Soil [how-to prep the garden]

DIY Soil Testing

With Spring right around the corner now is the time for starting our seedlings. We’ve purchased our seed packets, starter kits and grow lights. Next up was prepping the containers on our deck for when the starter plants are ready to go into the soil outside. In prior years we’ve had no containers of soil on our deck because come fall we’ve always bagged it up and used it for fill on our lawn. Last fall I had what one would call–

a light bulb moment when I went to bag the dirt in our containers and haul it down to a low spot in our lawn for fill in. Here was soil I had worked with and grown organic food in for six months, and I was about to throw it on our lawn. The wiser thing to do would be to keep it and add more nutrients to it pre-planting and grow some more great food for six months. Soil over time loses its nutrients. Farm crops especially are nutrient deficient. Tilling soil is one of the worst things you can do, though long practiced and still done today. Farmers till their fields to aerate the soil which loosens up the soil and readies it for planting. Fields and gardens suffer from soil compaction come spring. Stress from machinery last fall, or animals, or possibly even you pushed the soil down causing air displacement. I can remember planting things in a garden and then pressing down the seed rows by walking on them. Now that’s a really bad idea. Soil contains living and breathing organisms and they need air. Biology Life in soil– lists all the wonderful things soil is composed of.

Up until the last three or four years, I simply filled containers and pots with soil purchased from our local nursery, put in my starter plants or seeds and watered. Doing things this way will likely yield you something, but more times than not that is based on luck. If you want luscious flowers, vegetables, and produce crops you need to have rich, nutrient dense soil.

Here’s how to make nutrient dense soil- 8 Steps

Everything, including the seeds and the plants, that we grow is organic. We do not use chemicals or store-bought fertilizers. Because our garden is in containers and not at the ground level we don’t see a lot of the usual garden pests. If I do I simply remove them by hand. Once we buy our own home again we will have to consider what we will do for pests in our ground level organic garden. We are looking into no-till methods for our future gardens. For farm fields, farmers might want to consider the no-till method which has so far proven to almost eliminate soil erosion. Leaving the previous year’s crop intact (what’s left behind after harvest) rather than tilling it in, has proven to increase water infiltration and water retention. Thus requiring less water and causing less runoff of contaminated water (fertilizers and pesticides). For more information about no-till agriculture- visit this site.

Below are more links and how-tos for garden prep:

How to make compost

Soil Testing- kit and info here

Garden Prep- things to do here

There’s a new documentary out called Sustainable. This is a great documentary that gives the viewer a look at how to live sustainably, grow sustainable foods, and features sustainable farms. It also features Illinois farmer Marty Spence & family of Spence Farm a provider of locally grown food for many Chicago area restaurants including Frontera Grill owned by Chef Rick Bayless.

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