What’s the dirt? Tilling and Testing – Year 2 

As a gardener I’ve always known that what was in the soil was important, but it wasn’t until last year when I began working at a major home improvement store seasonally that I learned the importance of actually testing the soil. 

Now one could think that they taught us to always ask the costumer if they’ve tested their soil as a way to sell product, I can tell you a year later though it is important and makes a difference. 

There are key components to your soil. So if you’re anything like me and you didn’t pay too much attention to high school science well here is a crash course. There is the overall Ph balance, that would be is your soil acid, base, or neutral. Some plants prefer acidic soil, like blueberries, while others prefer base, like grapes. 

Soil testing also encompasses three key soil nutrients that are important to your plant growth. Nitrogen, #7 N on the period table, is VITAL to plants!! It helps them create not only chlorophyll but themselves essentially! Which is why if your soil is suffering from a bad case of the no nitrogen blues, they could be stunted. 

Our next key ingredient is Phosphorus! Now phosphorus you could say is the root of your system, and that is because good phosphorus levels mean healthy root growth. 

And our final ingredient in our soil recipe is potassium, that would be K on the periodic table, and they wonder why high school kids don’t pay attention. Potassium in plants is what gives you everything from shape, size, color. If soil was a factory and your potassium levels are good, you could think of them as your quality control inspectors! 

Now if you haven’t noticed yet, you may be looking back and thinking well these are all letters I’ve seen in gardening before, and you are exactly right! That is because most starter fertilizers are known as just this NPK. They deliver a good healthy does of these three items to your plants and soil and help them get started on the right foot. Now if synthetic starters like a Miracle Grow which is typically around a 24-8-16 mixture in their starter packs aren’t your thing, that’s okay there are lots of way to infuse your soil with a good helping  healthy humus, and we’re not talking about chick peas, although theoretically you could use them! 

Humus is organic materials that help you create and achieve good healthy soil. The best way to achieve humus, well there is the obvious of hopping in your car and heading to the store for some good ol’ pre-composted manure. But if you wanted to achieve the highest of humus on your own you can start right in your own kitchen through composting. 

In case you missed it last year here is our post on how you can create humus out of an old laundry basket with a lid! Compost Bin

So let’s discuss testing a bit more. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like my personal science favorite Bill Nye, now is the time! 

You can test your own soil a few ways. Most gardening centers offer a service where you bring them your soil and they will give you back a print out of it stats, as well as a list of what you can do to achieve the best growing. 

Most lawn and garden centers also have kits that you can purchase to do yourself that can vary in price from $4 – $25. 

Store DIY soil test kit

They come with easy to read color coded viles and  matching tablets. They also have great graphic instructions to help you identify your match. They suggest using distilled water but I don’t particularly care for that because as gardeners we know that water is essential to growth, and water is absorbed by our plants root system, therefore in my personal opinion using the water you will be using to water makes better sense because it will give you a more accurate picture of what your plants wok be sitting in. 

Water pH is very acidic

So I test my waters Ph level first. And then add soil to the test after so that I have an accurate measure of where both my water and soil are. 

So if we look now we can see my water is registering about 5.5 and is Acid. 

Add some soil give it a shake and I can see that it is now registering somewhere between slightly acid and neutral. Now last year my soil and my water both popped orange. So this is a good indicator that I’ve been able to tone that acid down by using lime. 

Now I’ve had issues with nitrogen in the past as well!

In fact you can look at my results from last year and see my garden space 1 ( for those of you just tuning in I do run off four different garden spaces, until this year garden 1 was the largest of these spaces) was severely nutrient deficient. So garden space 1 stayed out of commission for the most part last year, that gave us the opportunity to redefine the soil. 

Soil results 2017

Compare to this years results you can see that giving the land a break for the year, using lime, as well as infusing the space with compost or humus has made a significant impact on the overall health of the soil. Better soil means better plants. 

If a test kit isn’t in your reach we’ll there is another alternative at least to check if your soils Ph. 

Using vinegar, baking soda, and water you can check your Ph level. Using two jars, add about 2 tablespoons of soil to each jar. To jar one add 1/2 cup of vinegar. If you get a reaction your soil is base. If you do not sprinkle jar two with a little baking soda, and add water. If your soil is acid you will see a fizzy reaction! Of course if neither cause a reaction your soil is neutral, in which case you are a soil GOD! 

On to Tilling! 

Now believe it or not there is actually a difference between tilling and cultivation. The easiest way to break that down is by the level of depth. Tilling is deep cultivation. Ultimately they both break up the top layer of surface, they both help stop germination of weeds and the both allow air to penetrate the surface. That is a key component as well! Making sure your soil has good oxygen is important. 

Now there is some disagreement among gardeners over the frequency and depth of tilling to be done. However most would agree that tilling down at least after a crop is okay. 

I hope you all have a great day! 



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