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.

Biodynamic vs. Organic farming


What is Biodynamic farming? – biodynamic farming is a system where soil is the most important component and is central to all the operations in biodynamic farming. With this type of farming each field or garden is considered a biological whole. Soil fertility is key in biodynamic farming.

Organic farming – organic farming is a sustainable system where the organic process helps both the soil, and the sustainability of the farm, farming operation and the people who consume the food. An organic farm is open to all ecological systems and benefits all.

I first learned about biodynamic farming while watching a food documentary called- Restaurant Australia . In one of the episodes, one of the chef’s visit a vineyard and the vintner explains how she is using biodynamic processes in her vineyard. Biodynamic principles are based on spiritual and ethical insights as well as practical suggestions developed by Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamic farming combines a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming and gardening. It is widely used in Europe especially in orchards and vineyards.

Organic farming is farming without pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers. Though organic farmers can and do use natural pesticides and fertilizers. They do not use seeds that have been genetically modified. People who want to live a more sustainable life, as well as a healthier life, (chemical free) buy and consume organic food, and meat from livestock fed organic crops (usually grass because approx. 93% of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified). Both the land and the consumer benefit from organically grown food. The most important reason the land benefits is because the soil remains fertile and the ecosystems that the soil is composed from thrive and continue to thrive because there are no toxic chemicals being sprayed on them.

Biodynamic farming- uses everything that is a part of the farm to sustain the farm as a whole organism. It is a holistic approach to soil fertility and agriculture that takes from what is within the farm itself to sustain the farm. In this kind of farming everything on the farm and the farm itself benefit from the principles used. Of course those that live on the farm and those that eat food from a biodynamic farm also benefit. I am told the taste of food grown on a biodynamic farm is far superior to most foods grown elsewhere, especially those foods grown on conventional farms.

I found an interesting site that really explains biodynamic farming here.
I found information about Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the biodynamic approach to farming, here . FAQ about biodynamic farming here.

I must admit that I am intrigued and very interested in learning and even visiting a biodynamic farm. I don’t think there needs to be a competition between the two and I don’t think one needs to choose one or the other. Both practices are good for the soil, good for what is grown in the soil and good for the people who consume the products. The part I like the most about biodynamic farming is that everything is used and what is needed for the farm’s sustainability comes from within. Very little if anything is brought from the outside into a biodynamic farm. An example of this is the cattle graze the pasture and the waste produced while they graze is turned back into the pasture land from which they will once again graze. No fertilizers from the outside needed. The very richness of the land the cattle graze is made from the very waste the cattle produce. This is a good example of why biodynamic farming is considered a closed system. I’m very interested in the regenerative nature of this type of farming.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ll see you Tuesday with some fall photos, my fall to do list and more.