Garden Soil Testing – Steps Before Planting Your Garden

It’s important to do some basic garden soil testing before you plant or even design your garden.

Check out this video to see what I mean.

Actually, I ideally want to learn a lot about the soil, because by far the best time to improve it is when you prepare a new organic garden bed, before you’ve planted anything.

Since I only have this evening, I can’t do nearly as much as I’d like, but I can still learn some important information.

In the Smiling Gardener Academy, you get much more detail about what I usually do, which is a lot of qualitative testing of my own, plus garden soil testing through a lab rather than just a cheap home soil testing kit. To me, that’s very important to producing the healthiest possible vegetable garden.

Today, even though I don’t have much time, I at least do a couple of basics. The main thing to do is get an indication of your soil texture, which is what proportion of your soil is sand, silt and clay. The ribbon test is the fastest for that, as shown in the video.

Now you have an idea how the soil will infiltrate, drain and hold water, if it will provide sufficient air, and you even know a bit about your soil’s inherent fertility. You can also dig a hole to see how easy the digging is, how deep the topsoil is, and if it looks like there’s some organic matter in there.

All of this information helps you decide which plants to buy and how to care for them, how to water, how to use organic fertilizers, and so on. There are many more tests like this, but that’s a start. And I know it’s not the most exciting step, but it’s important and it gets more interesting from here.

Do you have any questions about garden soil testing? Let me know below.

Garden Soil Testing Video Transcript

Some of you guys may know that I grew up working on a small little nine hole pitch and put golf course that my parents owned.

And I really did everything on that course and I did it from when I was pretty young – like before I was a teenager.

And then all throughout my teenage years and through university and I learned a lot about lawn care and gardening.

But, there were some things I didn’t know or I didn’t learn until I started studying organic gardening.

And one of the things was I used to, we would get a disease on the greens called dollar spot which is a pretty common disease on golf course greens anywhere I’ve ever lived.

And, I’d spray a pesticide to get rid of that dollar spot it didn’t work very well because it would come back within usually a week or so, so I’d have to be spraying this things every of couple weeks at least.

So I wished I had known then, I didn’t know then that there was anything wrong with pesticides.

Eventually, I started studying the organic thing and I figured out that there was a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t do that and I figured out how, now I’m at a point where I don’t have pests – hardly any pests, at least none to cause me any kind of concern here in my organic garden because I figured out how to do it.

You could call it organic gardening but it’s more than that. What often passes for organic gardening is kind of just neglect. Just ‘let everything go wild’ and certainly that’s cool – I’m all for letting nature do its thing but for my gardening goals that I talked about in the first video that’s not going to work.

And so, it’s more than that just letting nature run its course. It’s also more than just composting which I love but a lot of people think ‘oh just pile on the compost’ and that going make you organic. It’s a lot more than that.

So the next thing I want to do today is to just go into digging in the soil and in the Smiling Gardner Academy, I obviously get into some pretty major garden soil testing both through a lab and also just on your own learning about your soil.

Today I’m just trying to get this all done in the afternoon here and I just want to tell you about basic soil testing in this one video.

But I want to tell you a couple things you can do. Everybody skips this basic step, but if you do this you just learn a little bit about your soil and it helps with a lot of decisions. Some people just don’t want to get out there and do the work but it’s really exciting to do this step so I hope you’ll do it.

So what I’m going to do here is point the camera down. I’ll I’ve done so far is taken the sod off and my bed is going to be going here so what I want to do here, is I want to learn a bit about my soil through some simple soil tests.

The first thing would be just to take a third of a cup of soil and make sure it’s kind of moist. This is already fairly moist because it has rained in the last couple days, and just start playing with it to see if you can figure out a little bit about your soil texture.

Your soil texture is how much sand, silt and clay you have in your soil, sort of the proportion of those things, and the fact that I can do this quite easily means to be that this is not a sandy soil because if you’ve been on a beach you can’t do that with sand.

There’s obviously some clay and/or some silt in here because both clay and silt can do this. So then you can start doing kind of a ribbon test where you try to roll this thing out and oh!…there’s a poor worm in there!

