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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.