Proper soil conditions are important in successful country gardening. Testing, cultivation, amendments and mulching can all get your garden growing better. The tips below will help you save time, money and effort.
Today’s country gardeners have many options when it comes to soil testing. The primary differences are time requirements and price. First, you can get a kit from your local county agent and send a sample off for pH analysis. Garden supply retailers now offer a selection of testing devices. Some are one piece and resemble a meat thermometer. These measure pH, moisture and temperature and have color coded gauges for easy reading. There is also an electronic monitoring system that measures multiple locations. It texts the gardener’s cell phone and even asks for fresh batteries.
Cultivating, also called aeration and tilling, simply means loosening the dirt, so roots, air and water can pass between particles of earth more easily. Roots not only need water to hydrate their plants, they also need oxygen via air to grow longer, take in nutrients and release toxins. Not getting enough oxygen due to roots stuck in compacted dirt can literally make your plants sick. Cultivation can be done via hand sifting, hand tools, long handled tools and motorized tools. It all depends on your time, energy, budget, plant types and the area of your country garden.
Amendments are things used to balance acidity and alkalinity, increase fertility and meet certain plants’ individual needs. For instance, Epsom salt, in the right amount at the right time, helps tomato cells drink in other nutrients. Depending on pH levels, tomatoes might also benefit from lime, wood ash, peat moss or elemental sulfur. Composted fruit, vegetable and eggshell scraps and manure can also be worked in for healthier, more productive plants. Fertilizers, which are labeled according to content levels and plant types, should be targeted to the nutritional needs of your crops.
Mulch is a cover for your soil. It helps prevent weeds, retain moisture, slow evaporation and maintain temperature. In addition, if you’re using composting mulch, which breaks down over time, it will eventually become part of the dirt mix, making it more copious and nourishing to plants. Eco- and budget-conscious country gardeners recycle newspapers, grass clippings, pine straw and leaves for this purpose. You can also use recycled rubber and stained mulch in a variety of shades to enhance your garden’s natural beauty. Two more options are mulch fabric, which comes as a black weed blocker or red for growing more tomatoes, and watering blankets, which are a cross between soaker hoses and quilts, but fulfill all the duties of mulch, as well. One last mulch option is to simply leave soil in the sack, punching holes in the upper and lower panels for planting and drainage. In this method, the sack fabric becomes the mulch. If you still want the look of a mulched garden bed, simply pour your choice of mulch over the sacks.