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Spring/Summer Gardening

 


 

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Soil Evaluation, Prep and Management

“What’s the secret to great soil” you ask? Well, as in all things important, the answer is both simple and complex. (confused yet?) The simple part is the fact that great soil really has only just a few important elements:

Do you have a friend whose garden makes you green with envy? Yes, that “in-your-face”, beautiful, healthy, abundant garden that year after year taunts you, flaunting its beauty at you while you return home to what seems in comparison like a garden on life support. You wonder, “What has she got that I don’t?”


What did that garden have that yours doesn’t?

Well, thankfully, that “something” is really nothing that yours can’t have. Truly, there’s almost no problem that a little tender loving care, knowledge, time and attention can’t fix. First of all…let’s answer that first question: “what does your friend’s garden have that yours doesn’t?” Simply…it’s good healthy soil. Is there hope for your soil? Of course!

First things first – you’ve got to get to know your soil. Spend some time with it, learn its strengths and weaknesses and then set out to make it better. I can hear you now, “Get to know my soil…what are you talking about?”.  Well, you’re a gardener, right? So it’s probably a safe guess that getting dirty doesn’t bother you. Well then…let’s get dirty! Getting to know your soil means you’re down on your hands and knees digging in the dirt, feeling the dirt, observing the dirt. Really!

Ok, ok…so we’ll start standing up then.  Stand in your garden and take a look around, evaluate your landscape…then you can start digging.  Look to see if your soil has these qualities (the more it differs, the more work you have in store):

  • Sufficient soil moisture: enough water is available on a regular basis to support what you want to grow
  • Good water infiltration: soil should be able to absorb about .06 inches of water per hour in the top 20 inches.
  • Adequate drainage: water drains well through soil and area does not flood or water doesn’t puddle for extended periods of time.
  • Balanced chemistry: the soil shouldn’t be extremely acidic, alkaline, saline or sodic.
  • Proper soil depth: there’s enough topsoil over bedrock, gravel or hardpan to allow for root growth and moisture storage
  • Even topography: Any slopes in your landscape should be gentle so that the soil doesn’t erode easily, create a run-off problem and allows for easy access
  • Lack of rocks: minimal amount of gravel, stones or boulders so that tilling, working the soil is not impeded
  • Moderate temperature: average annual soil temperature should be higher than 32° F (0°C) and the average summer soil temperature should be higher than 46°F (8°C). How to take your soil’s temperature.

AND most importantly…

  • An active and well-populated soil food web: Take an earthworm census. Choose a 1-foot-square site that is a good average of your garden. Dig out the top 6 inches and place in a shallow pan. Then simply count the number of earthworms in the removed soil by moving the earth around bit by bit.  One or two earthworms, your soil needs some improvement. Five to nine earthworms, means you’re getting there, but still need more organic matter. If you find 10 or more earthworms…congratulations – you have healthy, biologically active soil!

Learn more about Soil Food Web at the GroEdibles Blog: What’s in a Teaspoon of Soil

Now you should a have a better picture of what you’re dealing with. Let’s focus on your soil (now’s the time to get down and dirty!).

Soil Texture: All You Ever Wanted to Know About it (Sand, Silt or Clay) and What’s LOAM and How do I Get it?

Soil texture has a major effect on the physical properties of soil. As soil particles get larger, the spaces between the particles get bigger too. Clay has the smallest sized particles, silt – medium sized and sand has the largest sized particles which is the major reason that water drains through it so easily (greatest pore space) and why clay drains so slowly (smallest pore space). So soil texture dictates, not only, how well your soil drains, but also how well it retains nutrients and moisture. Clay soils tend to be fertile, but are often wet and poorly drained. Sandy soils drain easily but can be drought-prone and infertile. Loams retain moisture and are fertile and friable (crumbly and easy-to-work). Loam soil contains about 40 per cent sand, 40 per cent silt and 20 per cent clay, along with plenty of humus. Many plants tolerate a variety of soil textures, while some, like edibles, have more specific soil requirements.

Soil Texture Field Test:

These three simple tests can help you determine your soil’s texture while you’re in your own backyard. HGEL usually uses the Ribbon Test. A soil test lab can give you a more accurate assessment but these tests are fully capable of giving you a very good idea of what you are dealing with.

  1. Feel test: Thoroughly dry and crush a small amount of the soil by rubbing it with the forefinger in the palm of your other hand. Then rub some of it between your thumb and fingers to measure the percentage of sand. The grainier it feels, the higher the sand content.
  2. Moist cast test. * Compress moist soil by squeezing it in your hand. When you open your hand, if the soil holds together (that is, forms a cast), pass it from hand to hand — the more durable the cast, the higher the percentage of clay.
  3. Ribbon test. * Roll a handful of moist soil is into a cigarette shape and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger to form the longest and thinnest ribbon possible. Soil with high silt content will form flakes or peel instead of forming a ribbon. The longer and thinner the ribbon, the higher the percentage of clay.

*For these tests, the soil specimen should be gradually moistened and thoroughly reshaped and kneaded to bring it to its maximum “plasticity” and to remove dry lumps. Do not add too much water, as the sample will lose its cohesion.

Planting in clay soil from Cultivating Life on Vimeo.

ATTRA – Alternative Soil Amendments

Warm Season Edibles

As the phrase implies, warm-season crops grow best in higher temperatures than cool-season crops –  air temperatures ranging from 80oF highs to 50 to 60oF lows and soil temperatures between 55-70 F during the growing season. Warm season crops tend to have deeper root systems. They also need to be watered and fertilized often as higher temperatures lead to faster evaporation. Warm-season crops are typically fruits while cool-season crops are root crops and salad greens.

