Tag Archives: Preparing Your Garden Soil

Preparing Your Garden Soil

My gardening journey began when I was just a kid. Having a garden was just as normal as having a house or a car. I thought everyone got their food from the large plot of land that was behind their house… Boy, was I wrong.

Putting up a garden was never a hobby for my family. It was a necessity. As a kid, I didn’t fully understand the amount work that went into that enormous garden that kept our family fed. I just knew it as a place that I could steal a few snacks from and occasionally hide out when a certain chore was expected of me.

I grew up on a very large cattle ranch. My parents we hired on as ranch hands and their main responsibilities were to oversee the cattle operation and the hay and wheat harvest. In my opinion, that was the best way to grow up. It was a very humble life, but I thought we were the richest people on earth!

Some of my earliest memories are of my family’s HALF ACRE garden and working along side my mother in it. The rows of green beans and corn seemed to go on forever… especially when it came to weeding. The conversations that I listened in on while I helped my mom and aunts snap peas were the kind that made a girl daydream 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!

I now 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, without a doubt, that I am getting nutrient-rich greens.  I want to know that the occasional little nibble on my lettuce is there because there weren’t harmful chemicals sprayed on my produce.  I love the satisfaction of sowing the seed, reaping the harvest, and seeing the excitement in my family’s face when our hard work pays off!

I now know all the work that is involved in putting up a garden. This isn’t for the faint of heart and trust me, I have made several mistakes.

One of those mistakes…. not knowing 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 became frustrated because it was not yielding the crop I had hoped for.  What the heck?  I have soil… I sowed the seed… I watered…. AND nothing!  This led me to research out what my plants were needing and found out that I had nutrient-deficient soil.

As a holistic practitioner, one of the main health foundations I focus on is balancing digestion pH. Having a balanced digestive pH is crucial for the absorption of essential minerals our bodies need to function. If our body is not absorbing the essential minerals it needs to grow and sustain life, it becomes malnourished. Understanding this principle helped me to bridge that same thought process into my garden. Do my plants need a certain soil pH? Does the acidity, or there lack of, affect the nutrients? The short answer… YES!

Most vegetables do better in slightly acidic soil, a pH of around 6.5. Make sure and do the research for the crops you want to grow. This will save you so much time in the field. Also, you need to understand that plants have different needs throughout their life cycle.

Critical nutrients that plants need are divided up into three categories: primary, secondary, and micronutrients. The heavy hitters, the primary nutrients are: Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Larger quantity of these nutrients are needed for healthy plant growth. Next, the secondary nutrients are: Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Don’t let the “secondary” notation fool you. These nutrients are just as important as the primary nutrients. The difference is the quantity needed. The secondary nutrients are equally as important, just in smaller amounts. The micronutrients are: Zinc, and manganese which are required as well but in small amounts. All these nutrients are very important, but if the soil pH is wrong, the plant will not be absorbing them.

Just like our body, if the plant is not able to absorb the minerals, it becomes malnourished. What’s the point of eating “healthy” and putting in all that work if the food we are eating is malnourished? The plant gets its nourishment from the soil, so that is where we start.

It is very important that you adjust your soil pH BEFORE you start sowing seed or planting transplants. The adjustments made to raise/lower pH could stress the newly planted seeds or seedlings out and cause them to die.

Here are a few ways I maintain a perfect pH balance in my soil.

If my soil is too acidic, I add:

  1. Manure
  2. Garden Lime (always read instructions prior to use)
  3. Wood ash (Read the benefits of adding wood ash into your gardens)
  4. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)

Let’s begin at the end…. harvest time….

When I harvest my garden in the fall, I leave some stalks behind to decompose through the winter and I leave it completely alone until the spring thaw.  I’ll even throw in some grass clippings and dead leaves for extra compost.  Once the ground is workable in the spring (for my location, it’s in March) I work the ground and check the soil’s pH (Soil pH tester) before I adjust the soil. My garden soil is generally too acidic because of our heavy rainfall. Rain generally drains through the soil, stealing those important minerals, calcium and magnesium, and leaving behind extremely acidic elements, aluminum and iron instead.

To adjust, I will add in my compost and then Garden Lime. This is generally about a month before I start planting. I will then add in wood ash and Epsom salt a couple weeks before I start sowing seed.  I will check my pH balance again one last time a few 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!

Note…. make sure and water the soil. The soil needs these adjustments PLUS water to change the soil pH.

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If you live in an area where you need to decrease your soil pH or your crop (like blueberries) is needing an acidic soil, add manure, and then aluminum sulfate and/or sulfur.

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 to help retain the moisture.

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.

Here’s to a blessed harvest and thoughtful conversations while snapping peas.

Happy planting!