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The Balance of Nature: Growing Soil

April 28th, 2009

SOIL (noun) – the portion of the earth’s surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.
Healthy soil is the foundation of a good garden. You can grow plants in bad soil but it will require tons of chemicals, and that’s not good for you or the environment. I believe real gardeners grow soil not plants. If we focus on growing good soil our plants will thrive!
We aren’t blessed with good soil here at Chiot’s Run. When we moved here 7 years ago the soil was in terrible shape. Years of chemicals and pesticides had left our flowerbeds a barren wasteland with few plants and not a beneficial insect or earth worm to be found. I wasn’t really in to gardening at that time, but I knew I needed to improve the soil if I ever wanted to have any flowers or plants. So we started our first compost pile and bought some organic chicken manure and worked it into the flowerbeds.
I’m glad I did that now, because even though our soil still has a long way to go, it’s beginning to become loamy and my plants are finally starting to flourish. I notice worms every now and then when I dig and other beneficial insects are returning.
So how do you improve your soil? There are many articles, books, and experts out there that will tell you to get a soil test done. I never have, I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to these kinds of things. I figure if people could do it years ago, I can do it now. I believe in working with the soil you have; adding good compost and feeding it well. There are ways to tell if your soil is deficient without a soil test.
First you want to figure out if you soil is clay, sandy, or loamy. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference, if it comes up in big chunks and gets hard as a rock when it’s dry, you probably have clay soil. If your soil has the same texture as your children’s sand box and it’s dry the day after a big rain, you probably have sandy soil. If your soil is dark brown, crumbly and stays moist but not too soggy, congrats, you have loamy soil. I have clay soil on my front hillside and sandy soil in my front flowerbeds.
The next thing you want to figure out is if your soil is acidic or alkaline. My soil is acidic, how can I tell? My first sign was the blue hydrangea. It’s the most beautiful shade of blue, hydrangeas only bloom this blue in acidic soil.
You can buy an inexpensive pH testing kit at your local garden center to test your pH. It’s simple, easy and fun! Do it with your kids for a science lesson. You can also send in a sample of your soil to a lab to get a complete test.
The best thing you can do for your soil is to avoid chemicals and pesticides and add compost, manure and other kinds of humus. You should stick to all-natural fertilizers made from rocks and minerals and natural materials (like blood meal, bone meal, greensand, wood ash, phosphate etc). Compost is by far the best thing you can add to your soil, and homemade is best because you know exactly what’s in it.

So are you a grower of soil? How do you feed & nourish your garden beds?

9 Comments to “The Balance of Nature: Growing Soil”
  1. Jennifer on April 28, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    We had our soil tested by the state, mostly to find out the lead content of the home garden. It came back higher than we had hoped. We’ve been adding compost and growing cover crops ever since we started. We mulch to keep the weeds down and keep from having to water as often. We have lots of worms in the community garden plot – I think that’s in part to the fact that they’ve asked everyone to try and be organic there for years and years and years now. The town brings a load of compost or two each season – no telling exactly what’s in it, but most of it is well composted and it’s also full of big fat worms. :)

    I’d like to start vermicomposting, and adding castings to the soil. Soon we’re going to run out of places to put our kitchen scraps!

    Jennifer’s last blog post.. Double Digging

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  2. Daphne on April 28, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Compost, compost compost :> Then lime (blueberries grow wild here, so we are very acidic), greensand, bonemeal. I have a bag of organic 5-3-3. Not sure what is in it. I give nitrogen very sparingly to my plants. I ought to test my soil at some point. I did it when I moved here 18 years ago to make sure there wasn’t anything nasty in the soil. But I haven’t since then. I throw lime on the beds every year and hope it is the right amount. Things grow so I’m guessing I’m not too far off.

    Oh and I got a bag of Azomite from my birthday. It is a rock dust and adds micronutrients.

    Daphne’s last blog post.. Working Hard

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  3. bangchik on April 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    It is so true when you say ” Grow good soil”….. cheers! ~ bangchik

    bangchik’s last blog post.. The beach and the waves of Port Dickson.

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  4. Dan on April 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Nice post! It made me think of my horticulture teacher freaking out when students called soil ‘dirt’. He would tell you dirt is what’s under your fingernails.

    The soil is so bad where my veggies are I have to dig it all out about 16″ down and then have really good mixed soil trucked in from the landscape yard. Lots of work but the end produce is simply beautiful.

    Dan’s last blog post.. Tuesdays Photography

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  5. Judy on April 28, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    I’m just starting to work my new garden space at our new home. It has about 4 inches of absolutely beautiful loam over clay. The previous owners had horses and left several piles of horse manure (they’ve been gone since last July so it’s well broken down by now) that we plan to incorporate into our compost project. I think that there is already so much horse manure on this spot that I don’t need to add any this year. I borrowed a friend’s rototiller and plan to dig the garden deeply to hopefully start working on that clay underlayer. I need/want more than 4 inches of growing material. I know that simply growing root veggies will help break it up as well but I’m impatient.

    Judy’s last blog post.. It didn’t rain today!

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  6. Sinfonian on April 28, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    My soil is VERY acidic clay. In fact, I have dirt, not soil, hehe. So I built up and created soil from scratch. Then I started a compost bin and haven’t purchased compost since!

    Sinfonian’s last blog post.. April 27, 2009

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    • Susy on April 28, 2009 at 11:34 pm

      That what we have as well. I built raised beds for my veggies and in the rest of yard I’ve been amending the clay. Clay soil is actually very healthy soil, it’s just so thick. If you add some compost & other amendments it’s actually very nutrient rich and it will grow healthy stocky plants.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. marcyincny on April 29, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Love the photo of the sacks of Espoma. I don’t want to think what I’d do without it.

    marcyincny’s last blog post.. A Passing

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  8. The Prudent Homemaker on May 2, 2009 at 10:35 am

    We brought in dirt (the ground here is caliche, and if you want to plant, you have to use a jackhammer to dig. It is also dead of oragnic matter; the dirt is almost white). I also add manure to the garden, and I bought worms. Buying the worms was really worthwhile; they have multiplied and I see a lot of worms when I dig now.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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