Spring has sprung—at least it appears that way at home and garden centers everywhere. Before going on a shopping spree (what gardener can resist?), prepare your soil for the busy months ahead. A little prep work now will ensure the health and vitality of your plants for months to come.
The truth is, we demand a lot of our soil. We expect to fill our kitchens with healthy, homegrown fruits and vegetables, yet we often overlook the needs of our soil. Richard Affeldt is chief agronomist for Central Oregon Seeds and Cascade Mineral Products. He offers these seven tips for getting your garden ready for the growing season ahead:
- Identify soil type. Plants grow best in fertile, loamy soil containing a balance of sand, silt and clay. Yet, most gardeners deal with the extremes—loose, sandy soil that dries out too quickly, or heavy clay that drains slowly. Add plenty of well-composted organic matter (approximately one to two inches) to improve either type.
- Test pH levels. Acidity or alkalinity influences how plants absorb essential nutrients. Test kits from local extension offices or home improvement stores can tell you whether to increase acidity by adding sulfur, or reduce it with limestone. Most vegetables do best under slightly acidic conditions.
- Ensure proper drainage. Plants need water, but they don’t like wet feet. Organic materials help keep sandy soils from draining too quickly and help improve the aeration and drainage of clay soils. And if you aren’t using raised beds, grade and level the soil to keep excess water from pooling.
- Track the sun. New gardeners should track sun and shade patterns before preparing a site. Fruit producing plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, etc.) need six to eight hours of bright sun per day. Leafy green vegetables and herbs (beets, carrots, spinach, basil, etc.) can get by with less.
- Let soil dry. Anxious gardeners who work the ground too early will destroy soil structure and end up with a garden that resembles concrete. To determine if soil is sufficiently dry, squeeze a handful into a ball and drop it on the ground. If it crumbles, it is ready. If it stays together or flattens, it is still too wet.
- Use chemical fertilizers responsibly. Synthetic chemical fertilizers are a quick way to feed plants directly, but they can undermine soil health by speeding the decay of soil organic matter and acidifying the soil. If you use synthetic fertilizer, have your soil fertility tested to avoid over-application and nutrient imbalances.
- Remineralize. Replace the right balance of minerals and trace elements (such as magnesium, calcium, silicon and iron) that have been depleted and which are essential to plant and human health. Research shows that volcanic basalt improves root systems, increases yields and promotes plant health in a wide variety of conditions and crops.
Above all, remember that soil improvement is an ongoing effort. It takes effort, but the reward of great-tasting, nutritious fruits and vegetables makes it all worthwhile.
Cascade Minerals Remineralizing Soil Booster is made from massive basalt stones from Central Oregon’s legendary Cascade Mountains. Rocks are crushed to produce a finely ground, 100% natural product that is approved for organic production and releases the essential minerals and trace elements that plants and humans need to flourish.