Friday, May 30, 2008

HOW TO CHECK YOU SOIL COMPOSITION

Today I picked my first green onions. I was cleaning out the small bed of onions on the South Side of the Patio Deck and decided that now was the time to pull a few. I pulled about 10 nice ones that were about 1/2 inch across. It was late April when I got these at the local "Atwoods" store. A great place for farm type stuff. I found things I hadn't seen since I was a Western Kansas farm boy! Bale hooks, Hog rings, Chicken Wire, and would you believe real cow hides and alfalfa pellets? I understand that alfalfa pellets make a great Nitrogen additive to garden soil and I plan to try them out.

Anyway, shortly after that I put the little onions in the ground. The soil was terrible in this spot but I didn't have time to work it over. It was typical "Fill" soil often used around new housing to provide proper run-off. A little subsoil and chunks of clay as big as your fist. It was put in years ago, about 1960 when the house was built and was never amended with good topsoil or something to lighten the soil to compensate for the clay. The only thing growing in it this spring was a few weeds and grass. I dug the bermuda grass out of the bed, plunked in the little onion bulbs worked a little dry fertilizer in and hoped for the best.

As soon as most of the onions are pulled, I will dig some of the old subsoil out, add some topsoil and a little compost, old leafs etc, and maybe a little fertilizer in preparation for a fall crop that should be good until December and even early next spring when any onions left will probably come up again. Previous onion plantings have survived here in zone 6; especially if a little dry leaf or straw cover is layed over the plot. You can do it too. It took me three years to learn how to grow big onions in Central Kansas where I live now. I will have an article on how to do that later on for you people who want to try it yourself. You can grow an enormous amount of onions in a small space! And maybe it won't take 3 years to learn how to do it!

But first you need to get a better idea of your soils composition if you want to grow anything. This is how to go about checking to see just what your soil is made up of. In a later article, I will tell you how to check your soils PH etc.

Things You Need to Check-Out Your Soil's Composition:
  1. An old quart fruit jar - or any clear container that you can put about a quart of water in.
  2. Water to fill the container about two-thirds full.
  3. 1 teaspoon of dishwashing detergent used as a "wetting agent".

Now What?

Start adding soil alittle at a time until the jar is just about full. Shake it up ( I would recommend a lid here) and let the mixture settle out for a few hours. First you will see the sand and other heavy particles settle to the bottom of the jar and (after several hours) fine silt and clay will settle out last at the top. You might want to compare this with soil from a good growing plot. If you aren't able to grow anything in your soil, find a friend or neighbor who can. Compare his soil with yours. You may be surprised at the difference. And you may learn a lot from this experiment!

Will your plants thrive in your soil?

The Early pioneers had 2 things that they used to check for good soil. First they looked for weeds. If the weeds were growing proliferously, there crops would probably grow well too!

Second, they tasted the soil. If it tasted "sour" - it was too alkaline. If it was "sweet" it was acid inclined and was probably good farming soil for their crops. If you want to avoid paying for a ph test kit for about $20 dollars, you could try the old fashioned method I suppose, (I can't recommend it) or you could take soil samples to your local county extension office. They'll check it out at a nominal price. Sometimes, you can even mail in test samples of your soil and in a week or so they will mail you the results of the tests. There is usually a small fee for this service. Look for them under your government-county listings in the phone book.

That's all for today.

Have a great Gardening Day and stop-by again Soon!

Bob

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