Fast Maturing Crops (40-50 days):

Radishes – (does not tolerate hot temperatures) – LIGHT: tolerates partial shade SOIL: well drained, well worked, deep, and free of rocks pH: 6.0 to 8.0 TEMPERATURE: cool (60 to 65°F) MOISTURE: moist, but not waterlogged
Summer squash & Zucchini – LIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained. FERTILITY: Medium-rich. pH: 6.0 to 7.5 TEMPERATURE: Warm (65 to 75°F). MOISTURE: Average.

Moderate Maturing Crops (50-100 days):

Beans Light: sunny Soil: well-drained Fertility: medium rich pH: 5.8 – 7.0 Temperature: warm (65 degrees – 80 degrees) except fava beans Moisture: average

CucumbersLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained; moderate-high organic matter. FERTILITY: Rich. pH: 5.5 to 7.0 TEMPERATURE: Hot (65 to 80°F). MOISTURE: Keep moist, not waterlogged; mulch helps maintain moisture.

PeppersLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained, loose soil with moderate organic matter. FERTILITY: Medium-rich. pH: 5.5 to 6.5 TEMPERATURE: Warm (70 to 75°F). MOISTURE: Average. Mild water stressing when fruit is set and ripening may improve flavor & intensify heat but fruit may be a little smaller. Over-watering at this stage will result in less flavorful fruit.

TomatoLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained, loam. FERTILITY: Medium-rich. TEMPERATURE: Warm (70° to 80°F). Sustained (more than a few days) temperatures outside the optimal range of day/nighttime temperatures will effect pollination and fruit set. Daytime temperatures above 90° or below 55° and nighttime temperatures above 70° or below 55° MOISTURE: Moist, but not waterlogged. As with peppers, mild water stressing when fruit is set and ripening may improve flavor, texture but fruit may be a little smaller. Over-watering at this stage will result in less flavorful fruit.

Melons & MuskmelonsLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained with moderate organic matter; sandy. FERTILITY: Medium. pH: 6.0 to 7.5 TEMPERATURE: Hot (70 to 85°F). MOISTURE: Average.

EggplantLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained, high organic matter. FERTILITY: Rich. pH: 6.0 to 7.0 TEMPERATURE: Warm (70 to 85°F). MOISTURE: Average.

CornLight: sunny Soil: deep, well-drained loam Temperature: warm (60 to 75 degrees F) Moisture: average

BasilLIGHT: full to part sun SOIL: light sandy loam FERTILITY: Rich pH: 6.5 TEMPERATURE: Warm (60-75 degrees F) MOISTURE: Average

Tomatillo : LIGHT: full sun SOIL: light sandy loam FERTILITY: Rich pH: 6.5 TEMPERATURE: Warm (60-75 degrees F) MOISTURE: Evenly moist

Long Maturing Crops (100 days or more):

PumpkinsLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained; moderate-high organic matter. FERTILITY: Rich. pH: 5.5 to 7.0 TEMPERATURE: Hot (65 to 80°F). MOISTURE: Keep moist, not waterlogged; mulch helps maintain moisture.

Winter SquashLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained; moderate-high organic matter. FERTILITY: Rich. pH: 5.5 to 7.0 TEMPERATURE: Hot (65 to 80°F). MOISTURE: Keep moist, not waterlogged; mulch helps maintain moisture.

PotatoesLIGHT: Sunny. SOIL: Well-drained with moderate organic matter. FERTILITY: Medium-rich. pH: 4.8 to 6.5 TEMPERATURE: Cool (55 TO 65°F). MOISTURE: Uniform moisture, especially while tubers are developing.

Onion (dry)LIGHT: sunny (green onions tolerate partial shade) SOIL: well-drained loam pH: 5.5 to 7.0 TEMPERATURE: cool (45 to 60°F) during develop ment; medium hot (60 to 75°F) during bulbing and curing MOISTURE: moist, but not waterlogged

Carrots – LIGHT: sunny SOIL: well-drained, deep loam, free of rocks pH: 5.5 to 6.5 TEMPERATURE: cool (60 to 65°F) MOISTURE: moist, but not water logged

Biennial and perennial crops:

These crops don’t fall neatly into a cool or warm season category.

  • Artichoke – (perennial in Sunset climate zones 8,9,14-24; annual in zones 11-13) ―Plant in fall for spring harvest
  • Asparagus ― Plant seedlings or roots in fall or winter; early spring in cold-winter areas. Cut first spears early during year two; plants take three years or so to come into full production.
  • Cardoon (Zones 4 to 9, 12 to 24) ― Plant in fall for spring harvested stalks
  • Chive ― Plant in fall or spring
  • Garlic ― In mild winter areas, plant in fall; where winters are cold, plant in early spring.
  • Leek ― In cold winter regions, set out transplants in early spring, or sow seed in late summer for harvest the following year. In mild winter regions, set out transplants in fall.
  • Parsley ― In cold climates, plant in spring, after last frost. Plant in fall or early spring where winters are mild; in early fall in the low desert.
  • Parsnip ― In cold winter areas, sow seeds in late spring, harvest in fall. In mild winter areas, sow in fall for harvest in spring.
  • Shallot ― In mild climates, plant in fall to harvest green tops through winter and spring, bulbs in late spring and summer. In cold climates, plant in early spring for green shoots in summer, bulbs in autumn.
  • Sorrel ― Sow seeds in fall; set out transplants any time
  • Turnip ― Winter crop in mild-winter areas. Where winters are cold, plant in early spring for summer harvest.

Disease resistant varieties of tomatoes from UC Davis (heirlooms too):
Click on picture to view chart

Late Blight resistant varieties of tomatoes from Cornell University:

Click on picture to view chart

 
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