Week 2: May 14, 17


  • Soil health
  • Nutrients and Ph
  • Soil testing

Summary of week’s activities:

  • Made two soil test to submit to UVM extension
  • Discussed importance of nutrients in the garden

The main topic this week was soils. Soil quality is vital for healthy crops, and for gardeners it is important to understand the basics of soil health. Soil is an ecosystem in itself. The basic nutrient that we talk about in soil health are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). Nitrogen affects leafy growth and chlorophyll, when there is a deficiency in N, leaves will appear yellow and plants will look weathered, if there is too much Nitrogen, the plants will send too much energy to leaves. Decomposition of organic material ties up the nitrogen in the soil temporarily, that is why we try to remove the rye grass from the soil. Phosphorus is a component of several cellular structures and is important for energy transfer, other biochemical processes, flowering and proper root growth. Potassium has a number of regulatory functions in plants, and inadequate levels can result in sickly looking plants with poor disease resistance.

Understanding the role of these nutrients will help us to understand the soil test results. Getting a soil test every few years in your garden is a good idea, and if you are starting up a garden, you should definitely get a soil test. Especially if you are living in an urban area, like Burlington, because the soil test will tell you if there is any contamination, such as lead or industrial chemicals, which is common in urban soils and can be absorbed by the roots of plants. A soil test may be purchased for around $14 at UVM. To conduct the test, dig a hole 10-18 inches deep and take a slice all the way down the edge of the hole. Put this soil sample in a bucket and do the same process at 10 points throughout the garden. Mix all of the samples together and take a sample, about one cup, and put it in the plastic bag which is included in the soil test kit. (For more information check out UVM’s Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab website: http://pss.uvm.edu/ag_testing/?Page=soils.html)

Soil health can be nurtured in several ways: by the addition of compost and other soil amendments like alfalfa pellets, by growing cover crops like rye grass (planted in the fall and turned under in the spring), by rotating crops from season to season, and by growing legumes like beans and peas (which fix nitrogen). Adding organic matter is also important, as it adds nutrients to the soil, this is why we add compost.

For more information on what plants like what kinds of soil, you can look in the HIgh Mowing Magazine, where there is a description of different plants. (Or look on their website and under “growing information” there is a category about soil requirements). Also, in the “Organic Vegetable Gardener’s Bible”, chapter 6 covers soils and soil health and on page 126 you can find this information.

Lastly, we ended with another bountiful harvest of rhubarb!

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