Seems I traveled back in time to high school chemistry this week.
It’s my (largely unfounded, perhaps irrational) impression that serious gardeners carry soil core instruments –which appear to be unicorns in rural Missouri– in their back pockets and dutifully take soil samples from multiple points in their gardens and then ship them off to reputable college extension outposts that tell them exactly what’s up with their soil.
It was my full intention to follow this path, but my expectations surpassed my abilities. Surprise, surprise. At least I’m honest.
First of all, I couldn’t find a soil corer anywhere. I tried half-heartedly to convince Jon to make me one but he was so disinterested in the project that it was barely worth the bother. And nobody at any of the area farm stores knew what I was talking about, skipped over my inquiries, and told me they’d sold out their home soil sample tests.
I did make one half-hearted attempt to take soil samples with a little skinny shovel weeding tool instrument thingie, but the second I poked it into the ground, the metal nose snapped in half. I took that as a sign. Give up now, you pathetic failure.
But I do know that the soil needs to be improved. I know that last week’s mushroom compost application and a winter’s worth of rye cover will help, but it’s not enough. The soil is still sticky and drains poorly, and once the sun does manage to dry out its surface, it hardens like concrete, shatters between cupped palms. This feels metaphorical, somehow. If only you can find the right combination of hidden components, all will be healed. Sometimes my garden is so frustrating to me that I could drop down to my knees and cry. Most people call this being “oversensitive.” But so often nature’s whims feel so painfully personal. If we can accept our victories, then why not our losses as well?
I found a little home soil kit at the grocery store, which is what the colored vials in the feature photo represent. According to my results, my soil is as alkaline as it can get which is typical of clay soils, from what I understand. This is not good news for my acid-loving tomatoes, which partially explains why so many of my plants withered and died last summer. I’ll have to make sure to plant them with spaghnum peat this time around and see if that helps. I’ve also heard coffee grounds help, but it takes a while.
The other stuff? I don’t know! I’m having a tough time determining just how much nitrogen is there. The potassium is completely beyond me. It might as well be high school calculus, or those terrible SAT pre-tests.
A few years ago, I had a lot of success with worm castings, which is reportedly the most nitrogen-dense material a gardener can use and it won’t burn your plants and it’s completely natural. A few years ago, I bought a couple bags from this wonderful woman one town over. She and her husband had done a complete life makeover and dropped a bunch of weight and started juicing and quit eating junk food and they were starting a blueberry farm and had free-range chickens pecking through their front yard.
But when I tried looking her up again, she seemed to have vanished.
What happens to those strange encounters? They are trains in the night.
I found an outfitter in Nixa, which is about 90 minutes away, advertising 3lb bags of worm castings on Craigslist. The other day, I drove out there and bought her entire inventory–a surprise purchase that so caught her off guard that she gave me a 10 percent discount! Isn’t that wonderful? The kindness of strangers can be such a wonderful gift.
My spirits felt so lifted and optimistic that on the way home, I stopped by my favorite greenhouse and bought some broccoli and cauliflower seedlings
I learned the hard way last year that most direct transplants into my native soil, the dirt hardens around those tender, raw roots like a terra cotta pot, suffocating them to death. So this time around, I’m digging holes three or four times the size of the transplant and back-filling it with a 30-30-30 mix of native soil, cotton burr compost, and worm castings. It’s only a little bit of a pain in the ass, but I hope it’ll be worthwhile.
Anyone else played around with soil amendments? Please share your experiences!