In this post we continue with our gardening tips as they relate to the dirt we are using for our gardens. In our earlier posting of Gardening Tips – The Scoop on Dirt – Part 1 of 2 we started by looking at the makeup of our soil and the importance of testing for proper pH, nutrients, and the absence of hazardous materials such as lead.
Here we will look at some ways we can test our dirt in order to ensure it is properly prepared for a bountiful and healthy crop of those delicious mouthwatering vegetables and fruits.
In the first of today’s gardening tips the test we should consider having done is the basic test for our soil’s pH and existing nutrients. These tests can be done through our local extension offices. These tests usually have a minimal cost and may take a few weeks to get the results back, but they will provide valuable suggestions as to what treatment is needed for our particular soil.
There are also simple home test kits such as the Rapitest soil test kit.
The Rapitest® Soil Test Kit is designed for simplicity of use with accurate results. For gardeners already familiar with testing soil you’ll appreciate the unique, patented, specially designed “color comparator” and capsule system, that makes quick work of samples. For those of you new to testing, you’ll appreciate this easy, fast and fun way to achieve better growing results from your gardening efforts! Contains 40 tests (10 each for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) with easy to use tablets. Complete instructions are included, plus a chart of pH and NPK levels on over 100 plants. Get instant results on the soil conditions in different parts of your garden or yard.
While the Rapitest will give us much quicker readings than our local extension office, we will need to make our own decisions as to how to adjust the pH levels as well as the Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium levels. The report from the local extension office should include information on how to make those adjustments.
Our gardening tips also include other soil tests that we can perform ourselves:
- When removing soil samples for pH and nutrient testing, we can also take sections of dirt from holes 6 to 10 inches deep. If it is difficult to crumble these sections in our hands, our soil is probably too hard for good growth and is lacking in organic material.
- Take a wire flag such as is used in designing home irrigation systems and test how deep in the ground it can go before beginning to bend. Do this in several locations and record the depth at which the wire bends. This will give us an idea of how compactness of the soil. Compacted soil retards plant growth and restricts water drainage. We should strive for at least 12 inches of easily penetrated soil. If the soil is too compacted, we may choose one of the other gardening tips in this blog and decide to try raised bed vegetable gardening or consider container gardening.
- Keep an eye on our garden plants during the growing season to see if they are maturing with a healthy color and an appropriate size for the time they have been growing. This will give us an idea as to whether or not our soil is porous, providing adequate drainage, and is supplying the proper nutrient levels.
- We can test the adequateness of our soil drainage by examining the development of the root structure. If the roots have fine healthy strands, then the garden is doing ok. However, if the roots appear stunted or brown and mushy there are problems going on and the quality of fruits and vegetables will suffer drastically. Brown, mushy roots indicate poor drainage. Stunted roots may indicate issues with disease or pest.
- 5. Of all gardening tips, the one that can mean the most to our garden is mixing organic material such as compost and natural soil amendments into our soil. We will see a difference in our soil texture, will improve our pH level by helping to maintain a neutral pH, and adds essential nutrients for our plants.
Gardening tips abound, but those that have an impact on our soil should be given a higher priority since the foundation of our garden, the soil, will have an impact on the final success of our efforts. Small space gardening requires that we use available space effeciently and wisely.