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Soil Testing?

January 26th, 2011

I have a confession to make – I’ve never tested the soil in my garden *gasp*. Any time you read a gardening book they tell you to do a soil test first thing before you start gardening. I always wonder if I should but have never taken the time to do it. I do have a pH test kit that I purchased several years ago just for fun, which I have used a few times.

Knowing your soil pH is pretty easy to determine if you have hydrangeas. Pink your soil is sweet, blue and your soil is acidic. We have fairly acidic soil here in the garden of Chiot’s Run. My hydrangeas were deep blue when I first started gardening and as I’ve been adding more and more organic material to the soil they’ve been getting more pink so the soil is sweetening up a bit.

As I was looking through the catalog for my local organic farm supply store deciding how much greensand, gypsum, rock phosphate and lime I wanted to buy I came across their ad for soil testing and wondered if I should have one done.

I’ll have to do some research because I think my local extension office will do fairly extensive soil testing as well and they offer advice on how to deal with deficiencies or problems.

Have you ever had a soil test done? Was is beneficial?

Worms in the Garden = Good Soil Health

June 29th, 2009

When we bought our house and first started gardening we didn’t see any worms. That was our first clue that the previous owners had used too many chemical pesticides and fertilizers. We weren’t really in to gardening the first 3-4 years but we always added good mulch and manure to the garden beds, because we knew it was good for the soil. Seven years later we’re starting to finally reap the rewards of our efforts.
I’ve been working in the front flowerbeds and every time I dig I find worms, which means my soil is much healthier (at least in the parts of the garden I’ve been working on for 7 years). Worms are so important to the health and vitality of your soil. They help increase the amounts of air and water in the soil, they help with the decomposition of organic matter and they leave behind fertilizer in the form of castings. They’re kind of like little tillers in your garden. I’m super happy to be seeing them in such quantity.

What about you, are you happy to have worms in the garden? Or do you have lots of work to do to get them to move in?

Homemade Potting Soil

May 19th, 2009

I had a productive day in the garden yesterday. I moved one of my compost bin and harvested and sifted a bunch of compost to use in my homemade potting mix. I have so many potted plants that I would spend a fortune if I bought potting mix for all of my pots. I also like that I can mix up my own organic mix with no chemicals, unlike much of what you buy.

So what recipe do I use for my own homemade potting mix?
1 part peat moss (or coconut coir if you don’t like using peat)
1 part compost
1 part soil
1 part vermiculite or perlite (I prefer vermiculite)
I’m usually making a big batch so I measure with wheelbarrow loads, but you may find it easier to measure in 2 gallons because you can mix a batch in the wheel barrow.

I usually add some of my homemade rock/mineral fertilizer to give it some goodness for the plants. If you don’t have your own mixed up you can use an organic fertilizer in each pot depending on what you’re planting in each pot and the size of the pot (I like Dr Earth Fertilizers). If you use the 2 gallon method for measuring to each batch you can add: 1/2 cup of each: lime, greensand, rock phosphate, kelp meal, soybean meal (I usually use blood meal & bone meal in place of soybean & kelp meal).

What kind of potting soil do you use? store bought or do you mix your own?

The Balance of Nature: Growing Soil

April 28th, 2009

SOIL (noun) – the portion of the earth’s surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.
Healthy soil is the foundation of a good garden. You can grow plants in bad soil but it will require tons of chemicals, and that’s not good for you or the environment. I believe real gardeners grow soil not plants. If we focus on growing good soil our plants will thrive!
We aren’t blessed with good soil here at Chiot’s Run. When we moved here 7 years ago the soil was in terrible shape. Years of chemicals and pesticides had left our flowerbeds a barren wasteland with few plants and not a beneficial insect or earth worm to be found. I wasn’t really in to gardening at that time, but I knew I needed to improve the soil if I ever wanted to have any flowers or plants. So we started our first compost pile and bought some organic chicken manure and worked it into the flowerbeds.
I’m glad I did that now, because even though our soil still has a long way to go, it’s beginning to become loamy and my plants are finally starting to flourish. I notice worms every now and then when I dig and other beneficial insects are returning.
So how do you improve your soil? There are many articles, books, and experts out there that will tell you to get a soil test done. I never have, I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to these kinds of things. I figure if people could do it years ago, I can do it now. I believe in working with the soil you have; adding good compost and feeding it well. There are ways to tell if your soil is deficient without a soil test.
First you want to figure out if you soil is clay, sandy, or loamy. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference, if it comes up in big chunks and gets hard as a rock when it’s dry, you probably have clay soil. If your soil has the same texture as your children’s sand box and it’s dry the day after a big rain, you probably have sandy soil. If your soil is dark brown, crumbly and stays moist but not too soggy, congrats, you have loamy soil. I have clay soil on my front hillside and sandy soil in my front flowerbeds.
The next thing you want to figure out is if your soil is acidic or alkaline. My soil is acidic, how can I tell? My first sign was the blue hydrangea. It’s the most beautiful shade of blue, hydrangeas only bloom this blue in acidic soil.
You can buy an inexpensive pH testing kit at your local garden center to test your pH. It’s simple, easy and fun! Do it with your kids for a science lesson. You can also send in a sample of your soil to a lab to get a complete test.
The best thing you can do for your soil is to avoid chemicals and pesticides and add compost, manure and other kinds of humus. You should stick to all-natural fertilizers made from rocks and minerals and natural materials (like blood meal, bone meal, greensand, wood ash, phosphate etc). Compost is by far the best thing you can add to your soil, and homemade is best because you know exactly what’s in it.

So are you a grower of soil? How do you feed & nourish your garden beds?

Making the Bed

August 18th, 2008

This past Thursday I cleaned out one of my raised beds. I harvested the carrots and cabbage and gave up on the broccoli that was growing in it. The carrots were teeny-tiny, which means I need to add more compost to the bed.

Since I plan on growing some Napoli carrots in this bed for over-wintering, I added several inches of compost and some Dr Earth Starter Fertlizer.

After smoothing out the soil I planting seeds late into the night (until I could no longer see the seeds or the holes in which to put them). So far I have planted 192 carrot seeds and I still have at least twice that many more to plant (I’ll be busy this evening). I’m looking forward to the sweet crunchy carrots this winter. I’m optimistic since this is my first time planting for winter harvest. I’m also growing kale and spinach for the winter. Wish me luck!

Have you planted anything for winter before?

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.