An argument for soil testing

I've been a gardener since in my early twenties.  Yes, I was a novice but we have to start somewhere right? I started by killing mint and basil.  I did try to grow them, but they constantly died.
A couple of years later, I figured out what I was doing wrong, what the heck was the small spidery pest that was attacking (and killing) my bonsai, why was my mint taking over the yard, what were the green small bugs eating my cilantro, and WHY was my cilantro always developing seeds so fast?   I got a bit better at planting herbs in the tiny spaces I had in all the houses we occupied, and upgraded to vegetables and even cherry trees (that the moose thoroughly enjoyed even though I did not).
When we moved to Maryland all that experience was kicked into high gear as my family got hit by many unfortunate personal economic events.
When you only suddenly have money for your house, your car, the repairs for the car and some of your bills and desperation hits in, well then you'll do anything to fix it. For me it was to grow a garden and grow it big in a small space.
Our old garden in Northern Maryland
When we moved into our new house in North Pole, Alaska and the snow had melted I could tell the soil in our raised beds was pretty acidic.  We had a bad moss problem in them,
However, whether it was because life was just really that chaotic then or I was just too trusting, I didn't test the soil in our raised beds.  I told myself and my husband that "a master gardener owned this house, she knew what she was doing, I don't need to test the soil, it'll be plenty fertile"
WRONG.

By late May it became very obvious that our soil was seriously deficient in nitrogen, possibly a bit in phosphorous.  It was also extremely apparent that our soil was seriously acidic.  Enough to compete with our garden in Maryland!  Our moss (which we did not plant) thrived while our broccoli rabe died.

















So finally beginning of August I broke down and finally purchased a soil testing kit from Amazon.com
And yes.  Our soil was very, very acidic. And yes, it was completed depleted of nitrogen which explained why our greens failed to thrive and why plants looked so yellow, and why the only thing that would grow was the moss.
Too acidic, lacking too much nitrogen, lacking too much organic material.  All in all, not good.  Just keep in mind, if you're a bit nervous or just don't want to test your soil yourself your local Cooperative Extension office should be able to do it for you.



So, now the game plan is to raise our nitrogen levels, lower the acidity, add much more organic material and add in some phosphorous.


First, I have made a deal with one of the local coffee shops here that I frequent way too often.  I will stop by several times during the work week to pick up used coffee grounds.  These will help to increase nitrogen in our soil however there is a negative in this.  Coffee grounds are slightly acidic, Not what we need, more acidity.  So I'll have to use the coffee grounds in my compost and mix liberally with wood ash, lime or ground limestone.  Sometimes lime can be a bit too alkaline but at this point, my soil is so acidic I'm not overly concerned by it.

I also have been making friends with horses.  Or at least their owners.  Horses produce, of course, a large amount of manure which is excellent for use in the garden.
This will help add organic material, add nitrogen and lower the overall PH to a more average level.  We have a separate bin just for manure that later will be mixed into our compost pile of vegetable scraps, leaves, and grass clippings. The grass clipping of course will also add nitrogen back into our depleted soil.







We also now are the proud owners of three rabbits that will make up our breeding stock for meat rabbits. Two are Californians, a buck and a doe and then we also have one New Zealand cross doe.  As many gardeners know, rabbits make one of the most perfect manures.  It's really sad you don't see more rabbit productions here in the US just because their manure is just so perfect for a garden. Not too high in nitrogen like chicken manure is.  Chicken manure is extremely hot, while cow, sheep and horse are not quite as bad. Rabbit manure is actually considered a cold manure so it can be added directly into a garden.  A plus if you're want to use this now rather than waiting 5-7 months for your horse, cow or sheep manure to compost!

These amendments that we will be adding this Autumn will hopefully change our soil to a more alkaline, nitrogen rich soil.  But still we have the phosphorous deficiency to deal with.

To combat this we can use rock phosphate that we can buy from any greenhouse or big box store like Lowes.  The manure we are using will also help combat this and we're starting to try one other alternative "natural" method.  Human urine from the men in my family.  They're not always on call but we do have a collection vessel for both of them to use which we then just simply dump into the garden.  This has been by far the most UNfavorite way by one of my men however the younger one of them thinks "it's super cool to go outside and pee on the yard"

These are all very natural, mostly organic ways to increased the fertility and organic material in our soil and I'm sure by the next year and definitely by the following year we will see a massive improvement!  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Growing a garden is not about growing a plant that will produce fruits or vegetables.  It's about producing healthy soil.  If you have healthy soil, it'll do the work for you!

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