Monday, January 21, 2013

Gardening 101 Plants and Soil

Want beautiful soil like that? compost!

I love to grow things. I've never been sure if I have a green thumb or if I have only been good at it because of what my late father taught me. Dad came from a different style of living where gardening was a way of not only survival but life. It's just what they did. If I were to add it up I would say that my dad grew about five acres or more each year of different crops. We grew tomatoes of all kinds, silver queen, hickory king, peaches and cream, and several other types of corn. Along with that Dad grew sweet potatoes, red (new) potatoes, Kentucky runner green beans (they are very hardy), bell peppers, yellow squash, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and the list goes on but those were the regulars. Oh, and the strawberries. The strawberries were great. There's just something unappealing and tasteless about the grocery store strawberries. It's just too far from being the same thing.

If you're wanting to start your own garden my biggest piece of advice would be to study up on the specific plants you want to grow. For example, early girl tomatoes and Roma tomatoes are not the same kind and are often used for different purposes. We grew both and I've found that people just really preferred to can with romas. Early girls are amazing on sandwiches. The type of cages you would use are completely different as well. We grew a certain kind of tomato for a long time. I'm not sure of the exact breeds but we called them all German tomatoes. They were heirloom, of that much I'm sure. Most were a dark blush pink, some were purple, and some were yellow with pink stripes coming out. I believe these were called Mr. Stripey. These tomatoes are awesome. They're big, the flavor can't be beat and they produce more meat than flesh, being good for just about anything except maybe juicing. These German tomatoes however, were completely different from romas or early girls. They. Were. Huge. You know those little wire tee pee style tomato cages you can get at any hardware store? Yeah, forget those. These tomatoes will outgrow those wimpy little cages fast and snap them into pieces or bend them over completely. We tried every thing, but they were just too heavy. One day dad got fed up with them and went to the local hardware store and bought some square fencing. We spent all day rolling and cutting the fence into souped up tomato cages. We never had to buy another again. However if you have limited room this is not the solution for you, these cages are large and need a lot of storage space.

I suppose if you were wanting to start your own garden I could give you a few basic ideas. The first thing you would need are tools and good soil. The seeds or plants are no good if the soil is no good. You can order a soil test kit online or you could do it the old fashioned way. Dig up some dirt and put it in a mason jar (a little less than half full), fill with water and shake it up. Shake it really well. Then walk away and let it settle for a while. You want your dirt to be in three pretty close to even layers when it settles. The three different layers are sand, clay, and the topsoil which is a lot like compost. You can test to see if your soil is acidic or alkaline using this method:
  1. Scoop some soil into a container. Then, add a half-cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it's alkaline.
  2. If there's no reaction, scoop a fresh soil sample into a second container. Add a half-cup of water and mix. Then, add a half-cup of baking soda. If the soil bubbles or fizzes the soil is highly acidic.
  3. Amend your soil with wood ash or lime, if it's acidic. Amend your soil with sulfur or pine needles, if it's alkaline.
If you'd like a more professional and definite test contact your local agriculture department, ag extension office, or agriculture division of you nearest university, they will be able to assist you. I feel like this post has gone on long enough, I hope you guys enjoyed it!

Other Useful Links:

Pinned ImageFine Gardening- A post about using wood ash to improve the quality of your soil.
Pinned Image Traditional Fools- steps on building your soil to improve gardening success.
Pinned Image Scout's Stitches- stretching garden soil.
Pinned Image Plant Care Today- How to improve garden soil.

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