Soil test

My husband and I have been gardening for quite a while, in any possible location. We tried growing tomatoes in the shade! It didn’t work. We’ve grown on balconies, in postage-stamp sized yards. But since moving into this house, we’ve had a substantial food garden.

We grow tomatoes (of course), peppers, onions, potatoes, herbs, kale, collards, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. We have our veggie garden in raised beds (6 beds are 4’x8′); one is quite large, maybe 15’x9′? I have raspberries in one bed, strawberries in one small bed and blueberries in flat ground. I have one tree each of peach, nectarine and pear (had 2 of these but one died last summer).

Last year we expanded the raspberry space by building a new bed and loading it with compost and native soil. I ordered a variety of raspberry plants from an online retailer. They arrived fine, with great root systems. I shared this order with a neighbor and a coworker who actually lives not too far away from me. The raspberries did great for them but not me. Only a couple of plants took and I’m being generous even saying that and then everything died by the fall. I couldn’t figure out if it was a disease or something I was doing wrong. I finally decided to email the company a couple of months ago and after discussing it with them, confirmed my decision to get a soil test.

As a gardener, one of the pieces of advice you will hear is to have a soil test. We have lived in this house for almost 6 years and have diligently added compost every year to our raised beds whether our own or a locally produced product called “Leaf-Gro.” Leaf-Gro is just what it sounds like, composted leaves. The garden has done quite well overall, we have our battles with various pests and diseases but still manage to grow quite a bit of food. I try to use organic gardening practices to battle these issues.

There’s a learning curve with all new crops but the most challenging for us were the following: potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, and then battling tomato issues. With potatoes, we got better at fertilizing and covering them–awesome harvest this past year. Broccoli and cauliflower is hard for us as a spring veggie because it gets so hot so soon here. We’re trying to start it early and see if it works. Otherwise they will be fall crops. And then there is blossom end rot on the tomatoes.

I have no problem cutting off the bad part of a damaged tomato and using whatever is left. But when we have to do it for a majority of the tomatoes, it gets old. Enter…the soil test. We have added calcium to the soil in the form of eggshells since getting the chickens. But apparently we don’t need to add anything except nitrogen. All of the beds came back as “very high” in soil nutrients. And apparently, too much potassium can cause blossom end rot as it effects the calcium uptake of the plant.

Another problem identified by the soil test, high pH levels all around. Most veggies, and actually plants, prefer slightly acidic soils and ours are 7.1–>7.5!!!!

Reading about acidifying the soil will lead you to sulfur. But our sulfur reading varied from mid-range to high as well. How can I acidify the soil without using sulfur and thus increasing the sulfur rate in the soil?!?

It turns out that the sulfur used by plants is actually in the sulfate form, meaning ammonium sulfate, potassium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, etc. But the sulfur used to acidify soil is elemental sulfur and takes quite some time to become bioavailable to plants. Good to know.

Regarding the raspberries, the soil pH is way high and they need nitrogen. Go figure. I’ll make adjustments this year and retry next year. I may send in a sample of the strawberry bed now, just to make sure the soil is right for them.

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