Showcase 1: Dirt!

Garden Soil

Ok, technically, soil. Somehow, though, playing in the dirt is just more fun than playing in the soil.

A friend has offered to let me work with her in her young vegetable garden to see if we can have a better yield from it than she was able to coax out of it last year. I am looking forward to my own bed in the community garden this summer, but playing in this garden will give me a chance to work with an in-ground garden instead of a raised bed and help develop the native soil into something that is willing to grow non-native plants. It also means I get to play in the dirt in mid-winter instead of waiting for my garden to open in the spring.

Partially for my own curiosity, but also because it will give us some actual data to work from, we had samples analyzed. We dug several holes in the garden itself, though not many, as it’s a petite garden. I also pulled a sample from a side garden that was hosting junipers and not much else. The extra sample was an un-adulterated sample of the yard, as opposed to the vegetable garden that had bagged organic material added to it for the last growing season. It would give me a look at what I would be facing with “Colorado” soil as opposed to “garden” soil.

Colorado Soil

 I took the samples home to dry before we mailed them off to the Colorado State Extension Office for the basic soil test. They offer quite a few different ones, but the basic test offers quite a bit of information for your basic garden. For both samples, phosphorous, zinc, iron, manganese, copper, and boron were adequate to high, and well within normal ranges. The extra sample came back as low potassium, but the vegetable garden came back as high potassium. They also both came back with low electrical conductivity, so the soil wasn’t too saline. Both samples tested low in nitrate and organic matter, with the extra sample slightly lower in each.

There were a couple of surprises, however. The vegetable garden came back with a pH of 7.5 while the other sample was only 6.1. The explanation of that, in part, is probably that the vegetable garden had very high lime, while the other sample was low. The classifications of the soil types were also a bit of a surprise. The vegetable garden was loamy sand, or, basically, sand with a little clay and silt. The other sample was sandy clay loam, or a more even split of sand and clay with a little silt.

Drying things is so easy out here!

I have my suspicions that the high lime, and therefore high pH, were caused by additives in the bagged organic material added earlier. They were purchased from a large chain store, so they would not necessarily formulate the material for the local needs. Where gardening can be easier, the higher rainfall causes the soil to be more acidic, necessitating the addition of lime. We don’t have that problem.

 
For the vegetable garden, what we need is organic material, nitrogen, and possibly to lower the pH, though that isn’t necessarily a requirement. It is high, but not out of the growing range. For organic material, it took me a while, but I talked her into letting us use horse manure as soon as I can find a source. If we get it soon, it will have time to decompose, but if I’m not able to locate it by the end of the month, I believe we’ll do better with composted manure so that we don’t burn the young plants. Horse manure is going to be cheap or free, letting us use a lot to really work the organic material deep into the soil. The extension office offered several possible solutions to the low nitrogen issue. I believe the one we will go with will be ammonium sulfate, however, as that will also help us address the high pH.
 
Showcase 1- January 2012

It’s a small garden, only 66X75″, but that will just make it an exercise in efficient use of space. We are still hammering out the details of what to grow and how to wedge it all in, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what this dirt, er, soil, can give us this year.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] but I strongly suspect that this soil has a much higher clay content and more organic material than Showcase 1. It looked like the previous owners of the house were gardeners, so the soil had been somewhat […]

    Reply

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