We have decided that small space gardening is for us, we have decided whether or not we are doing traditional gardening, raised bed vegetable gardening, container gardening, or pot gardening. We have sketched out a design plan and are now ready to go “play in the dirt”.
Before digging into that dirt, let’s consider one more of our gardening tips, ensure the soil in our garden is properly prepared to yield the best and healthiest crop of fruit and vegetables possible.
There are really four primary attributes of soil:
- The solid components (rocks, minerals, miscellaneous debris)
- Organic materials (microorganisms, living or dead plants, decomposition of organic materials)
- Air (the amount is determined by how tightly packed the soil is)
The ideal soil for our garden should be:
- Free of unhealthy contaminants such as lead, oil, etc.
- Deep (plenty of room for root growth and for root crops)
- Loose (plants thrive in a loose loamy type of soil environment. Compacted soil makes it more difficult for plants to establish themselves)
- Fertile (plants draw their strength from the nutrients they find in the soil)
- Well-drained soil (soil should allow for surface runoff as well as soaking into the garden. Compacted soil will resist deep watering)
- Weed and disease free
Included in our gardening tips are suggestions for testing our gardening soil. Every gardener, whether first time or seasoned, should have their soil tested at least every couple of years, either at the end of the season or prior to the planting season. We need to keep in mind that any adjustments to the nutrient and acidity levels of our soil can take a few months to be effective.
What to test for
- Soil pH (measure of acidity or alkalinity (most garden vegetables prefer pH levels in the 5.8 to 6.8 range, slightly acidic)
- Nutrient levels (proper nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium levels are all needed for healthy plant growth)
- Lead and toxic metals
- Virgin ground, or ground that has never been used for gardening should be tested for toxic substances.
- Soil near buildings constructed prior to 1978 may contain remnants of lead based paint.
- Soil may have been used for storage of hazardous waste such as anti-freeze, batteries, used oil, etc.
- Leafy vegetables similar to lettuce or spinach or any root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes should not be grown in soil that contains more than 400 ppm of lead.
- Soil with lead content of 1200 ppm or more should be avoided altogether. Either remove the soil or consider planting a raised bed vegetable garden.
In Gardening Tips – The Scoop on Dirt – Part 2 of 2 , we will discuss some methods of testing our gardening soil.