You roll that out, see how long of a ribbon you can roll and if it kind of stops there – you have more of a silty soil, if it stops at maybe a couple of inches. But if you can roll it out into something that’s a few inches long its getting to be a few inches long its more clay.

That’s what this looks like it is doing. Another thing to look at is if it stains your fingers if you kind of rub it. Clay really stains your fingers. And my fingers are definitely getting stained here. So, I know there’s some clay in here.

Whereas silt is more related to sand, it’s a little grainier so there’s one thing. Let’s start with that. That’s texture. Very useful to figure out just what you have for texture and I know here I have kind of a clay soil.

The next thing I might want to do is just to start digging. I just want to know how easy it is to dig in here is. What do I have going on in here?

Count the earthworms, too. What you might want to do is dig about a cubic foot of soil, count the earthworms in there and see how many you have. See what you’re starting with because you want to usually get more.

You want to have at least 10 earthworms in that square foot. More lie 20 or 30 would be wonderful. I want to see how easy it is to dig in here.

I want to see maybe how deep does my topsoil go? Is there a layer where is turns to be a different color? Because I want to know what I’m starting with (because I want to improve that), what I start with to see if I’m improving it.

I also want to look at the roots in here and see if the roots are healthy. See if they have some fine little root hairs, which means there’s enough oxygen in the soil.

I want to keep digging, this is the kind of stuff people skip because it’s not that fun, I guess for most people. It’s a lot of fun for me! I’ve already seen 10 earth worms so that’s a pretty good sign. It’s fairly easy to dig.

I want to kind of see if there’s organic matter down in here. If it’s a nice, dark soil or is it more like concrete or is it not a nice dark color? So, there are all kinds of things to look at and it’s hard to explain in one video.

I’ll get more into it in the Academy but this is something that you just want to start digging and seeing. For example through texture, now I know that I have a clay soil. It helps me to find what kind of plants to plant.

It helps I know the clay soil is going to hold more water and so I can apply more water really helps with my irrigation scheduling. I can apply more water to this at one time, whereas if it was sandy the sandy soil doesn’t hold much water so I have to apply less, but apply it more often.

Also with this clay I know that it’s going to hold more nutrients so that I can fertilize more.

There’s a bunch of stuff that is helps to figure out. Its helps me to figure out with water, with fertility, with what kind of plants to plant, all that kind of stuff.

So, I really encourage you before you do anything in your vegetable garden is just get digging in there and like I said I’ll talk more about this. But, that is a really good first step for garden soil testing.

65 Comments

  1. Csommers48 on October 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Phil are you going to make a video book to learn about gardening or do I have to buy the book. I really would love a video book

    • Phil on October 7, 2011 at 1:22 am

      You bet, I’m just putting the finishing touches on the Smiling Gardener Academy, which will be a membership website with a series of videos and text on organic gardening. Stay tuned. I’m really excited to get it out there…

  2. Cylia on October 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Good reminder that the quality of our soil is important to support the annuals that we grow for our food.  Thanks. 

  3. Thomas on October 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I sooo look forward to learning more about this in the “academy”. Please let us know when it’s ready!

  4. Wansbek1968 on November 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I have a spot against the fence that I call the “dead zone”. All red clay, no worms, no signs of life at all. I had ammended this soil also with store bought bags of compost and such, which did nothing. Well, this year, I dug some holes in the dead zone and piled in some partially done compost from my compost pile.  Of course, I wanted to do more, so this weeken I planted a winter cover crop. While doing this, I have noticed the change in the soil texture and color already and also, it is loaded with worms. It also helps that my four hens love to take their dirt baths there and deposit some manure.  Oh, and yes, I hade to put netting around it so the chickies wouldn’t eat my seed.

    • Phil on November 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Sounds like you’re taking a good approach of using organic matter and cover crops. That technique you used of digging holes and applying organic matter is especially useful in a tree root zone, where you can’t go tilling in compost.

      • Hanson Gildemeister on March 28, 2018 at 1:24 pm

        That is similar to the way I started planting one garden I had. I started by roto-tilling a lawn first with a large, then subsequently with a small, tiller (once a week from mid-April till end of May). This allowed the sod to decompose slowly without damage to the soil structure. The soil was sandy-loam, but there was hard-pan of “dead”, inactive pale-red brown colored loam about 4-5″ below it.

