Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 3 in Soil Testing: Being done. It's the best part.

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

So, when we last left this wildly exciting series, the tests were finished and the numbers jotted down in my handy, if not nearly destroyed, little yard notebook (and online spreadsheet - DON'T FORGET THE ONLINE SPREADSHEET!)(I love it.)(In case you can't tell.)

Which is all fine and good, but, like - now what?

Well, now we amend. This is when we take that valuable knowledge of what organic nutrients we can add back into the soil to make it healthy and viable so that it will produce food that won't give us a tail. Because using chemicals derived from pee just can't be good for you - right? I mean, it just seems wrong. But I'll admit to not having done a super thorough investigation on the matter. To me, the fact that Miracle-Gro includes Urea as one of its main ingredients is enough for me. Then there was that whole 1 of 3 ingredients in the lethal injection cocktail thing...

Anyway - we won't be using anything as scary and wrong as all that. No, but we will be using things that seem nearly as creepy, so, like prepare yourselves to be a bit freaked out if you haven't, say, bought a bag of blood before.

Unique and interesting experiences! That's what I bring to you on this blog! Hooray! Perhaps I should bring you some experiences that aren't also disgusting and freakish?

We'll see.

For now, we're going to finish up this boring and tedious series with disgusting yet unique experiences with soil amendments like bone meal, dried blood and the less terrifying wood ash.

If you start to get all weirded out, just remember, there's wood ash waiting for you at the end and it's not scary at all. Though it is WICKED messy, so, like, don't wear your wedding dress for this or anything. I guess I should have warned you at the beginning. Sorry. Didn't realize so many of you worked in the yard in your bridal attire.

You guys are strange.

Anyway. Let's get started on being done.

1. Gather your things

Notebook with the test results, the pH preference list and amendment list included with your test kit, a measuring cup with ounce measurements and your amendments as follows:

Organic Dried blood
Organic Bone Meal
Wood Ash and/or E.B. Stone Sure Start mix

2. Ask the plants what they want, pH-wise

Refer back to the bottom sheet of your notebook, or the section in your spreadsheet where you determined what you'd be planting in which bed, and figure out what kind of pH those plants like.

For the record, I've never actually had to make any pH adjustments thanks to the very flexible nature of most vegetables' pH requirements.

But, to be sure, I do check the pH preference list that comes in the test kit and then note that pH preference above the beds' sketch so that I can check it against the test results. I mean, otherwise, why the hell am I doing the pH test? Right - no reason. So just try doing it. I bet barely any of you die from the extra effort.

In the case of Bed #1 up there, the pH preference was 6-7, which was perfectly fine for the beans, cucumbers and lettuce that I plan to have living there. Yay.

Check this for each area and make a note like this even though you may really not want to. It's good for you. Builds character.

3. Find out who's needy

Looking at the test results you jotted down in either your notebook, spreadsheet or both (Oh! Both!), start with the first area (I like to start with Bed #1, but you may be all anarchical and want to start with Bed #3, you rebel) you'll be amending and determining what nutrients will need to be added to bring all nutrients up to "Sufficient".

Let's use Bed #1 from my notebook as an example.

I just looked down the list and crossed out any nutrients that didn't require amendments - so any nutrient with a test result 3 or above or a pH above that of the bed's specific needs.

So, like, you can see that P (phosphorus) was off the chart and pH was fine, so those both got the beloved dash.

N (nitrogen) was in dire need of replacement (thanks, corn of 2009) and K (potassium/potash) was slightly low, so I pulled out my handy test kit chart to do the math.

4. Do the math. Barf.

There are a few things to note, here, before you start The Math.

Firstly, the recommendations on the chart are based on ounces you need to add per 100 square feet of soil. 

And I don't know how big y'all's gardens are, but all four of my beds don't add up to 100 square feet (96 sq feet to be exact, but you don't really care. Jerks.), so I take the recommendations and reduce them by 1/4, because each of my beds are 24 sq feet (3'x8'), which is so close to being 25 square feet, and therefore PERFECTLY 1/4 of 100, that I can barely stand it and feel like it's OK to fudge a bit.

I also realize that my math is no good, so it's likely I'm making math errors elsewhere, so what's this one little transgression going to matter in the grand scheme of me sucking at math, anyway? Not much, is how I figure it. Just go with me on this.

