handful of soil and create a ribbon by rubbing it through your thumb and index finger to get a feel for your soil type.

If the soil easily forms a ball or rolls into a sausage shape, feels slippery when wet and smoother when dry, you have a high percent of clay in your soil.  Soils with a high percent of the very small clay particles are often called heavy soils. They stay wet longer and hold onto soil nutrients. Clay soils are slow to dry out and warm up in the spring. Avoid working them when wet. This leads to compaction and clods you will be contending with all season long.

Soils with a larger percent of sand particles don’t form a ball when moist and feel gritty to the touch. The much larger sand particles create bigger pores in the soil for water and nutrients to move through quickly. They tend to be nutrient deficient, fast draining and dry. But they warm up and dry quickly in the spring.

Silt feels smooth like flour when dry and soapy slick when wet. They are the middle-sized particles that hold water and nutrients longer than sand, but not as much as clay particles. Silty soils drain slower and stay colder longer than sandy soils in the spring. Overworking soils with a high percent of silt leads to crusting and compaction, decreasing drainage and water infiltration.

Consult your soil test report when preparing your new garden beds. Prior to planting is the easiest time to add organic matter to any of these soil types. It increases the water-holding ability, the infiltration rate so less water runs off the soil surface and builds plant-friendly soil structure. Incorporate several inches of compost, aged manure or other organic matter into the top eight to twelve inches of soil.

Further improve your soil by using a slow release fertilizer with a high percent of organic matter like Milorganite ( The 85% organic matter feeds the soil microorganisms and your plants as it improves all soil types. You get multiple benefits with this type of fertilizer.

So, as you plan your new landscape additions this fall, include testing and amending the existing soil into your plans. Understanding your soil can help you create a strong foundation important to the health, longevity and beauty of your gardens and landscapes.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Milorganite for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is

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Melinda Myers LLC, P.O. Box 798, Mukwonago,, WI 53149 United States

When did I become a ma’am? Turning 50.

August 6, 2018  
Filed under Feature Stories

By Karen Sturtevant



As I approach the half-century mark, I can’t help but spend a bit of time reflecting on my experiences of wandering along my life’s path. My, how time does indeed fly. A coworker recently remarked, “The days go slow, but the years pass so quickly.” She was right.


If we are parents, one way we mark the passage of time is when we marvel at our offspring remembering their first steps and day one of kindergarten then wondering how she got from there to a college campus in a blink of an eye. My six-foot tall, handsome nephew, Ben, starts university in the fall.  To me, he will always be the three-year-old tiny toddler. We count our wedding anniversaries (or divorces), the number of years we’ve lived in the same house, decades of employment, therapy and diets, career changes, gaining of friends, passing of family.


I’m finding that things once thought silly and stupid are now acceptable. When did that shift happen? Programmed radio stations have changed from rock to talk. An exciting Saturday night means cuddling up with my rescue pup and reading a good book. Who needs to go out? I pay more attention to remedies for achy joints and Sunday Morning commentaries. And, when did that age spot appear? It looks like Mickey Mouse ears. Bird watching was for old people, but I now notice the songbirds in the morning and saw an owl take flight just the other day. By the way, when did the print on everything get so small?


When I was a growing up, middle age meant being a gray-haired grandmother with apron fastened and lard at the ready just in case a batch of homemade donuts were needed. Fifty was frumpy. Fifty was, well, old. If 40 is the new 30, is 50 the new 40? Does it all really matter anyway? Full disclosure: I wear an apron (with cute images of coco and cappuccino in fancy cups.)


The world is a different place than it was when my grandmother and mother turned 50. We are more skeptical, less trusting. Our schedules are stacked; our eyes heavy. We’re pulled this way and that and find it hard to say no. At this age, if we’re on the right track, we have evolved as individuals, as citizens of the world. We’re more concerned with happenings in the Middle-East than with what shoes go with what scarf. We watch our 401(K) balance with the same intensity we once used in obsessing over celebrity gossip. We know that beauty magazines make us feel ugly and the new mascara being peddled by the latest Barbie doll won’t fix our real-life problems. We pay attention to supermarket flyers, stock up on bulk sugar and glass cleaner and make room for extra paper towels because they were ‘on sale.’ Instead of stepping on the overturned alien-looking beetle, I now right it and watch as it goes on its merry way.  We pretend we know how our new laptop and smartphone work. We have privileged person’s problems, and aren’t we fortunate for that?


Recently a trip to my post office box yielded a surprise of sorts…I was approved for membership in the AARP! The letter was accompanied with an embossed name card of my very own. Was I ready to admit this was the year I turn 50? My social media newsfeed now tempts me with eye creams and skin tightening ointments. The checkout person now calls me, ‘ma’am.’ Me, a ma’am?


When I was younger I often thought it took a confident woman to go out in the world with no make-up, hair piled in a messy rat’s nest and attire fit more for the dump than public scrutiny. On any given day, when social norms don’t deem it necessary for matching earrings and belt, I am comfortable in ripped jeans, oversized sweatshirts and sport wild, askew hair. Ironed pants not necessary. Matching socks be dammed. At almost-50 those unwritten rules are no longer are priority to me, naps and good coffee are.


What is important is not the newest green accessory or coolest e-gadget (although nice) but the way we treat one another, the lens in which we see the differences, the possibilities of each person, each situation. I like to think I am a better and caring person in my older todays than my younger yesterdays. I am surely not the superhero my dog thinks I am, but I’m trying. Imagine a world where respect, honesty, and manners were the rules (think Dennis-the-Menace-days) not exceptions. That’s the place I wish for in my next 50 years.


Whether a person leans far left or is flung right, deep down, when the multiple layers that make our complexities are peeled back, we have commonalities: to be heard, respected, valued, safe, loved. At five or 50, we share more traits than we realize. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could embrace and appreciate one another rather than warring in hopes of being the last one standing and dying with the most toys?

As I power walk toward the next half of the century mark, I hope I will continue to grow into a person who sees the light in others, stifles judgment and gives the benefit of the doubt. It’s an everyday challenge, but I think I’m up to it. After all, I am a member of the AARP and have the card to prove it, even if it is being used as a bookmark for those wild Saturday nights.