This week’s topic is commercial soil preparation that most gardeners use today. For those who are deep into the mysteries of “organics”, this is a good read for you too, especially if you are thinking of working in, or becoming a commercial grower with chemicals. Starting this year with a basic rectangular row planted garden we will examine the White House Garden in Washington DC, which is usually a model 15′ x 25′, a total square footage of 375′.
The first consideration with all vegetable gardens is to have maximum sunshine, at least six hours a day.
The second consideration is to determine the soil acidity or soil alkalinity- the sour or sweetness of the soil. This is measurable by a pH (Potential Hydrogen) inexpensive meter available in all garden supplies and catalogs, usually under twenty dollars.
The meter has a scale that swings from the most acid (1) to neutral (7) and the most alkaline (14). Most vegetable plants prefer a close to neutral balance, slightly acid. To test your soil, take five-soil samples-one near each corner, and one in the middle. Mark the cups north, south, east, west and center. Use a clean garden trowel, or small shovel. Dig down at least 6″ and use the lower sample below grade. Place this in a clean Styrofoam cup – add distilled water to mix up with a clean spoon to a heavy mud consistency. Following the directions on your new pH meter, insert the probe into the mud and read the scale. On each successive reading in each cup, clean the probe terminals with a “Toughy” kitchen pad, or steel wool. This ensures good electrical contact.
Acid Soil Test
Let us assume your average reading is a pH of 5.5. This is acid and needs to be brought up to about 6.5 to 6.8. We do this by tilling in Dolomite James River Brand agricultural limestone, also sold in garden supplies for about three dollars for forty pounds. You have a square footage of 375″. The bag says 40 pounds per 1000 square feet that will raise the pH one point. Therefore in our illustration we could say that for this garden which is close to 400 square feet, 4 pounds of limestone would raise the pH one point per 100 square feet. 12 to 15 lbs ought to get us right on a pH of 6.5 to 6.8.
To apply this 12 to 15 lbs of fine dust like limestone you first must till up your garden to make the soil loose and not clumpy. Once it is tilled, then carefully walk the area and evenly spread the limestone. I just throw it by hand, some people use drop spreaders. Then re-till to mix it in the ground. If it rains, so much the better. Re-test in two weeks.
Alkaline Soil Test
This is more critical and more care is needed to adjust the soil. Let us assume your pH meter shows an average reading of 7.5. Unless you are in the Great West Desert it is not likely to be over this scale for the NRV. Clean your probes, gather your cups, clean spoon and repeat the procedure as above.
For the same size square footage, purchase a pound of fine ground agricultural sulfur.
Next take an old plastic bleach gallon bottle, or an old large tin can. Punch many small fire holes in the bottom of the can. This will be your duster. You can, of course, buy a commercial made duster. For this small area you will dust ½ pound of sulfur. Dust quickly. Sensitive people need to wear a dust mask.
Till it loose and smooth, then dust, and then re-till it in. It acts quickly, and you can get an accurate re-test in a couple of days.
Sulfur and acid soils are common in the east coast. Alkaline soils are more common in the West.
The reason behind the soil test, and bringing the pH to an ideal level, is so the plant will readily absorb the fertilizer we will be adding. We will do this with commercial fertilizer or organics. If your pH is out of balance, you will have poor growth, more bugs and fewer nutrients.
When your plants are growing tall and straight, your mouth watering for your constant harvesting you will note that some of your Open Pollinated (OP) plants are bigger and more beautiful than others. These are of course the plants we save to go to seed, as all God’s gardeners save seed.
What I do with the best plants is to use the pH meter and check to see if there is a variance in the soil that may trigger a better response for the variety that I am planting. I also measure fertility around the plant with a chemical vial test kit. I note that there are electronic meter fertilizer testers now on the market, and maybe this year I will try one of those too. Maintain a gardener’s notebook – a diary from year to year.
The advantage with the old time Open Pollinated (OP) seeds is, as mentioned, seed saving, (You can not save seeds from hybrid or Genetically Modified seeds and gain the same consistency), better tasting, better health for you since we will be talking how to grow the best plants.
Nest week we will outline the White House Garden, discuss fertilizer applications with the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potash nutrients commonly found in commercial applications. If space permits we will discuss recommended plants specific in growing for this area, vice: just planting cabbage-we will discuss what type of OP cabbage and where to get it.
Copyright: Back2theLand, Mark Steel