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GroEdibles Blog

Mar 30


Posted by GeriMiller on 30 Mar 2013. Filed under  Garden Care, Garden inspiration / observation View Comments

A boulder in the RoadEver feel like life keeps putting boulders in our way in the garden? Yep, sometimes it sure feels that way. But, it seems to me that many times in our adult lives we abandon our bliss too quickly when we run into obstacles; not allowing time to figure a way through or around the thing blocking our way. This post is in response to some of the issues many clients and HGELers have identified to me on Facebook as being that “boulder” or “boulders” blocking their path. Let’s try to make gravel out of that boulder!

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A few words on “success” and “failure”

First, remove any preconceived notions you have of both words especially when you’re a beginner. You know sometimes we just can’t seem to get out of our own way! If you have expectations that your first season gardening or your first season in a new site is going to end in some kind of “coffee table book” garden of eden…you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Not only is gardening “on-the-job” training, but gardening forces we instant-gratification-loving humans to SLOW DOWN and learn within Mother Nature’s timetable….not our own. We learn by reading and discussing with other gardeners, of course, but nothing is a substitute for getting out there and getting dirty in your own garden!


This learning curve may take a few seasons to level out a bit to the point where you feel more confident. As a gardener, though, you are a life-long learner. You’re never finished learning which is why I love it. After a lifetime of gardening, certification as a Master Gardener and years teaching in school gardens, I continue to learn; returning to school last year for my certification in horticulture at UCLA. So…wipe away those expectations of grand “success” and look forward to small but important moments of success on which you will build season after season; improving poor soil, successfully starting your own seeds, taking your first harvest, becoming healthier and on and on. Whether big or small, they are all successes.


As for “failures”. When we were children we really had no fear. As we grew and developed a fear of peer disapproval when we didn’t get things right, we began to be afraid of trying new things. How sad is that? I have to quote my dear ol’ Dad who said “If you don’t fail, you don’t learn.” So, set your fears aside, follow your bliss and take that first step…or shovelful! We’ll be learning together!


Now…down to work! Here is a listing of some of the comments HGELers recently posted about what issues you all face in your gardens. I am listing some links that I think are helpful. When more info on a certain issue is available on, I’ll put a link to the website as well. Have fun!



In addition to HGEL on facebook, you have access to even more info on the Resourses page on in which you’ll find the “fall/winter gardening” and “spring/summer gardening” sections. This page will also list Gardening Classes and Events that may interest you. Be patient as the “spring/summer gardening section” is under construction. ALSO, the HGEL fan page on Facebook has been up since May 2009 so there are tons of links and postings that can help you. Pour yourself some coffee/tea or your preferred beverage and scroll down through the past postings.  Wow, you might even find yourself spending as much time on HGEL as I do!!! 😉



Now there really is no such thing as “bad soil” unless of course it’s contaminated. Otherwise, if you look around you’ll notice that something grows in your soil….maybe just not what you want to grow in your soil!