        That underground loam had been displaced by construction work (in the early 60’s) onto the top of the soil and had been seeded over with grass. That grass had enabled the soil to develop a 2-3″ top soil layer by the time I started the vegetable garden. When I tilled, the sod acted as a buffer/fertilizer and enriched a 3-4″ deep top layer with which to plant with. But that layer was still not deep enough for enabling tomatoes, squashes, peppers, carrots etc. to grow deep into the soil. One side of the garden had a bit deeper topsoil content and was more humusy, so I didn’t need to dig holes and grew leafy veggies like kale and white cabbage there.

        When I started planting, I began by digging holes 8-10″ W and about 7-8″ deep for each plant, to allow good root growth. Simultaneously, I applied about a spade full of composted cow manure to each hole and mixed it with some of the soil in that hole. I left most of the dead loam from below (which was a little clumpy) around the perimeter of the hole, and worked it lightly into the soil after I was finished planting. I managed to keep the weeds in check with a wheel hoe, which also kept the top of the soil nicely friable. Cultivating like this improves the structure of the soil and increases the mineralisation and availability of nutrients for the plants. This shallow, 1-1 1/2″ hoeing avoids soil erosion, yet has a fertilizing effect for the plants. I hoed every 10 days or so, but by the end of the season did it less often so as to allow more growth of soil microorganisms, fungi, and earthworms.

        Subsequently, all the vegetables thrived and produced good, healthy yields – the tomatoes had only minimal amounts of late blight. By October I would begin clearing the beds of plant debris and putting it in the compost. By November and into Dec., I would spread a nice 1-1 1/2″ layer of leaf mulch (which I got for free, and used a lot of, from the municipality supply) that remained on the ground till the next spring.

        Then in the spring, when the soil was dry enough, I’d again start the procedure of light rototilling several times before planting. Within 5 years I was able to increase the humus level from about 3% to 9%! The soil was very friable and had a good nutrient content/balance of N, P, and K. It was a bit on the alkaline side with about 7.5 pH, but everything grew well in it. This just goes to show how steady/yearly applications of leaf mulch, combined with cow manure (sometimes compost) in the planting holes, can improve the dynamism/quality of a poor soil in a relatively short time.

        • Hanson Gildemeister on March 28, 2018 at 7:48 pm

          I forgot to mention my garden was 60 x 60ft. = 3600 sq. ft. large. It’s high humus level was evident in the rich, dark -brown color of the soil. I managed it pretty much single-handedly, that’s why I needed support from some tools and machines. My intensive bio-dynamic farming and market gardening knowledge/experience helped me figure out a workable combination of manual and machine labor. The garden was conceived by an Episcopal Church as a project to contribute food to the local food bank, and became recognized as a USDA “People’s Garden”. I had a lot of fun managing it and working with members of the Church, who did a lot of harvesting and watering. We harvested up to 1400 lbs. yearly.

          I avoided mulching during the growing season, since it interfered with the cultivation and didn’t always stop the weeds from growing. Except for the squashes and cukes that seemed to like the straw I gave them. Previous experiences growing tomatoes showed they didn’t like being mulched because the soil around them remained too moist too long – I learned tomatoes preferred having their feet dry. I know a commercial organic gardener that makes mounds on his (tomato) beds and covers them with a dark, synthetic cloth and uses a drip system along the rows. He had really nice tomatoes. Are drip-systems good or bad? Well, they also interfere with cultivation.

          Phil, I’d appreciate your (even if brief) feedback on any of the above matters.

          Thanks,
          Hanson G.

          • Phil on March 30, 2018 at 9:49 am

            It all sounds great to me, Hanson. Yes, tomatoes don’t want to be too wet. Same with a number of other plants, which is why in a humid climate, mulch has its ups and downs. But in a drier climate, the tomatoes will appreciate that mulch. And a drip system can work, but you know how big indeterminate tomatoes can get above ground – just imagine how far those roots spread! Ideally, the whole area would get water in order to feed the roots and the rest of the soil biology.

