This weekend we hunted for rocks. Husband did so much hard work digging up our new garden area (one of two this year - we are expanding) and the Little Miss and I helped pick out all of the rocks he unearthed. We live on the side of a mountain so there were never-ending rocks, some as big as my head, and we must have tossed hundreds of them down the mountainside. So glad that part is over.
In my quest to have a successful garden this year (last year it was left to luck and didn't thrive) I actually did some research and had a nice chat with a lady at a garden center who was very knowledgeable about the soil in my area - I highly recommend this. I thought I would share what I learned about prepping soil here (sorry if you don't live in Utah Valley) in hopes that it will help someone, because it can be intimidating if you don't know where to start. This is by no means comprehensive and I still have a lot to learn but it should help. Here we go...
The ideal soil for a garden is called loam, which is made up of 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. If you live in Utah Valley your soil is probably mostly clay. Not only does the clay retain too much water and make it hard for the roots to penetrate, but the pH of clay is about a 7. Most vegetables like to grow at a pH of 5 or 6 (with some exceptions like asparagus at an 8). To top it off our water is a pH of 8, so every time we water we are tipping the scale in the wrong direction. So, one way to help bring the pH down is by adding peat moss which has a pH of 3-4. Adding the peat moss will also help with the consistency of the soil making it lighter and softer.
After this, you will need to add some nutrients. Our soil is naturally lacking nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and iron so organic compost and fertilizer will help make up for this deficiency. I was able to find an all organic and natural soil stimulant at a garden center that I felt good about using since I am trying to be as natural as possible. It has all of the nutrients plants need along with mycorrhizae and worm castings (in a nut shell, mycorrhizae are soil fungi which have a beneficial relationship with plant roots helping them to absorb more nutrients, and worm castings are the end-product of organic matter composted by earthworms). We also started our own compost last fall and added that in to the mix.
We made the decision to raise our gardens by making garden boxes out of redwood (which is resistant to rot). This will give our plants an extra 6 inches or so of soft, rich soil to grow in but it is not required by any means and will raise your cost. It was about $60 for two 4x7 boxes, plus however many bags of soil we will need to fill them up - we haven't done that yet. We will also be adding some more peat moss, soil stimulant, and compost to the bags of soil we add.
Our prepped native soil which used to be so thick you could mold a clay pot out of it, is now much lighter, softer, and rich looking. It took a lot of hard work and sweat but I feel good about planting our little seedlings in a few weeks - like I will be giving them what they will need to thrive. I'll give you an update then.
If you want to learn even more, there was a great post on Bloom today about gardening you should check out.