Soil Testing: Nutritional
Soil test kit from a garden
or arranged through a
county extension agent (cost: $25 on up)
The kit may require
that you use distilled water
A few samples of
fairly dry soil from your garden site
If you have time, let
kids test a sample of sun-baked, dusty dirt from a playground
and some rich dirt
under years of pine needles in a park or forest
suggested by test results
Hoe | iron rake |
dust mask for powdery materials
amendments - additions, or changes - are like vitamins. If you get them in
balance, you can create the most productive garden soil possible.
Garden mysteries . . . what's your soil composition,
and how can you make it the best habitat for
testing is easy. You can buy a kit at a garden store to measure the amount of
nitrogen, phosphorus and potash in your soil. The kit usually has what to add
to your soil to perfect the balance.
kit also typically includes a test to show your soil's pH level (see #5 in this
want to go real scientific on this, you can call your local county or
university extension agent to see if you can get a complete test, and how long
the waiting list is. If you're calling in the spring, ouch! EVERYBODY wants this
done in the spring. So be smart, and arrange for it to be done in the summer or
you're content to use a soil test kit from your local garden store, that's
great. Kits are usually very economical. Your students will appreciate the
forethought that it takes, directed by test results, to change the soil within
one garden to meet the various needs of different plants. It's a good idea to
test soil for certain plants that require a little more acid (add compost) vs.
a little more alkaline (add lime) soil. Then you can amend just those sections
that need something extra, instead of the whole garden plot.
soil test report will no doubt recommend a quantity of soil supplement needed
to correct what's missing for 1,000 square feet. That's 100 feet long by 10
feet wide - a humoungus garden. Using your math skills, you can have the
students figure out how much that means to your garden, which is probably much
smaller than 1,000 square feet.
soon as you price materials like compost, you'll want to try to make your own
for free. So by all means start a compost pile or build a bin. Similarly, to
get manure, one way is to purchase it in bags at the garden store, but another
way is to "scrounge" with local farmers to find animal waste that you can bring
back to your garden in a pickup truck and add - if you need that much.
gardeners swear by rotted chicken manure for that purpose. It's best to get it
in the fall, leave it on the garden all winter so that it rots down into the
soil, and then enjoy the benefits.
are the three main needs for a plant's nutrition, and organic sources. These
usually go by the acronym "NPK" - a
very important thing to remember in gardening:
N is for Nitrogen:
composted manures, compost, fish meals, fish emulsion, blood meal, bone meal,
P is for Phosphorus:
phosphate, compost, animal manures, bone meal
K is for Potassium (K is
the chemical symbol for that mineral since there are so many elements that
start with P):
compost, wood ashes, kelp meal
note these "special diet" needs of certain plants:
chopped-up autumn leaves or composted leaves in the fall where you're going to
grow carrots next spring, and dig in some sand because carrots like a
lightweight soil in which it is easy to
vegetable needs an inch of compost every fall because it soaks up nutrients
faster than most any other plant. Also put a straw mulch over your asparagus
roots in the winter to protect them from cold.
feeds heavily and can be susceptible to diseases, so add lime or wood ashes in
the fall along with a double dose of compost.
other acid-loving flowering plants need wood ashes, coffee grounds and crushed
eggshells worked into the soil in the fall, plus a regular course of fertilizer
in the spring and summer, if you want the deep blue blossoms; otherwise, you'll
get pale pink.