            As for your soil improvement method, it sounds very smart – just enough soil disturbance to keep the weeds down and get the organic matter incorporated, but also being very mindful of all of the important life in the soil.



          • Hanson Gildemeister on March 30, 2018 at 3:21 pm

            Hi Phil. Thanks for your positive feedback. I enjoy sharing my garden knowledge and growing methods/techniques with you and others, and look forward to your growing tips and advice for this growing season. Hope this year goes well for you.



          • Hanson Gildemeister on March 30, 2018 at 3:28 pm

            Forgot to mention I live just north of Wash. DC in Gaithersburg, MD. May can be surprisingly cool and wet here, but by end of May/beginning of June it gets very hot and humid – up into the 90’s!



    • Diana in Victoria BC on March 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm

       Diana, here, from Victoria, British Columbia. There was NO soil on the rock my house is built on. Like you, I had to “make” it. It is now rich and supplies all-year food. In paths beween raised beds, I lay down cardboard, papers, hot horse manure, then about ten inches to fourteen inches of semi-rotted horse/barn shavings from friends’ horse farmette. It’s free for the taking at most places which barn their horses at night. Having built on top of rock, what is left after tramping on those paths all season, is, by the next early spring, rich, black loam. I add it to the tops of all beds, along with Essential Micro-organisms and Sea Minerals, watered in, plus as much compost as is available. Then I plant an overwintering cover crop, as you have done, in early October, on all beds which don’t hold over-wintering root crops and kale/chard/brussels sprouts. Those I top-dress with compost and if winter gets nasty, spread hay or straw around the over-wintering crops. No, the garden is not plagued with hay growing next season! Why? Because I top dress with the soil from the paths, which are then replenished with more cardboard/paper/horse + barn shavings each fall. If you want black, worm-and-micro-organism/mineral rich soil, this is a fast and successful way to go. Good luck. And thanks, Phil, for your inspiration and knowledge, so freel shared.

      • Phil on March 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm

        Excellent summary Diana. Thanks for laying it out in such detail!

  5. Ocostafj on February 17, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I live on the coast of Western Washington state and have built 3’x12’x1′ high raised beds and filled them with composted cranberry/rice hull mixture and a soil builder compost from local garden supply store and some lime. Different beds have different mixutres. All are light a fluffy and I can stick my hand all the way down with no trouble.  How do I go about getting the proper soil samples  soil samples?Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Phil on February 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      Hi, can you please clarify your question? I’m not sure what you’re asking. Thanks!

  6. Ramani on March 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks, very useful tips, indeed.The soil in my garden seems to be a mixture of filled-in reddish clay plus building debris, which I keep having to sift out. With all those stones and pieces of clay tile and motar in there, the soil retains very little water, even though it is clay. I have been mixing in more compost and cow dung, though, to encourage a looser consistency. This is because in a tropical climate, with heavy monsoon and intermonsoon showers, clay soil on its own tends to gets water-logged.Looking forward to the next lesson …

    • Phil on March 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Interesting Ramani, sounds like you need to dig down to get most of that debris out and gradually add organic matter for the next few years, just like you’re doing. It may take a little while, but you’ll improve your soil for sure.

  7. Goodgardening on July 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Phil,Do you think tomatoes like it more on the acidic side or the alkaline side. Some folks insist that the soil should be alkaline in order for tomatoes to thrive. But if that’s the case, why then are tomatoes sour? Like cranberries and blueberries which are mostly sour fruits and like low PH, shouldn’t tomatoes prefer lower pH as well?Also, what is your stance on biochar–highly recommended or so-so recommended? I had just begun knowing about this so called natural charcoal that a lot of gardeners, scientists, and environmentalists are raving about. I consider myself to be quite a frugal gardener and, as such, i’m reading on the subject of making your own biochar. But the thought of heating dried organic matter to 900 degrees celsius with fuming flame overhead doesn’t sound very appealling at the moment..I’ll probably freak out my neighbors and the local fire marshals.Which brings me to zeolite. Now so far i’ve noticed their are quite a few similarities between the two products (porosity, ligh weight, helps reduce ferlizer need, and last a long time).  I just bought a bag a zeolite and now hearing about biochar afterward makes me wonder..Could zeolite compete head to head with biochar when it comes to the soil biology? Thanks for your time!

