Quality of soil is the big predictor of how productive and healthy your kitchen garden will be. Not all dirt is created equal, believe it or not. There are some pretty simple home-tests you can do on your soil. Here’s the best, 10 Easy Soil Tests, from Organic Gardener.
What I look for in good soil and soil mixes are the balance of:
- acidity and alkalinity
- clay and sand
For all my clients’ gardens, I order a vegetable garden soil mix because the natural soil in my neighborhood is quite sandy (once lake bottom/shore) and/or the gardens in which I’m working are about a century old and quite depleted (clay). Soil mixes come from local suppliers, include a variety of ingredients and can be custom mixed so the percentages are optimal to your growing area:
- composed manure, usually cow
- composted leaves
- top soil
- composted sawdust, pine bark or needles
An ideal soil mix will be neutral (neither acidic nor alkaline) or slightly acidic. Most of the plants we’re growing in vegetable and herb gardens are fairly tolerant of a slight condition one way or another. The composted sawdust/pine bark in the soil mix is usually added to adjust for cow manure’s alkalinity.
Good growing soil should crumble in your hand and might even smell loamy: you can feel it. If it’s light, gritty and moves through your hand like time in an hour-glass, then it’s too sandy. Sandy soil doesn’t retain water moisture: not good for tender plants. Sage is an example of a herb that prefers soil more sandy than other plants in the garden; if your sage doesn’t thrive, your soil is too rich for it.
If, however, the soil is hard, clumpy and sticks together, then your soil has a lot of clay in it. Clay retains too much water, doesn’t drain well and can water-log your plants’ roots. Garlic, for example, likes moist but well-draining soil so finding the right soil mix influences the size of your garlic bulbs. More on soil another time.
So before you plant, give your soil a healthy check-up. Get dirty and get to know the quality of your garden’s soil.