Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dear Soil, Talk to Me, What Do You Need from Me?

Double dug, tilled and composted. What more can I do?

I feel like a Potash-head this morning. Potassium, nitrogen, magnesium, oye.

I am the very model of a garden Major-General. I've information vegetable, animal and mineral, but I'm just so confused.

Plot number 24, by all intents and purposes, should be a veritable vegetable factory this year. It has been lovingly tended to. Last fall, I grew a clover cover crop in it to help build nutrients into the soil. Then I double dug it, turning the rows of clover under to add compost into the soil and to build a fluffy, spacious soil composition that would encourage germination and root growth, and then I added compost to the surface to give it that much more organic matter. Last weekend, I laid over that an additional three to four inches of compost for top dressing. I am, you see, gardening to the letter of the law.

But here's the pisser. I sent soil samples to the University of Delaware the week of March 5th and I have yet to hear back from them. They promised two week delivery, maybe a month if they were busy. But don't they realize that spring is at my throat! I need information, people, and I need it now.

Because, and here's the action I hadn't planned on. Other gardeners at the community garden, after receiving their soil analyses, are putting lime in their gardens!

So, I am a lime lover, I can lime a margarita like nobody's business. People come to my house from all over and are sublimely limed with one of my margaritas. Two, three sips, and I have raised their pH and diminished their acidity, which improves their mood immeasurably.

But for the soil, I don't know my calcium carbonate, from my calcium magnesium carbonate, from my calcium hydroxide, from my calcium oxide. I sure wouldn't want to suffer a morning after from any margarita mixed with that shit. 

Studying my Maryland Master Gardener Handbook this morning, I read that in this state many of "our native soils in unimproved condition are acidic." And that soil acidity is especially deadening where growth is desired. My soil is certainly improved over last year. But my question is what exactly does just the mere applications of compost or organic matter do to the soil in terms of its chemistry? I was under the impression that compost would balance the soil's pH in lieu of chemical fertilizers. Yes?

But on page 64, Marylanders are told that they can mix their soil margaritas with a choice of limestone and dolomite limestone, which are very slow to act, maybe years, or the faster acting hydrated or burned lime. But is that organic? No, of course it can't be. And if you don't get the mixture just right, it will run off and make all the Maryland streams, well, limey.

And as for compost, here I'm reading that you should add no more than a quarter inch to a half inch of compost to turf in year, page 94, but over on page 407, in the vegetable chapter, it says that new garden areas may need four to eight inches of organic matter the first year or two. So that means you are planting young plants directly into compost and not the soil. Can that be good?

I put about five inches of compost into the plot last week and I left it on top of the already double dug soil because I didn't want to destroy the structure of that system. Because you see, I've also read that tilling the soil can severely rupture structure and doing that can take years to repair!

But since my soil test isn't back yet, I don't know if I need to do anything else.

And yet the temptation to plant something was assuaged last weekend, when the master gardener gave me some extra of his plants to plant. I planted those directly into the layer of compost on the top and when I went over yesterday, I was dismayed to see that some of the leaves of the plants had yellowed. Meanwhile, MG's plants directly across from plot 24, were just a lovely green.

I want to die. Just kill me now. Was it the lime? Do I need lime? The Putterer

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