    • Phil on July 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      I think the idea that certain plants like certain pH is a misconception. I talked about it in 2 posts I did about pH, starting with this one: https://www.smilinggardener.com/organic-soil-management/soil-ph-kits/ I think biochar has some potential uses, but also some potential problems. I very much prefer compost. I have seen zeolite do some good, especially in soils that aren’t irrigated, but I still prefer to stick with compost, which doesn’t stay around as long as charcoal/zeolite, but has so many additional benefits.

  8. Monica on July 27, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I really enjoy the information thank you so much!!

  9. Rob Robbins on August 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Phil:Thanks for the lessons.  I’m here because I plan to gradually replaceall of the soil on my property with homemade terra preta (biochar).  My wife’s the gardener, I just like the idea of building my own soil and I find terra preta fascinating.  It’s going to be a mix of my own clay, pyrolyzed charcoal, compost, composted manure, terracotta sherds, ash, bone meal, and algae.  I’m reconsidering the bone meal after reading your opinions on it.   You mentioned some potential problems with biochar, couldyou tell me what some of them are?Thanks, Rob

    • Phil on August 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      Hi Rob, I’m definitely no expert on biochar. My concerns are partially about how much energy is required to create it on a large, industrial scale.And then in terms of small scale, there are concerns about it imbalancing soil fertility. I’m sure there could be benefits, but so far I really prefer using a quality compost without the charcoal.

      • Smoggyrob on August 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm

        Hi Phil:Thank you, I appreciate your take on this. I hope to address the potential imbalances with lab testing and amendment, until I get the right recipe for my home.As for the large-scale costs, don’t forget to factor in that terra preta was first created about 1,000-2,500 years ago, and it’s still there.I’m looking forward to learning more from these lessons. You’re an inspirational teacher.Rob

  10. Norma on August 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I have fire ants in my garden area. Now what do I do about them?

  11. Bec on September 8, 2012 at 8:21 am

    golly, how many different post have you got, im running through the 15 lessons, loving them, as a general background info. we have emailed oneanother about your book, however still am unaware if its available in australia.

    • Phil on September 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks Bec, I think you have to order from Amazon.com, but the shipping isn’t bad, especially if you spread it out over 2 books.

  12. Soil testing Adelaide on October 9, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Soil testing is an important thing to do before you plant . This is to test if your soil contains enough nutrients needed for your plants to grow healthier.

  13. Dan on October 25, 2012 at 4:26 am

    D anIts always good to review soil learning, thanks.

  14. Soil testing Adelaide on November 6, 2012 at 2:21 am

    it is important to test your soil before planting your garden. This is to observe and determine if the soil is efficient enough to sustain the nutrients needed for a particular variety of plant. Anyways, thanks for sharing the steps in soil testing.

  15. lewis11c on November 30, 2012 at 11:30 am

    i would follow it

  16. Rosalind on June 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I thought you might be interested to know what I have planted in my 5 veggie plots here in Melbourne Australia at present. It is winter here and I have fennel, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, spring onions, leeks, silver beet, European sweet chillies, hot chillies, celery, Chinese cabbage, broad beans, parsnips and a variety of herbs including a curry tree which is doing well. My next job will be to plant Dutch Cream potatoes sometime after the 22nd June and am making good use of my 3 compost bins. It will be good to bone up on compost with you Phil. I am looking for a good harvest in the spring and summer.As a new subscriber to your site, I am grateful for the help you give and also for the reminders.

    • Phil on June 16, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Nice. I want a curry tree! Sounds like a nice spot…

  17. Rosalind on June 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Phil, can you go through the difference between earthworms and compost worms? Is there a difference?

    • Phil on June 16, 2013 at 9:39 am

      If you mean worms for worm composting in a container, yes they are different. They are a kind of earthworm, but not the typical deeper burrowing earthworms we would find in our garden. The ones for worm composting are called red wigglers, latin ‘Eisenia fetida’.

  18. Terry Obright on June 24, 2013 at 5:56 am

    my soil is mostly clay, but water does not stand long. I have had 6 loads of wood chips dumped and 5 of those loads were spread over my backyard. The soil under those chips is looking better as time goes by I am finding more worms under the chips also.. The chips were dumped about 7 months ago.