So - my recommendation here is to figure out how big your space is in square feet (3'x8'), divide 100 square feet by that number (24) and come up with your fraction (1/4) or multiplier depending on whether your space is smaller or larger than 100.

And if your garden is larger than 100 square feet, you are my hero and I'm jealous of your ass but also grateful I don't have to work all that land because I'm sweating just thinking about it. Yikes. I hope you don't have to hill potatoes.

Then, refer way back to the nutrient you're trying to amend (N - nitrogen), find the "Vegetables (leafy)" row  (since that bed will have leafy vegetables in it), scroll over to the (1) Deficient column under N (nitrogen), divide the 14 oz/sq foot reco by 4 and come up with the amendment recommendation of 3.5 oz.

I added 3.5 oz of nitrogen amendment (dried blood) to this bed.

Write that down in the notebook.

Wipe your brow - that was a lot of math. Your brain may hurt, but this is normal. Keep going.

5. Do the math some more. 

Now, like any good and annoying knitting pattern or automobile repair manual, repeat that process until you've calculated and noted all nutrient amendment numbers for all beds.

Know in your heart of hearts that this is the hardest part and soon you'll be finished and able to freely drink an entire bottle of gin while standing over your garden with grand superiority.

Or something a little less ridiculous and indulgent.

6. Add the amendments and be done already

Like I've said before, I amend with these things.

N (nitrogen) - Organic Dried blood
P (phosporus) - Organic Bone Meal
K (potassium/potash) - Wood ash and/or  E.B. Stone Sure Start mix

You may use other things, you may ignore my example altogether - that's up to you. And, for the record, I'm able to find these things at my neighborhood nursery, so hopefully you won't have too much trouble either. And if you do, well, I'm sorry. Perhaps you live in a unique part of the world where you can actually locally source feather meal, I don't know.

However, once I have my numbers and my amendments all sitting together cozy-like on the bench between the beds, I know I'm almost done with The Science and I become very, very happy. And relieved. And like starting cocktail hour early.

All that's left to do at this point is measure out the doses into your yard-approved measuring cup (I've relegated this one to Yard Only so that I don't have the creep-factor of later scrambling eggs in it knowing that EW dried blood was, like, *just* in there. Can you imagine? Ew.), sprinkle that over the soil, and rake it in.

And then, if you're so inclined, scoop up a trowel-full and admire how dark and luscious it is and how OH BOY HOWDY your tomatoes are going to love living here.

I usually then take the opportunity to test out the irrigation system on each bed to make sure it's working and not, say, missing a sprinkler head which results in a fountain of water shooting up and over into my neighbor's yard, and that also lets the amendments sort of soak into the soil and mingle with what's already in existence.

I'm not sure if this is required or recommended or forbidden or what - but I always do it and I haven't seen any watering-related horrors as a result.

Go with what your heart tells you, I guess.

Again - follow this process of measuring, sprinkling, raking and (optional) watering for each bed.

7. Be done

I doubt I have to tell you how to be done with soil testing, since I'm sure you've been wishing that *I* was done talking about it three posts ago, but just to be consistent, here - once you've finished this process, you are - by my process anyway - ready to plant your seeds or seedlings.

Which leads us to Step 8. PLANT SOME SHIT ALREADY.

But I'll get into that another day.

For now - go amend your soil. Just go, already.


  1. I know I love your blog because I not only just finished READING the third part of the soil science portion of the blog, but I just laughed out loud at it here at my desk. At work. And I don't garden. At all. :-)

  2. I have been wanting to start a garden in the yard for a couple of years, but haven't because it seems so complicated. However, that does not seem to be the case! I'm totally going to be putting beds in the yard this weekend and testing and planting shit. It'll probably scare the crap out of my fiance, but as long as I tell him we'll have edibles at the end of it, I doubt he'll care.

    Thank you so much! I enjoyed these posts, science and math and all.

  3. Impressive! I usually add fertilizer the way I cook, hmmm, I think this might be nice right here. Oh and a little rock dust, but of course. It's almost like I'm painting or something. lame, I know. And I'm not even afraid of math.

    (I've got a bunch of seeds growing under shop lights in the basement.)


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