  • For a little lesson on soil textures, composition and tilth, please visit the Soil Evaluation, Prep and Management section of the Spring/Summer Gardening page on and see both fall/winter and spring/summer gardening sections.
  • As a garden designer that also extensively uses native plants, I know that there is a plant for just about every soil type. BUT, since we’re talking about edibles here, we’ll start off talking about which types of soil most vegetables thrive in. But first a few “dirty” words:
    1. Soil texture: Texture refers to the size of the particles that make up the soil. The terms sand, silt, loam and clay refer to relative sizes of the individual soil particles. Sand is made up of the largest sized particles. Silt is medium sized and clay has the smallest sized particles. So soil texture dictates not only how well your soil drains, but also how well it retains nutrients and moisture.
    2. How Texture Affects Soil Properties
    3. Soil texture types: Sand: Sand, being the larger sized particles, feels gritty. There is a major difference in soil characteristics between fine sands and medium to coarse sands. Fine sands add little to the soil characteristic and do not significantly increase large pore space. An example of fine sand is the bagged sand sold for children’s sandboxes. For a soil to take on the characteristics of a sandy soil it needs greater than 50-60 percent medium to coarse size sand particles. Sandy soils have good drainage and aeration, but low water and nutrient holding capacity. Source: Colorado Master Gardeners Program Colorado Gardener Certificate Training Colorado State University Extension. Silt: Silt has a smooth or floury texture. Silt settles out in slow moving water and is common on the bottom of an irrigation ditch, riverbed or lake. Silt doesn’t add much to the characteristics of a soil. Water holding capacity is similar to clay.  Clay: Clay particles are very small. Clay feels sticky to the touch. Soils with as little as 20% clay size particles behave like a sticky clayey soil. Soils with high clay content have good water and nutrient retention ability, but the lack of large pore space restricts water and air movement. Clayey soils are also rather prone to compaction issues.  Loam: Technically, loam refers to a specific, well-balance soil texture. This term is often used loosely by gardeners to describe “ideal” soil. Loam, therefore has a mixture of different sized soil particles that allow it to resist compaction, allow air and water movement, retention of nutrients and…of course, has plenty of organic material. In other words…we as gardeners strive for a “loamy” soil.
    4. Soil Structure: Structure refers to how the soil particles hang together, how much of the soil particles form into clods or crumbs. No matter what your soil texture, loose crumbs and clods ensure ample pore space which allows air and water to pass through more easily. Keep in mind that good soil structure can compensate for less-than-perfect soil texture. Abundance of organic matter is the main indicator of good soil structure. Organic matter may be all you need powdery soil or large, hard clods.
    5. Soil Tilth: The term soil tilth refers to the soil’s general ability to support plant growth and root growth. Tilth is technically defined as “the physical condition of soil as related to its ease of tillage, fitness of seedbed, and impedance to seedling emergence and root penetration.” A soil with good tilth has large pore spaces that allows for sufficient air and water movement. (Roots only grow where the soil tilth allows for adequate levels of soil oxygen.) It also holds a reasonable supply of water and nutrients. Soil tilth is a function of soil texture, structure, fertility, and the interplay with organic content and the living soil organisms that help make-up the soil ecosystem. Source: Colorado Master Gardeners Program, Colorado Gardener Certificate Training, Colorado State University Extension
    6. Organic Matter: Organic matter consists of plant and animal material that is in the process of decomposing.
    7. Humus: Humus is organic matter in its final stage of decomposition. It is a fine, dark substance that is chemically very complex. Humus gives rich, fertile soil its dark color. It promotes healthy plant growth in many ways, from keeping existing soil nutrients available to enhancing soil structure for good root growth.
  • Ok… now you know some of the soil lingo. Let’s get to the nitty gritty. If you evaluate your soil and decide that it’s in fairly good shape but needs some improving and you’re willing to put the time and energy into it in order to grow edibles, it CAN be done. Just remember that, for instance, to get a heavy clay soil to a loam state will mean that you’ll need to dedicate plenty of time and organic matter to soil improvement and then soil re-invigoration each and every year as your native soil will be constantly working to return to its native state…that’s just, well, natural!

    READY FOR THE BIG SECRET? Shhhhh….edibles prefer a nice loose (large pores – yeah for once, they’re a GOOD thing!), rich in nutrient-rich humus (no, not the stuff that comes w/ pita chips) that has a fairly neutral to a bit acidic pH of around 6.8 to 7.2 There are exceptions…see “understanding the impact of soil pH” below.

    Improving your Soil:

    Before you begin, there are two things you need to know:

    1. Knowing your soil texture. You must identify your soil texture and structure. Here’s a great resource on this from our friends ‘down under’, NSW Dept of Ag:
    2. Soil testing: If you haven’t ever done one or it has been awhile, it’s always a good idea to test your soil so that you can correct any deficiencies in pH or fertility BEFORE you plant. There are inexpensive soil test kits to use at home available from nurseries, hardware or “Big Box” home improvement stores but if you have concerns about other contaminates or heavy metals, there are many local labs that can do more detailed screening. Please contact your county’s local Cooperative Extension Office for a list.
    • Understanding the impact that soil pH has on your plants’ ability to access the nutrients in the soil is critical in maintaining a balanced growing environment and providing the best results: A BUMPER CROP! Here is a link to a helpful article about Soil pH Modification from the experts at the University of Minnesota.
  • – Most turfgrasses tend to grow best between 5.5 and 6.5. Many evergreen trees and shrubs prefer a pH range of 5.0 to 6.0. Potatoes tolerate a wide range in soil pH, but potato scab can be a problem if the pH is above 5.3. Other exceptions include blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons (acid-loving plants) that require acid conditions between pH 4.5 and 5.2. Blue hydrangeas also require a pH lower than 5.0 to induce the blue flower color. Carl J. Rosen, Peter M. Bierman, and Roger D. Eliason. Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. University of Minnesota. –
    • Understanding Soil Fertility: Macro and Micro Nutrients:
      Macronutrients: Essential elements used by plants in relatively large amounts for plant growth are called macronutrients. The major macronutrients are: 

