First, and foremost, the soil in your vegetable garden MATTERS! Testing your soil can make the difference between a great vegetable harvest from your garden or another dud this summer. Now, if you buy your soil from us, you’re already getting soil tested for all the right nutrients needed. You may be mixing soils, though. You could send your soil to be tested or do 10 simple tests with items around your house!
Soil Scientists Know What You Need
There’s a system called the Willamette Valley Soil Quality Guide used by farmers but it can apply to all of us regular vegetable gardeners. The folks who out the guide together say the test needs to be looked at as a whole and to not get worried if two tests are out of control and the rest are OK. You want to do the tests and when you are growing in the early parts of “spring” (a little late for us unless you are growing indoors) and to check different parts of the garden. The guide has a scorecard you can use to help with the testing.
Soil Structure and Tilth
You don’t want hard soil. It needs to be porous. When the soil isn’t too wet or dry, dig a hole, grab the soil and put it into a can or bowl and break it apart. If it breaks up easily with little pressure and is granular, the tilth is good. If it needs too much force to break up, it’s too hard and difficult for seeds to germinate and grow.
You can’t have compacted soil. Water needs to flow through it as do earthworms and other insects and nutrients. Using a wire more than a foot long, stick it into the soil and mark where the wire bends. The soil should be penetrable by at least a foot. If not, break it up in that area.
The two above tests on the soil help with this one. If it’s too hard to till and is cloddy, it’s not very workable and roots will have a tough time growing. You need to make sure that soil is broken-up!
You want insects, bacteria and fungi in your soil. This sounds backwards, but it’s true. The more you have in and under your garden, the less disease from plant residue. Dig a hole 6 inches and look into it for a few minutes. It’s better with less sunlight on the garden. You’ll want to see spiders, ground beetles and centipedes among other creepy-crawlies. Less than 10, and you don’t have enough.
Same as above, you want earthworms. You want three to five when you dig up the soil and look in the shovel. They feed on organic matter and if you don’t have that, that’s a problem. Earthworms aerate the soil as well as infuse the soil with enzymes, bacteria and other nutrients. Trust a worm to know good dirt!
Plant matter in the soil decomposing is good. If plant parts aren’t decomposing fast, you will smell it and that means the soil doesn’t have the organisms to break down that plant matter. Poorly aerated soil will slow down plant break down.
Overall health of the plant can be seen in color and uniform growth. If your plants aren’t looking healthy in the active growing season, your soil tilth and structure is off.
Look for a plant in the earlier stages and dig around it. Pull up the annual and look for fine, white strands. If that’s what you see, you’re on the path to a healthy garden. Brown and mushy roots show a drainage issue.
If water is draining into the soil slower than ½ inch to 1 inch per hour, your soil is compacted. Take an empty can with both the bottom also removed. Bury it until 3 inches of the can is above the ground. Fill it with water and mark the height with a ruler and see how long it takes for the water to absorb. Do this a few times until all times are consistent.
You’ll need to do this test after a huge rainfall. If we’ve gotten one and your plants start showing signs that they are already thirsty quickly after the rain, your soil isn’t holding the water properly and it’s evaporating too quickly.
Sometimes, you might just want to start your garden over and know the soil you are putting into it is already healthy. We can make it easy! Give us a call and we will walk you through the process of what you need, how much you need, and when we will deliver!filed under: Gardening