From the Ground Up

So it looks like the winter that never really happened has finally given up trying here in New England. Many of my fellow Bay State gardeners have begun planting. I, however, have yet to plant even the cold-hardiest crops like snow peas and Swiss chard.  Mr. Food It Yourself and I decided we needed to take some time for science in order to optimize our 2016 garden.

We already have bees, so that's good.

We already have bees, so that’s good.

A garden is only as good as the dirt it grows in. We’ve been bulking up our naturally gravely soil with organic matter for a few years now by adding compost, yard clippings and peat moss. It was all based on conjecture, though. We had no idea what was actually in our dirt. So we got ourselves a soil test kit and sent it off for analysis. We were pleasantly surprised by the results:

Here are two of the helpful charts the soil testing company sent back to us.

Here are two of the helpful charts the soil testing company sent back to us.

According to the soil testing people, our soil pH (acid/base balance), percentage of organic matter, and phosphorus were just fine! They recommended some 10-10-10 fertilizer, plus some 34-0-0 and 0-0-60.

So, what do those numbers even mean? The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a really good guide on decoding fertilizers. In short, the three numbers with dashes in between represent the percentage of the product composed of the elements nitrogen (N) phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Thus, the combination of digits is often referred to as the “NPK number” of the fertilizer.  This code makes it easy to compare fertilizer products. Based on the recommendations above, what the Food It Yourself garden needs is a good balanced fertilizer, plus little extra potassium and nitrogen.

Here is the ballanced ferlitizer I bought. It not only has an equal mix of N-P-K , but also calcium. That's why it's important to read the labels on your fertilizers. There can be extra stuff in there that the NPK number doesn't reveal.

Here is the balanced fertilizer I bought. It is hard to see in the picture, but it has calcium, which our soil needs. That’s why it’s important to read the labels on your fertilizers. There can be extra stuff in there that the NPK number doesn’t reveal.

If the process still sounds a little daunting, my recommendation is to head to your local independently owned and operated hardware store or agricultural supplier.  They can help you pick a product that meets your needs. Some even have soil testing services! (Note: There’s nothing wrong about shopping at a big chain home center, but I’ve found smaller shops have tend to have employees with better product knowledge. )

I must admit that I am a little jealous of my neighbors who already have some greens sprouting in their raised beds. However, I am glad we took the extra time to discover what our soil really needs.  I am confident our overall yields will be improved for it. There’s always time for science!