Living here in the Southwest Desert has it's drawbacks as far as soil is concerned. I watch with envy, gardening show hosts trickling through their fingers, beautiful, rich, black loam from their perfectly manicured gardens. In contrast my soil is very alkaline, thick hard pan clay covered with sand. I spend most of my gardening efforts improving my soil. Hauling wheelbarrow load after load of Goat Manure, adding in compost made on the farm, spreading in leaves, old hay and straw, tilling in weeds before they have gone to seed, green cover crops, sawdust, and then watering with manure tea. Time and a lot of hard work has greatly improved my soil, but I still focus my efforts on improving it.
Here is a little information about
BUILDING BETTER SOIL
To improve your soil first determine the ph ratio, the humus content,
and the type of soil; clay, sandy, or loam.
P H SCALE
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
ACIDIC- SOUR NEUTRAL -SWEET ALKALINE-BITTER
The optimum scale reading for growing these common vegetables:
PEAS 5.5 -7.5
Simple soil tests can be purchased at your local nursery, or contact your local extension office and they will run a test on your soil for you.
CLAY SOIL-60% clay, 30% silt, 10% sand.
CLAY LOAM- 35% clay, 35% silt, 30% sand
( this ratio is most preferred for optimum growth)
LOAM SOIL-10% loam, 50% silt, 40% sand.
SANDY SOIL- greater than 50% sand.
Shake the jar well and let the soil separate into layers. Good soil will contain equal parts of clay, sand, silt or loam. This test will help determine what to add to your existing soil. If it is heavy clay, add sand, compost, and organic matter. Add compost, humus, and organic matter to sandy soil to help it retain moisture. COMPOST is beneficial to all soil types. Compost mitigates both PH extremes. The higher the organic matter content, the higher the soil quality. The benefits of organic matter are biological, physical and chemical—it influences microbial populations, it affects the stability of the soil structure, adding air to the soil, breaks up clay, binds together sand particles, and is an important nutrient source. It improves drainage, prevents erosion, neutralizes toxins, and creates a healthy soil for worms and fungi. Compost contains some nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but is especially important for trace elements it adds to the soil. The humic acids in compost dissolve soil minerals and trace elements that make them available to the plants. Compost holds 6 times its own weight and regulates the supply of water to be absorbed by the vegetables Fewer nutrients will leach out of the soil if it has adequate organic matter.
There are 16 elements known to be essential to plants if they are to grow and re-produce. They are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, boron, manganese, iron, copper, molybdenum, zinc, and chlorine. A soil rich in organic matter supplies plants with adequate amounts of the trace minerals. If a soil is deficient in a mineral, only a small amount is needed to correct proper balance. By using compost, mineral deficiencies are practically non-existent.
If you take care of your soil, the plants will take care of themselves.
Creating the proper soil conditions requires a little manipulation of the natural soil.
AERATION--- Plants and soil organisms will suffocate if insufficient air in the root system is unavailable. Plant roots absorb oxygen from the air and give off carbon dioxide. The leaves absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Plants must be able to breathe. Dense or compacted soil does not allow for air flow to the root system causing impaired growth and failure.
WATER--- The gravitational pull of the water percolates down into the roots. As it flows downward it is replaced by fresh air from above. In heavy, dense soil the water does not drain off fast enough and plants can literally drown. Water vegetation with an inch of water weekly. A good way to measure is with a rain gauge or opened tuna fish can placed in the garden. Not all water flows downward, some remains in the tiny spaces between the soil particles or is captured in humus. This is the water taken in by the roots to hydrate and transfer minerals to the plants. A good soil is both well drained and also has the ability to hold capillary water.
BALANCED NUTRIENTS---- Nutrients are the source of the plant growth. They consist of mineral subsistence’s found in the soil. Plants require a balanced supply of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, and other trace elements. If a plant has an overall balance of nutrients it will produce good crops. In deficient amounts, the plants will have poor health, slow growth and crop failure.
BALANCED P H ----“Potential Hydrogen” (ph) is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of any substance. Purchase a test kit at your local garden center. PH is measured on a scale from 0-14. Seven is neutral. Most garden vegetables will grow in a soil PH of 6.0-7.0. In acidic conditions, plant nutrients are attached tightly to the soil and cannot be absorbed by the roots. In alkaline soils the nutrients combine through chemical bonds into substances the plants are unable to utilize.