Things may not be growing the way we were expecting. So we go to the garden center and are overwhelmed with the choices of fertilizer. We pick one that says “for vegetables, or flowers, or tomatoes…etc.” and hope that it works. Most of these have a large dose of nitrogen that makes the garden produce a lot of foliage. But are you getting the flowers or fruit you were looking for? Maybe, maybe not. Find more confidence in what you are doing (or not doing) by starting with a Soil Test. Soil test kits are available at the garden center. Start with a simple one that tells the presence of N,P,K and perhaps pH. These are some basic elements which affect plant growth. Or contact your Cooperative Extension Service (a federal agency connected with state universities) for a for a soil sampling kit. They will test your soil in their professional labs for a small fee. Their reports not only tell you the tests result, but what you can do to your soil to improve your crop outcome.
Soil fertility is determined by more than the levels of plant nutrients in the soil. The availability of the nutrients are effected by soil pH(a measure of acidity). Some plants grow best in alkaline soil, some grow best in acid soil. In general, a good garden soil will have a pH of approximately 6.5. This is often described as a slightly acid soil.
Composition of the soil is also important. Soil is made of minerals(sand, clay, silt), organic matter, water and air. A good garden soil will have a balanced mixture of these. We all know plants need water, but we often overlook the fact that the roots need air as well. This is why commercially prepared potting soil has sphagnum, coir, and/or bark shredded into the mixture. These materials hold moisture and leave air spaces for roots to grow. It is almost always a good choice to add compost to your soil. Insects and other organisms in the soil create spaces for water and air. While a few of these organisms may attack the roots of your crops, many do not. Therefore it is important to identify the problem and target it without killing off the beneficial.
Pic shows sifting compost before adding to the soil.
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