  19. John on August 14, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    If you have hard pan soil and can’t put a shovel in an inch, will tillage radishes work to break up the soil? Thanks for the great site. John

    • Phil on August 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Good question. If you literally can’t get your shovel in an inch, I’m not sure those radishes will get very far either. Sounds like you need to send a soil sample to a good organic lab and then balance out the soil nutrients, as well as improve soil biology and organic matter. Then bring in the radishes.

  20. Patricia on August 18, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    I’m looking forward to learning more about the academy! Sounds like an on line course?

  21. Ben on December 4, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    blah blah blah count the earthworms.

  22. Brian Polkinghorne on March 20, 2014 at 2:08 am

    Phil – think I picked up a couple of mistakes in the above article. Isn’t dollar spot a fungus? If this is so then it is not treated with a weedicide (which kills weeds), but a fungicide. Secondly, in relation to clay soil it certainly holds more nutrients as you stated, therefore you will have to fertilize less, not more as stated in the third to last para.

    • Phil on March 20, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks for your note Brian. It think I said I treated it with a pesticide, which includes all categories of ‘cides’ – fungicide, herbicide, insecticide, etc.A clay soil holds more nutrients, which means you have to fertilize more, with the specific nutrients you need, in order to make a change in the balance of nutrients in the soil. We’re concerned more with the relative amounts of our major soil nutrients than the absolute amounts. What this means is that if my clay soil is deficient in calcium, I’m going to have to apply more calcium to make a change in the balance of nutrients than if I had a sandy soil that was deficient in calcium.

  23. Prapee on April 29, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Hi Phil, thank you for your e-book and VDO on soil quality testing. They are very comprehensive and very useful.

    • Phil on April 29, 2014 at 6:09 pm

      You’re welcome 🙂

  24. diana on July 23, 2014 at 2:15 am

    I have about 2ft of soil between my patio and fence. Nothing is planted it’s just covered with first little rocks then plastic weed protector then mulch. I hires someone to remove it all down to just dirt. I want to dig deep holes with hole post digger and throw in a fish some bone meal and coffee grinds. Cover it up and water it with fish emulsion and seaweed emulsion then cover it with a thin layer of mulch till planting time in a couple of months. Advise pleas first try

    • Phil on July 24, 2014 at 1:20 am

      All seems pretty good to me 🙂

      • Diana on July 24, 2014 at 3:50 am

        Thank you am reading all of your gardening information

  25. Ed George on August 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Hi, I’m Ed from Lincoln Nebraska. I’m a farm boy growing up on a 600 acre irrigated/dryland corn, soybean, alfalfa and small grain operation. By the time I was able I and by brother and two sisters were slaving away in the large garden. I didn’t enjoy picking the strawberries but sure enjoyed making a strawberry malt using the milk from our farm. On a hot summer afternoon that tasty treat sure was great. I was an University of Nebraska Extension Educator working with 4H youth advising them on their garden projects. Pleasant memories working with those youngsters that are now adults. My most recent work is helping 150 Nebraska FFA chapters Educators and 6,000 FFAers learning about soil health. With a $200,000 grant from NEBRASKA ENVIRONMENTAL TRUST, those schools have, soil probes, a soil testing kit, in-service teacher training, curriculum and lesson plans, a website that includes youtube information on the soil tests. Partners for the project included USDA-NRCS staff, University of Nebraska Extension Educators, two soil laboratory owners and soil experts. We were in soil pits learning about soil horizons, soil types, soil moisture and texture, soil biology and chemistry. With those student skills, they are actively involved in regional soil judging contests hosted by Nebraska Natural Resources District. staff. Would be glad to share more information. Ed George

