Phil: Hey guys this is Phil from smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com. Today I am talking about soils again, what I am going to do is get into a little bit of a home soil testing process, you can easily do and don’t worry I know you guys want to learn about how to control pests and get rid of weeds and how to grow really delicious tomatoes and how to get you know into fertilizing and which fertilizers to use and I am really excited to teach all that stuff I love talking about that stuff but the thing is here is the thing; hey, are you filming this out of order, when we start with the soil we are actually working on all of that stuff already.
So I am already teaching you that when we have really good healthy soil, we have healthy plants. We don’t have pest problems, we have delicious tomatoes and other plants and nutritious plants. So starting with the soil really takes care of any kind of problems you might encounter and it really addresses to love the goals you may have such as growing food. So that’s why start there and the cool thing is within a few years you are going to be growing this really healthy food, it is really beautiful flowers and I say a few years because it actually does take time to get the soil to a level of nutrition that you can really sure, you going to have hardly any pest problems, you can be more sure, you are going to have higher nutrition in your food.
It doesn’t mean this year wouldn’t be good. You can still have a great success in your first and second season, maybe second season but as you get further and further that’s when it really starts to click and it starts with this hole I have dug right here. Now this is a simple process, we are going to get into more detailed soil testing through a lab eventually but this is a simple thing that you can do in less than half an hour and I even do it every year to just to see how I am doing so what you do is you dig a hole, you dig a hole that’s about a foot wide and long and deep and you start to look into that hole and you figure a few things out about your soil.
The first thing I look at is how easy was it to dig and you want to keep notes on all of these stuff because one of the main reasons we do is just to see how we progress year to year. Last year when I dug in here, it was reasonably difficult to dig. It’s a pretty heavy clay soil, it came out in big clumps but last year I double dug this which I am going to show you eventually and I 2:21 melted it which I am going to show you eventually as well and so digging this year took about one minute to dig this hole. I put it in here into a wheelbarrow, you can put onto a trapper garbage bag, you want to look at it and see how dark the soil is, here this has pretty nice organic matter because I have mended quite a lot last year but when I started it was a much lighter color, now it’s pretty dark.
I guess you can see because I am kind of stranded in the shadows and you know what, it’s going to a get a lot darker over the years, if it will really light page color, if I knew I had sand; then I can kind of keep track as am mending it with organic matter, if I am improving that. You know if were like a grey color I may just be a little concerned about if it’s maybe a really heavy clay again I am going to be mending it, so I am just trying to pay attention. I also put it in here and I look at the soil in the wheelbarrow. One thing I do is I kind of drop it in there and clumps and I see how some of those clumps break a part, look at how beautifully this has broken apart.
It still has nice kind of aggregates, it’s not like sand but it also has a nice kind of looseness to it. So it kind of clumps a little but those clumps fall apart very easily that’s just because I have working on for a year but you know your year is the hardest because that’s when you got to start doing some heavy work but eventually it becomes like this and mine is doing really nice. Also I can do the ribbon test I showed you last time which is taken a third of a cup and trying to squeeze it into a ball and into a ribbon to see if I have clay or sand, that tells me a lot as talked about last time, oh and there is another thing to look for, earthworms.
So if you go through your square foot of soil and you find ten earthworms and you are doing pretty good. I am happy to have ten earthworms. I am really happy if I can find more like 30 earthworms which I am sure I could find in there because of all the work I have been doing, another I like to look for and this is especially if I do in a lawn which I did today but if you in a place where there is roots. If you see how far down the roots go, you can keep track of that, if you see the roots, kind of stop at a certain point and start going sideways, that probably means you have a hard pan layers there and you might wanted the first year double dig through that with a fork with a garden fork and also do some of mending when we get into the soil testing stuff because we want the roots to be able to go much deeper than that, also you can look to see if there are fine root here is on your roofs that indicate there is plenty of oxygen in the soil or maybe if there is not a lot of fine root here, that’s a pointing though lack of oxygen.
