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Feed the soil, not the plants

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To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Early Spring is perfect time to show a little love to your garden soil, preparing it for the growing season. As I am quickly learning not all soils are created equally, but all can be made to grow vegetables with a little work!

I am a gardening newbie, but the best advice I have received... “Feed the soil, not the plants”. I'm told the key to a successful garden is developing a rich and healthy soil. You are what you eat after all, but what do you feed dirt? WSU Master Gardener Bill Dixon says the only way to know for sure is to have your soil tested. The test will cost between $30-40 – Money well spent if you're starting a garden for the first time because the results include recommendations. Soil testing can be done by the local certified labs listed below. (Be sure to call them for proper collection method before taking in a sample)

NW Ag Consultants
2545 W Falls Street
Kennewick, WA
Phone: 509-783-7450

US Ag Analytical Services
1320 E. Spokane St.
Pasco, WA
Phone: 509-547-3838

Cascade Analytical
1008 W Ahtanum Rd.
Union Gap, WA
Phone: 800-545-4206

Here's the soil analysis report for my Wake Up Northwest Garden...

  • The good news is that the pH is near neutral (7.2).

  • Phosphorous and Potassium are high, which helps with plant root growth and general health.

  • Nitrogen is low. This will stunt plant growth and cause yellowing or chlorosis of the leaves.

  • Sulfur is high and soluble salts are medium (due largely to the sulfur we added last year).

  • Average Organic Matter percentage is “OK” in one bed and awful in the other.

  • Recommendation... Amend the soil with between 1.5 and 2 inches of well composted steer manure. This would require about 14 to 18 cubic feet.

Organic Matter is the key to unlock your garden's potential. So what is Organic Matter...? It encompasses a wide variety of living or dead plant and animal material. Compost range from kitchen waste and leaves to animal manure. Organic Matter (OM) may not be a “silver bullet”, but it is pretty darn close. Here's what it can do for your soil...

  • Supply nutrients for your plants (OM can fertilize your garden for the whole growing season)

  • Facilitate better drainage by loosening soil structure

  • Increase the activity and numbers of soil microorganisms (they create the “food” for your plants)

  • Encourage earthworms to visit and stay in your garden.

Bill says you generally need to add a 1-2 inch layer of Organic Matter over your garden space. The OM needs to be worked into the soil at least 6 inches deep with a shovel, garden fork or rototiller. Fortunately for me Bill brought along his “mini-tiller” making it pretty easy to work in our steer manure compost. Thanks Bill!

Please join me this year as we learn to tend the soil and discover the joys of being in the garden.