Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Soil Testing

 You can have the healthiest seedlings, but if you plant them in poor soil you're going to be disappointed.  Trust me.  Last year I had the most beautiful zucchini.  

Months I waited.... and waited.... and waited.

When they finally started to develop, I was dismayed to watch all the fruit develop blossom end rot.  This is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil.

Last year.  You can see the zucchini in the top right corner.

This growing season, I hope to prevent issues like this.  I am saving egg shells to plant with my tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, squash and pumpkins.   All of those plants will go in the new garden.

I see where else my soil is lacking, and to see how my wood chip gardening is going, I tested the soils ph, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. 

The Potager garden (my original garden) is doing AWESOME!!  

This will be the fourth season for this part of the garden.  I usually start my gardening season pulling any grass that has rooted it's way under the railroad ties.  Each year I have to pull less and less.  This time the difference is really noticeable.  After only about an hour digging, I realized I had made my way around the perimeter of the bed and pulled out everything.  I have been using perennials as a barrier along the outside edges.  As they spread, they crowd out the grass.

From 2 years ago.  Note the bed along the outside of the fence.

The wood chips continue to prevent the soil from becoming compacted.  Weeds from seeds that have blown in are few and easy to pull.  Some spots are getting a little thin and will need more chips added before I start planting.  

Corner of the Potager.  Grass pulled and needs wood chips.

I tested two spots in this garden.  One along the edge that I have been neglecting and one right in the middle.  Both have a ph of 7.0.  Neutral, Yeah!  Pretty much anything should grow well.  

Center of the Potager garden, as it looks now.
Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium all tested as surplus.  I was a little worried about the nitrogen.  Wood chips breaking down can take nitrogen out of the soil.  Since these are sitting on top of the soil however, we are good.  Better than good, we are surplus!

Two years ago.  I love growing plants vertically!

Now for the new garden.

This bed was built last summer.  We mowed the grass short, laid down wet newspaper, and shoveled several loads of tops soil and composted manure on, and topped it with about five inches of wood chips.  Most things grew pretty good.  The corn could have been better, watering might have played a role in that however, and the zucchini was a bust.  Minimal weeds however.

New garden as it is now.

To get an idea of what might have played a part in my zucchinis terrible performance, I tested the soil there.  We have a ph of 7.5.  Uh oh...  too alkaline.  This makes sense however, because where we got the topsoil has a lot of limestone.  As the limestone (calcium carbonate) gradually dissolves it lowers the acidity of the soil.  Think of baking soda reducing acid in your stomach.  

To naturally lower the ph, will take time.  Adding manure, compost and pine needles will help lower it over time.  Microbes and bacteria will feed on these things and create acidic by-products.  This is a long process and important for the long term health of my garden.  For a quicker fix I can add sulfur.  

See how dark it is?  Might even be higher than 7.5.

When I tested minerals, I found another problem.  This area was deficient in nitrogen.  Luckily nitrogen is one of the easiest things for me to add.  I'm already adding manure for the ph.  I can also add blood meal.  I have a bag sitting in the garden shed for just a need like this.

Potassium and phosphorus tested as sufficient and surplus.  

Give this garden three more years and I trust that everything will balance out naturally.  

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

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