There are a few things you can do right now. If you have a question for me about how to improve your soil you can ask it down below and I will get back to you. If you haven’t signed up on my free online organic gardening course, you can do that at smilinggardener.com. If you are on Facebook, you can like my page there and we hang out there and my sister posts stuff there everyday too, she posts a lot of cool stuff. On YouTube you can subscribe and I will see next time.
Today I have a very simple home soil testing process for you.
You may be more interested in learning about topics such as:
- How to get rid of insect and disease pests, and
- How to grow the best-tasting tomatoes ever, and
- Which fertilizers to apply to improve your soil
And I’m looking forward to teaching you these topics.
But the thing is, we absolutely need to go over this home soil testing stuff first.
In fact, it may not seem like it yet, but I’m actually already starting to teach you the above, because if you can do this step that so many gardeners never bother to do, which is learn about your soil and get some good soil test results, aphids and juicy tomatoes and soil imbalances will be so much easier to address.
In fact, within a few years, you’re going to be able to consistently grow big, nutrient-dense, pest-free yields of your favorite tomatoes, or strawberries, or garlic and basil for pesto, or whatever you want to grow.
Dig a hole and place the soil into a wheelbarrow or on a tarp.
I say a few years because it does often take a while to improve soil so as to get exceptionally healthy plants.
But not to worry, that doesn’t mean you won’t see excellent results this year, too.
Getting high quality vegetable harvests (or big bursts of flowers if that’s your thing) year after year can take some time, but growing food so tasty that it gives you goosebumps can most definitely happen in year one or two and will get better most every year after that.
And it starts for me with this simple home soil testing.
We’ve looked at what soil is made of and how it’s formed, and now it’s time to look at your soil.
Eventually you might want to get into some more specific soil testing through one of the soil testing labs I recommend, and I’ll get into more detail in an upcoming lesson.
But even though I may bring out a little home soil test kit once in a while just for kicks, I still start with some simpler tests I can do myself.
I enjoy this process so much that I do it every year or two in order to track my progress. I even keep a diary so I can remember where I started.
It’s very easy. It takes me less than half an hour. The hardest part is walking out to the garden or lawn and digging a hole that’s about 1 cubic foot – 12 inches deep, long and wide.
Place that soil on a tarp or garbage bag, and then it’s time to play and observe and take notes:
- Is the soil easy to dig or is it like concrete?
- Is it a nice dark brown indicating good organic matter or a less-than-optimal beige, gray or blue indicating low organic matter and lack of air?
- Does it smell like rotten eggs indicating perhaps poor drainage, or a nice, earthy forest floor indicating a healthy soil food web?
- Does the ribbon test mentioned in the first lesson point to an especially sandy or clay soil that needs amending?
- Or does the soil you pulled out fall apart like beach sand, or does it stick together in huge clumps meaning it is probably heavy clay, again, either of which may need amending?
- If you dug in an area with roots, like a lawn, do they go nice and deep or do they stop short, indicating compaction or a hardpan layer in the soil that needs to be broken up?
- Are there different kinds of insects, and (in most regions) at least 10 earthworms, indicating the soil is a healthy place for them to live, or if not, indicating the soil needs help?
If you’ve skimmed these bullets quickly and are now going to go back to reading your email instead of digging a hole in your garden, I understand.
It is often much more fun to read about doing something than to get out of your chair and do it – I do that all the time.
Plus, it may be winter where you are.
So all I will say is just keep it in the back of your mind that the next time you are working in your organic garden, it might be a good idea to dig a hole and take a few notes on it.
Doing this home soil testing won’t solve the whole soil puzzle, but answering these questions does give you all kinds of information you can use.
Like if your soil needs a lot of compost or could use some tilling or double digging, how to water and which fertilizers to apply, which plants to incorporate, and so on.
Then you can move onto improving that soil and making a garden bed, and eventually into doing some more fancy pants soil testing at home, both of which we’ll get into in the coming lessons.
What’s your biggest question about how to improve your own soil? Ask me below and I’ll get back to you…