Preparing Your Garden Soil

Growing up my parents were ranch hands on a large cattle and hay ranch. Occasionally we would harvest some wheat, but the majority of the ranch’s income was in hay and beef.  There was never a dull moment for this ranch kid.  From bottle-feeding orphaned calves to sleeping all night behind my dad’s seat in the hay swather, every day brought a new adventure.  In my opinion, that was the best way to grow up.  We lived off the land and from the food our animals would supply for us.  It was very humble, but I thought we were the richest people on earth!

Some of my earliest memories are of my family’s garden and working along side my mother in that HALF ACRE GARDEN!!!  The rows of green beans and corn seemed to go on forever when it came to weeding and harvesting.  The conversations that I listened in on while I helped my mom and aunts snap peas were the kind that made a child day dream of the future.  This is where I developed my love for gardening.  I am still convinced that any problem can be sorted out over a bowl of snap peas.

Today so many people hobby-garden (which is AWESOME), but the success of our family’s garden determined how well we would eat throughout the winter.  My mom worked endless hours prepping veggies to be frozen or canned.  I remember my parents praying for the ‘hail storms’ to pass and for much-needed moisture to drench our land in time of drought.  One thing is for sure…I don’t ever remember missing a meal.  God is GOOD!

Today I do have the luxury of purchasing fresh, organic produce, however my roots simply fight against this option.  I want to be in control of my produce and know I am getting nutrient-rich greens.  I want to know that the occasional little nibble on my lettuce is there because there wasn’t any harmful chemicals sprayed on my produce.  I love the satisfaction of sowing the seed, reaping the harvest and seeing the excitement in my children’s eyes when our hard work pays off!

Something that I have since learned from that time of watching my parents plant that enormous garden is that the soil is the most important component to a successful garden. That was not something I paid attention to as a kid.  When I started out with my own small garden, I was not yielding the crop I had hoped for.  What the heck?  I have soil, I sow seed, I water, AND nothing!  This led me to research out what my plants are needing from our nutrient-deficient soil.

Three easy adjustments lead me to have a perfect pH balance in my soil.

1. Manure (boy, do I have enough of this!)
2. Wood ash (Read the benefits of adding wood ash into your gardens)
3. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)

As soon as my garden is harvested in the fall, I leave some stalks behind to decompose through the winter and then I leave it completely alone until the spring thaw.  I’ll even throw in some grass clippings and dead leaves.  Once the ground is workable (for my location, it’s in April) I till the ground to loosen and get the composted material deep in the soil.  I will start adding in wood ash and Epsom salt a couple weeks before I start sowing seed.  I will check my pH balance (Get this tester, it will be your best friend) one last time a couple days before sowing or transplanting.  I also put about 1 tsp. of Epsom salt in each hole then cover with a layer of soil when planting tomatoes and peppers.  They LOVE magnesium sulfate along with roses!

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Since adjusting my soil’s pH, my crops not only produce a great harvest, but they just look happier.  Depending on your pH test results, you might need to give your garden a salty bath about once a month, along with a sprinkle of compost/manure mix.   This will give you a happy, perfectly-fed garden all summer long.  Mulching will help tremendously in dry climates like the one I live in.

Knowing what different plants need will help with your harvest.  This is a great read for understanding the importance of your soil’s pH level and why certain plants need more acidic soil and why others need more alkaline soil.

We are now at the beginning stages of planting for this season and we look forward to the beautiful summer, conversations over snap pea bowls, weeding competitions with my girls and of course, the bountiful harvest.

Happy planting!

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