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how to test soil

The 3 Most Important Tips for a
Successful Vegetable Garden

You may have heard these tips before, but it never hurts to repeat them…especially when we are just getting started into Gardening Season! Here are the three things that I emphasize every year in our Gardening 101 Class, because you will be able to grow lots of vegetables when you follow these rules:

  1. Proper soil content is a must.
    If you are gardening directly in the soil, then you must do a soil test. Soil tests are easy and will help you amend it with nutrients if it’s lacking. Also, if the soil is too alkaline or too acidic, it will definitely affect your veggie production. Here is the link with instructions on how to do a soil test in TN and where to carry your sample for evaluation. https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/PB1061.pdf

    If you are gardening in a new raised bed, it is important to start out with an balanced mixture of soil that will drain well. We use a mixture of 50% composted cow manure and 50% topsoil in our beds. We are careful not to overwater, since there is not a lot of drainage materials in it like sand or vermiculite. Another great mixture is Mel’s mix from the Square Foot Garden Book. The average mixture is approximately 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost (different types of compost should be used). Mel’s soil mixture claims that you can’t overwater it (which is the number one issue with beginning gardeners). Of course there are numerous other soil mixtures that you can use and easily research over the internet, but the most important point is nutrient content with a PH around 6.1 – 6.3. Proper PH will allow the nutrients to feed the vegetable plants and thrive.

  2. Planting seed and transplanting plants in your garden must occur at the correct time and temperature.
    The easiest way to find out when to plant certain vegetables is to follow the USDA hardiness map: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

    A good rule of thumb is to plant your vegetable garden after the last frost date for your area, which is April 15th for Middle Tennessee. Of course each state and area will have different frost dates…so be sure to look. Some vegetables, like corn and okra, need a warmer soil temperature to germinate, if they are being planted by seed directly into the soil. Seed packets will tell you the proper soil temperature required. Almost any thermometer can be put in the soil to check out the temperature.

  3. Successful gardens must have 8 hours or more of sunlight per day and one inch of water a week.
    Sunlight is important for most vegetable to grow well. Some gardeners have gotten away with only 6 hours of sunlight, but it’s always hit or miss….depending on the particular variety. One inch of rainwater per week is a must for the plants, which roughly equates to a quart mason jar of water in the week. That does not mean to water each plant only once per week with a quart of water…it means that over a week’s period of time, it should receive about a quart. The easiest way to determine how much water it is getting, is to keep a rain gauge and monitor how much rain you are getting and then supplement whenever needed. The most common mistake of beginning gardeners is overwatering their plants!

I hope these tips have been helpful and feel free to contact us with any questions or comments at stoneycreekfarmtennessee@gmail.com

    How to Test Your Garden Soil

    Yes, it’s almost gardening time and with all this warm weather, we are all getting very impatient!  But before you test your garden soil, remember to look at a reliable website for the last frost date for your area before you plant!  I personally like the Old Farmer’s Almanac Site, but there are several others:

    http://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-united-states

    Soil testing:

    Your state’s Ag extension document will tell you how to collect the proper soil samples from your soil, as well as what tests they will do for a standard fee.  For more detailed information see the following site for UT Agriculture Extension Service for soil testing:

    https://ag.tennessee.edu/spp/Pages/soiltesting.aspx

    There are two ways to test the soil in TN: by acreage or per 100 feet of garden space for a garden an acre or less. We recommend that you test by 100 feet, unless you have many acres and multiple large crops.   In Tennessee, the UT Ag Extension tells us to take ten samples six inches deep around your garden. Place in a five gallon bucket, mix it really well, then take a subsample after its mixed up, take it to your lab, and they will test it for you.

    Standard soil tests provide information on the levels of phosphorus and potassium/potash in your soil. The report will typically include recommendations for improving soil fertility, and you can ask to have the recommendations focus on organic solutions.

    The UT Ag Extension soil-testing document says: “The Basic soil test includes soil pH, buffer value, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium all for the price of $7.00 per sample. The Basic Plus soil test is all the above with zinc, manganese, iron, copper, sodium and boron for $15.00. Pre-side dress nitrate (PSNT), Sulfate Sulfur (NH4OAc), organic matter and soluble salts is also offered.  Soil test nutrients (Basic and Basic Plus) are extracted using Mehlich 1 and are designed for mineral, inorganic soils thus not suitable for bark or peat-based mixes.

    If your growing material is highly organic, a container media analysis is recommended.  The Container Media Test is mainly useful to greenhouse growers in determining fertility of soil-less mixtures. Turnaround is typically 1 to 2 business days (for routine Basic or Plus) and results are routinely mailed but can be e-mailed or faxed.   Test results are used to formulate research-based, cost effective lime and fertilizer recommendations specific to the type of crop or plant and yield desired. To assist growers with their soil fertility needs, Extension county agents are available statewide to help with any management decisions related to soil test recommendations.”

    Side note:  On the top right hand side of your soil test report is the person in charge of the Department of Testing and their contact information.  They are VERY HELPFUL and will explain the report to you.  When you receive your first report, it may seem a little like a foreign language…so don’t hesitate to call.  

    When to Test Your Soil

    For perennial crops – orchards, pasture, Christmas trees, alfalfa, grass seed, and so on, you should test your soil before planting (preferably at least several months before), so that you have time to lime the soil and have it mix with the existing soil before planting your crop.   Limestone reacts slowly with the soil, so it’s important when adding lime to your oil to leave enough lead-time before planting.   For annual crops, such as vegetables, test your soil every spring before planting for the season.

    Happy Gardening!!!

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