Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TOP soil

     I live in Florida.  For the time being, I enjoy an eleven month growing season.  There are a half dozen towns that claim to be one kind of vegetable capitol of the world or another   There is a celery capitol, a tomato capitol, and even an indoor foliage capitol!  There are at least three towns, to my knowledge, named for a particular variety of fruit or vegetable.  I know exactly how lucky I am to be here at this time.  

     Still, my second son sent me a picture today of a new plot of land he turned over for the next generation of his garden and it made me a little jealous!  He bought a home for security and potential to become self-reliant.  But, really?!!?  He bought a piece of land on a lake and the back half of his yard is muck!   GRRR! 
Muck is humus.  His land is high and dry.  He could enjoy several rainy years with several hurricanes and still be high and dry.  His yard will rarely need fertilizer as long as he keeps turning over the soil annually.  Lucky!  Just when he thought it was a half acre of wasted space covered in wild grass, it's a strip of compacted peat mixed with sand!  I am very happy for him.
See the difference?

     I am not so lucky in my yard.  Most people in Florida have to live in a Homeowner's Association free ancient lake bed or dried swamp to be so lucky.  My mother's neighbor was horrified when she accepted the load of top soil she paid for only to see it fall out of the dump truck all gray and sandy.  That is the basic Florida topsoil.   If it weren't, the rain would never drain into the aquifer.

      There are crops that grow without any help.  These are the crops that love good sandy soil.  They need water, but they like it to drain off. All the squashes do well without much help other than pulling weeds.  I like the zucchinis and the yellow squash blossoms.  Pumpkins grow here but, later in the year than the holidays they inspire.  Okra and melons grow well for the same reason.  These are plants that like to be sewn in to the ground and left alone. Also, all the root crops, like carrots and onions, grow well with a little help.

     It is never a good idea to put all of one's land in to one crop unless you want to live on squash and turn orange! The best way to amend the soil and feed the garden that feeds us is to find out what we are working with and fix it before the seeds or seedlings go into the ground.  You can take soil samples to your local cooperative extension office( click here to locate your local office, http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ ) to be tested or take it to the garden center or you can purchase a test kit from Lowe's, Home Depot, Wal-Mart or any of a thousand garden websites online.  

      Once you find what you are working with and know what you want to grow, amend sandy soil with compost.  You can add up to 40% compost to sandy soil by volume.  If You have a clay soil, amend with sand and humus, or coir- a coconut by product.  It is a back breaking job, but worth the investment in the long run.  

     Who needs the gym?  Lose weight in the garden.  Break up your soil, dig out a section onto a tarp.  Add your amendment into the hole and return a portion of the soil from the top.  Work it in with a hand tiller and move on to the next section.  

     To make the job more manageable, don't plant the yard or try to turn the entire lawn scape into a farm.  Just cut out a section of grass about 4 feet by 4 feet.  Work one section as if it were a raised bed.  Fix it, plant it then move on to the next section.  Leave a path of two feet between each garden patch. It makes for a lovely checkerboard garden plan.

You could surrender to the guy who trucks in soil and start from scratch with raised beds.  There is no shame in low acreage, high yield gardening.  I am also a big fan of container gardening to be sure, you will have exactly the right kind of soil in your planter for the plants growing in it.  I'm just a little bummed I have to work in the peat and compost in the front garden bed this week, and my son just rolled back some grass and found black gold.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer more hard working guy! YAAAY!  Go test your soil.  


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