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6 Tips for Beginner Gardeners

Before choosing a garden location this year!!

Your first major step in the right direction in achieving a green thumb is learning to always observe nature before you ever intervene in its natural processes.

Why is this so important? No matter what we choose to do to mother nature, she always wins in the end by reclaiming the land in one aspect or another. Rather than work against the grain of nature, learn ways to assist her in her many life cycles. By always choosing to observe nature first, you will quickly learn the beneficial ways you can assist its already established processes. Below are 6 rules I live by before establishing a new gardening area.

How much sunlight does the area you are thinking of choosing get per day?

Nearly all of your garden plants will require full sun (6-8hrs of direct sunlight).

Why is this important? Plants need plenty of sunlight to photosynthesize. Sunlight is one-way plants acquire their energy to grow through the process of photosynthesis. So getting direct sunlight for 6-8 hours a day is key to healthy growth. Healthy growth will greatly contribute to your yield.

Drainage- The first heavy rain this area gets, you’ll want to observe how well it drains. You will also want to pay attention to other elevated areas that drain into your potential garden area. If your neighbor uses harmful chemicals that run off nearby, and this area drains into your garden, this could be a potential hazard when trying to grow edible plants. You will want an area that drains well to prevent diseases like root rot, fungal issues, and potentially blossom end rot.

Wind- Observing my stormy season and knowing where storms usually blow in from helps me determine if I have options of placing my garden beside/behind something that possibly blocks some wind (gusts). It also helps me decide which portion of the garden I will plant my tallest plants. Planting my tallest plants in the direction of the southwest where most of my storms blow in from, the taller plants help shield the lower fragile plants.

Soil PH Test- A healthy soil PH typically ranges between 5.5-7 which is a neutral PH. By testing your soil’s PH levels, you can make needed corrections so your plants experience optimal conditions to grow.

First, collect soil samples from your potential gardening area. Be sure to wear gloves! If you do this test barehanded you can/will affect the outcome and potentially get an inaccurate test result. I typically dig down anywhere from 4-6 inches of soil to remove any mulch or topsoil. You will want to take several small samples from different areas of your garden. Once you have collected the samples, thoroughly mix them together, and allow them to dry overnight. Once dry, add 2 tbsp of the soil sample to a clean glass jar. Add ½ cup of vinegar and swirl the contents to mix. If the mixture fizzes, this means your soil is alkaline.

In a separate glass jar mix 2 tbsp of the soil sample, and wet the soil with distilled water enough that it seems muddy but not runny. Do not use tap water. It will produce an inaccurate result. Add ½ cup of baking soda and stir. If the mixture fizzes your soil is acidic.

If your soil is too acidic this can be corrected simply by applying limestone to the soil preferably in the fall. If your soil is too alkaline, this also can be corrected easily by simply applying ground sulfur to the soil. Be sure to check your product's directions for applying and apply it as directed to prevent over or underdoing the correction.

Soil Composition Test-Testing the composition of your soil will help you decide if the area you are choosing comes with battles or wins. For healthy soil, you will typically want a soil composition made up of 40% silt, 40% sand, and 20% clay. This is known as loamy soil, which in my opinion is the absolute best for gardening!

By knowing the soil composition you can get ahead of the curb to know which amendments to add, or if the potential area you are thinking of choosing is perfect to start a garden right away.

Using a 1-quart mason jar use the remaining portion of your collected samples to fill the jar about ⅓-½ full. Then fill the remainder of the jar (to the shoulder/curved area at top of the jar) with distilled water. Shake the jar to mix the contents well, then set the jar on an even stable surface undisturbed. After 1 minute measure the amount of content that has settled to the bottom. This will be your sand content as this is the heaviest portion of the soil sample. Mark that spot on the jar at 1 minute. At 2 mins mark your jar again and measure the contents. This portion will be your silt content. It is heavier than the clay particles but lighter than the sand particles. Lastly, wait a full 24 hours to take your last measurement. Since clay particles are so fine they take the longest to settle.

What do I do to amend my soil?

The majority of all of your soil composition issues can be solved simply by adding plant compost, aged manure compost, and plenty of organic matter. Every year I add an additional 3-6 inches of a mixture of compost and equal parts organic matter such as leaf mulch, straw, or untreated hardwood mulch.

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