Friday, April 18, 2008

Dishin' the dirt

Well, it’s a warm, sunny Friday and you know what that means? It’s time to talk about dirt. That is, it’s time to start thinking about your soil for gardening.

For those with existing gardens it’s not likely that you’ll need to do a whole lot in the way of amending your soil with the proper nutrients. For those that are starting a garden (and I’m referring to veggie gardens here) you may need to add some things to your soil to get a pH level that’s suitable for growing.

A wildflower seedling. What type of flower? Only time will tell...

Normal pH levels for growing are in the area of 6.5-7 and you can find this out easily enough by either purchasing a soil pH meter or taking a soil sample into your local municipal office to be sent out for testing. The plus side to having it done by a municipal testing centre is that they’ll also test for major trace elements in the soil as well as the 3 main plant nutrients, those being nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. In addition, these reports usually include recommendations for improving soil quality which is useful if you’re not familiar with measures that can be taken to adjust soil pH levels. For new gardens you’ll generally find that soil will be either too acidic, in which case you’ll need to add ground limestone to the top few inches of soil be spreading it and working it in, or it will be too alkaline and in that instance you’ll need to work sulfur into the first few inches of soil.

How do you know if you have good dirt? Well, I’ll tell you one way you can find out.

It's true! The first set of "true leaves" on a cherry tomato plant.

Although they might be icky to look at, in the case of gardening the earthworm is the best little helper you can have in the garden. Not only do they help loosen soil, they also deposit vital nutrients into the soil and keep root systems of established plants healthy. They’re also a great barometer as to the health of your soil. So here’s how you conduct an earthworm test:
Pick a day in late Spring or early Summer (early Spring if you live in a warmer climate) when the soil is moist and has warmed to about 50 degrees F. Dig out a section of soil equivalent to about 1 cubic foot. Spread out the dug soil and count the number of worms, being sure to return them to the soil and cover them with some dirt after they’ve been counted, worms aren’t big fans of tanning. A healthy soil sample of that size should contain at least 10 earthworms, any less than that and you’ll need to enrich your soil.

We’ve covered a lot with soil but before I sign off for the week-end (honestly, it’s just too nice to be inside on the computer) I wanted to touch on another bit of soil prep that can be done and will save you work in the summer when you’ll want to be tending to your plants and not the soil around them. This other thing I speak of is pre-sprouting the soil, that is pre-sprouting the weeds that are dormant now but with the onset of warmer days and nights will be more than happy to come up and take over your garden.

I don’t know about you but I hate, and I mean hate, weeding. So, if you want to cut down dramatically on the number of weeds you’ll need to start by first removing any weeds that have already started growing. Work the soil by turning over the first few inches and lightly water. Keep the soil moist for about a week until the bed is covered with weed seedlings about 1-2 inches in height. At this point pull out as many of the shoots and perennial weeds as possible. After you’ve done this first weed removal and if you have time, do it again before you start your planting. This will help you get rid of tons of weeds and will save you time in the long run.

So there’s the dirt for Friday. To leave you on a happy note, enjoy this picture of a perennial favourite of Spring: Barfing Sunshine (aka- daffodils).

Have a super week-end! :)

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