  26. Phil H on August 18, 2014 at 12:35 am

    Phil,Thanks for checking in. This is my first foray into organic gardening. I’m excited about it, but there sure is a lot to learn. I’ve done quite a bit of gardening in my life but have always used conventional methods of pest control and fertilization (chemical). Naturally, several questions have come up already.One thing I noticed after reading some of your lessons is that you don’t utilize neem oil. This seems to be a mainstay for many organic gardeners, and I was wondering what your take on it is.I’m lucky enough to live on the coast. Our ocean water is relatively clean because of the lack of industry in the area. Is there any disadvantage to using the water directly from the ocean compared to the commercial products? If not, what’s the best way to do so.My current project is growing apple, pear, and, eventually other fruit trees. Currently, I have them in pots here in Florida and plan to move them to my farm in Tennessee in October. There, they’ll overwinter and I’ll plant them out in the orchard in the spring after the last frost date. The orchard is without running water and on a steep slope making transportation of large volumes of water impossible. I’ll be using a backpack sprayer. Do you have a section on application rates using a backpack sprayer?I know I’ll have a bunch more questions as I go along, but the information so far has been really helpful.Phil H

  27. joan J on October 1, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Thanks Phil, I enjoy your vidios , Just started with some gardening a few years ago. I think my soil is depleted so this is a big help to me. I have compost, is it ok to dig up a large row in my space and bury the compost and re cover with the old soil this fall? Does that take my top soil away or deplete it to do that? thanks

    • Phil on October 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      If your compost is nice, finished compost, it’s generally best to spread it over a large area, even if it’s just a dusting. No need to bury it.

      • joan J on October 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm

        Thanks for answering Phil. I will do that instead. Have a great fall.

  28. Jules on January 19, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Yes Phil. Another learning from you. Got to dirt my hands to know my farm in order to feed them well. Thank you so much.

  29. Rosita on March 4, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    I belong to a community garden because and even though we learn from each other, specially the more seasoned gardeners and the master gardeners, your lessons are helping me a lot to really enjoy myself in my 100 sq ft playground that constitute my plot withing the community garden. Tks a lot

  30. ashna annu philip on August 20, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    hi Phil, i am from KERALA, INDIA. we work(me n mom) very hard in our garden and do all organic solutions like garlic- chilli mix to get rid of pests and diseases. we are completely against using chemical fertilizers and other chemical related stuffs. all our plants tend to be weak and gradually die without producing any vegetables, making us really desperate. could you please suggests some solutions for this?

    • Phil on August 24, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Obviously the soil isn’t healthy, but it’s hard for me to know why. It could be too much or too little: water, organic matter, specific minerals, etc. That’s why I recommend soil testing, but I don’t know what your options are for doing that through a soil lab where you are.

  31. Sylvia on March 23, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Hey Phil I am getting your lesson just not sure where to start with my questions . I am in Florida and trail and erroring for a while so happy to find a go to place to follow a step by step basic format. So much I want to know right now. But for right now since I am going into summer heat. Info growing hot weather and plant food stuff that does well would be most helpful.

  32. C Lindsay on April 21, 2016 at 5:03 am

    Hi Phil. I’m a newbie to organic gardening. I’m reading all of your material as I wait to join the academy. I don’t have a lot of garden space as I live in a condo situation. With the area that I do have, my goal is to improve the soil, put plants in that are more suitable for my clay soil, and go organic all the way. Do I need to remove everything prior to testing and amending the soil or am I able to do so with some plants in place? There are a couple of plants I’d like to leave in but I would like to do what’s best for growing a healthier garden.

    • Phil on May 2, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      You can certainly leave plants in place. No problem at all.

  33. Ssebadduka Elisha on July 6, 2016 at 8:07 am

    I do appreciate the work you are doing. I want to share your videos with other friends so that they can learn. I have already made them as reference on some documents which I write. Keep it up please.

  34. Be Feeding on January 14, 2017 at 7:03 am

    Thank you very much.

  35. DONDO BENA Benoit on September 20, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Hello Phil,
    There is no other way to thank you for the helper whom you have been to some of us who are looking at how organic farming could be our new way of living. As I told you, I am a PhD student who’s research is totally organic . I am working on enhancing sandy soil fertility by the means of legumes biomass! The work consist on the intercropping systems of the corn and different legumes. As you suggested, it is true that testing the soil is one of the major step in farming business. I started with a socio-economic questionnaire on the awareness about environment issue, I collected soil samples to be analyzed in the lab before setting my experiment trials.
    So thanks Phil and keep it up!
    Benoit

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