How Does Your Garden Grow: Getting to Know Your Soil

The location and preparation of your garden site is the most important piece of your gardening puzzle. Ideally, a garden site should be level, have full sun, good drainage and loamy, fertile soil. If this describes your garden site, you are very fortunate indeed! If this description doesn't fit the area you have to work with, don't despair. People have been growing organic gardens for millennia and, probably more often than not, have done so under less than ideal conditions.

When choosing your garden site, you also have to consider its location in relation to your house. You should place it in an area that is close to a spigot or other water source and as close to your house as possible. Having your garden right outside your door encourages you to visit it more.
Once you have chosen your site, it is important to learn about what kind of soil you re dealing with.

You need to know whether it is acidic or basic, sandy, clayey, full of nutrients or depleted, etc. A good way to get to know about your soil is by taking a sample of it to your local county extension office or sending it to your state soil testing lab. Having your soil tested is inexpensive or, in some states, free and gives you valuable information about your soil's strengths and weaknesses.

Your soil test will also tell you which nutrients your soil needs and how much of them to apply in order to give your garden the best start possible. In order to keep your garden organic, you will need to use organic fertilizers. Nitrogen can be added to your soil by using cover crops such as clover or vetch or by adding manure or compost to your garden. Manure and compost are often particularly good organic sources of Phosphorus and Potassium as well. If you don't have a source of compost or manure, you can purchase organic fertilizers from various retailers, sometimes even from your local Home Depot or from a more specialized source such as Gardens Alive (www.gardensalive.com).

Your soil test will also tell you about your soil type and pH . pH is a measure of how acidic or basic your soil is. Most crops prefer a soil's pH to be around neutral. Very acidic or basic soils interfere with your garden s growth. If your soil is too acidic, you will need to apply lime (calcium carbonate). This is a perfectly fine thing to do in an organic garden because lime is made from ground -up limestone that is mined from many areas across the country. If your soil is very basic (has high alkalinity) you can apply elemental sulfur to reduce your alkalinity.

Your soil type affects many things in your soil, most notably its ability to hold water and nutrients. A very sandy soil is likely to need more frequent watering than a clayey soil. A clayey soil usually can hold more nutrients at once than a sandy soil can.

Knowing your soil type can also give you a clue as to what will grow best in your garden. For instance, root crops such as carrots love a sandy or loamy soil.

No matter what type of soil you have, it can be helped by the addition of what is known as organic matter. Organic matter for your garden can come from grass clippings or mulch (fibrous things such as mulch and sawdust take a long time to decompose in your soil, so plan accordingly) or from compost, manure, hay, etc.

Once you get to know your soil, it will give you a much better understanding of what makes your garden tick. Many experienced organic gardeners agree that the soil truly is the soul of the garden.
See Also:
There's a Goosefoot in my Garden
It's Easy to Grow Great Garlic
How Does Your Garden Grow Part One: Getting to Know Your Soil
Bountiful Basil

Digg! digg it

Tammy Biondi has been growing organic produce for over 10 years. Besides running Blue Horizon Farm, Tammy teaches about sustainable farming at the Central Carolina Community College. She also is a successful freelance writer, focusing on agricultural topics. Contact her at tammy@bluehorizonfarm.com.