      Nitrogen (N)

      * Nitrogen is a part of all living cells and is a necessary part of all proteins, enzymes and metabolic processes involved in the synthesis and transfer of energy.
      * Nitrogen is a part of chlorophyll, the green pigment of the plant that is responsible for photosynthesis.
      * Helps plants with rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production and improving the quality of leaf and forage crops.
      * Nitrogen often comes from fertilizer application and from the air (legumes get their N from the atmosphere, water or rainfall contributes very little nitrogen)

      Phosphorus (P)

      * Like nitrogen, phosphorus (P) is an essential part of the process of photosynthesis.
      * Involved in the formation of all oils, sugars, starches, etc.
      * Helps with the transformation of solar energy into chemical energy; proper plant maturation; withstanding stress.
      * Effects rapid growth.
      * Encourages blooming and root growth.
      * Phosphorus often comes from fertilizer, bone meal, and superphosphate.

      Potassium (K)

      * Potassium is absorbed by plants in larger amounts than any other mineral element except nitrogen and, in some cases, calcium.
      * Helps in the building of protein, photosynthesis, fruit quality and reduction of diseases.
      * Potassium is supplied to plants by soil minerals, organic materials, and fertilizer.

      Calcium (Ca)

      * Calcium, an essential part of plant cell wall structure, provides for normal transport and retention of other elements as well as strength in the plant. It is also thought to counteract the effect of alkali salts and organic acids within a plant.
      * Sources of calcium are dolomitic lime, gypsum, and superphosphate.

      Magnesium (Mg)

      * Magnesium is part of the chlorophyll in all green plants and essential for photosynthesis. It also helps activate many plant enzymes needed for growth.
      * Soil minerals, organic material, fertilizers, and dolomitic limestone are sources of magnesium for plants.

      Sulfur (S)

      * Essential plant food for production of protein.
      * Promotes activity and development of enzymes and vitamins.
      * Helps in chlorophyll formation.
      * Improves root growth and seed production.
      * Helps with vigorous plant growth and resistance to cold.
      * Sulfur may be supplied to the soil from rainwater. It is also added in some fertilizers as an impurity, especially the lower grade fertilizers. The use of gypsum also increases soil sulfur levels.

      Micronutrients: Micronutrients are those elements essential for plant growth which are needed in only very small (micro) quantities . These elements are sometimes called minor elements or trace elements, but use of the term micronutrient is encouraged by the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America. The micronutrients are:

      Boron (B)

      * Helps in the use of nutrients and regulates other nutrients.
      * Aids production of sugar and carbohydrates.
      * Essential for seed and fruit development.
      * Sources of boron are organic matter and borax

      Copper (Cu)

      * Important for reproductive growth.
      * Aids in root metabolism and helps in the utilization of proteins.

      Chloride (Cl)

      * Aids plant metabolism.
      * Chloride is found in the soil.

      Iron (Fe)

      * Essential for formation of chlorophyll.
      * Sources of iron are the soil, iron sulfate, iron chelate.

      Manganese (Mn)

      * Functions with enzyme systems involved in breakdown of carbohydrates, and nitrogen metabolism.
      * Soil is a source of manganese.

      Molybdenum (Mo)

      * Helps in the use of nitrogen
      * Soil is a source of molybdenum.

      Zinc (Zn)

      * Essential for the transformation of carbohydrates.
      * Regulates consumption of sugars.
      * Part of the enzyme systems which regulate plant growth.
      * Sources of zinc are soil, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, zinc chelate.

How much is effective? Well, it does depend on your soil, but typically I’d say you’d be wasting your $$ and time if you’re adding any less than two inches.

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