Many home gardeners never really think about their garden soil being a living thing, it’s dirt after all. But in reality it is food. Food for our food.
Plants use up the nutrients in the soil over time and it needs replenished. Why can’t we just throw out some fertilizer and be done with it? The same reason we can’t just eat cake and still be healthy, our plants need a balanced diet of life sustaining nutrients. A soil test will provide you with the necessary information to plan the perfect menu for your plants.
A thorough analysis will tell you what nutrient deficiencies are present, the pH level of the soil, soil texture or type, and the percent of organic matter that is present. If you have never done this it might be a good idea to have one done in a lab. There are many places that will do this for a nominal fee. We recommend contacting your County Extension Office for information. Also, most home improvement stores or garden centers sell kits that you can either send away to a lab or do at home yourself. Also simple garden gadgets such as our Bosmere pH, moisture and light meters are helpful.
Nutrient deficiencies occur because plants use up the nutrients over time, nutrients leach out of the soil through rain and irrigation, and often the pH level is inadequate for proper uptake of nutrients from the soil
The pH level affects how plants assimilate the available nutrients. Most plants enjoy a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH of 6.5 - 7.0, but there are others that prefer a little lower (acidic) pH level. Adjusting the pH level is not something that is accomplished overnight. Lime is traditionally used to make soil less acid, sulfur less alkaline. Here is a detailed list of Plant pH preferences from AlgoPlus.
Soil texture or type varies from place to place and seldom are we fortunate enough to have perfect soil where we want to build our gardens. The texture of a soil is determined by the percentage of sand, silt, and clay present in the soil. The classification of sand, silt, and clay are made based on particle size. A balanced loamy structure is preferred in vegetable gardens.
Organic matter in our soil helps retain moisture, create needed air pockets and feed microbes. Adding organic matter is one of the simpler garden tasks that is highly beneficial. Adding compost and simply mulching with grass clippings or straw will not only benefit soil composition but reduce weeds.
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