Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Dirt on Dirt: Texture & Structure

I've been attending a free gardening series held in area during the spring and fall. Yesterday was the first class of the 2010 spring series. It was a presentation on soil by Kathy Rohm. Being a fledgling gardener, I did not know so many things could be said about dirt. The presenter did a fantastic job. Here is some info she shared with us on soil texture and structure.
  • Soil Texture: the size of the particles in the soil
  • Soil Structure: the way the particles are held together
Sand has large, irregularly shaped particles. Because of this, sand has a very loose structure and drains easily, often taking any soil nutrients with the water. It does not hold moisture well.

Silt has smaller particles than sand, but they are also irregularly shaped. It is between sand in clay when dealing with structure.

Clay has very fine, flat particles. It packs very tightly together, holding onto the nutrients better than sand, but not allowing room for air in the soil.

Ideally, most plants prefer the texture found in a sandy loam, which is a mixture of sand, silt and clay. Loam will retain moisture and nutrients so the plants have time to access both. It has a structure which makes it crumbly, allowing air to exist in the soil and plants to spread their roots without being stopped by any barrier.

Kathy suggested a fun test to help determine what type of soil structure you have in your garden. Fill a quart jar 2/3 full of water. Add soil (dried on a newspaper and ground as fine as possible) until the jar is almost full. Screw on the jar lid and shake vigorously.

In 20 seconds, the heaviest particles will settle to the bottom of the jar. This is the amount of sand in the sample. In about another two minutes, the silt layer will have settled. The remaining layer, the clay, can take several weeks to settle. The settled layers can give a fairly accurate estimate of the soil texture in the garden.

Now, where is my Better Half's canning jars?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Veggies Version 1.0

We've done it! My Better Half and I planted our first round of vegetables in the new, raised beds we built last fall. Putting our trust in Weather.com, we made sure to head outside first thing in the morning to plant. That afternoon, our area was to receive some spring rainshowers.

After reading about a few different backyard, veggie gardening techniques, we settled on a mix of Lasagna Gardening and Square Foot Gardening. Lasagna Gardening allows us to build up beds and control the contents of our soil without having to drastically amend it. We utilized Square Foot Gardening for planning and planting the two 4'x4' beds.

Here is what we planted, direct sowing the seed into the beds:
  • Teton Hybrid Spinach
  • Red Cored Chantenay Carrots
  • French Breakfast Radish
  • Green Onions
  • Detroit Dark Red Beets
  • Hybrid Granex Yellow PRR Onions
  • Melting Sugar Snow Peas
When planning/planting, we tried to take into consideration which spaces in the garden can be reused within one growing season. For example, if all goes well, the radishes will be ready to harvest in 24 days. This space will then be free to plant warmer weather crops.

Also, some veggies like the radish, spinach and snow peas prefer the cooler weather. It is recommended these vegetables be planted in early spring and then again in late summer.

Finally, when planning the positions of the plants, we tried to take into consideration how sunlight would change over the growing season. Some plants are taller or grow upward as vines, possibly throwing shadows on the bed. There is also a large tree in our neighbor's yard that is currently without leaves, but in a month will be blocking some late afternoon sun for at least one of the beds.

We've tried to prepare for our adventure into vegetable gardening, but I'm sure we'll still learn a lot. I'm wondering what the skunk will think when she visits our backyard for the first time since her winter nap.

"What's this? A salad bar just for me?! You shouldn't have."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

App Envy and Prepping Beds

One of my gardening friends, Mrs. R, just shared a new app with me she had purchased for her iPhone. It's a gardening app, developed by NanoSoft, called iGarden. It only took a few flips through the features before I coveted it. The App is reviewed here on Doug Green's Garden blog. I think he has some valid points on what could potentially be viewed as shortfalls of the software. However, seeing Mrs. R's notes on what she had planted the evening before, attached to a photo (taken by her iPhone) of the garden bed with links to the countdown for each veggie made me absolutely giddy. Hopefully any glaring flaws of iGarden spotted by experienced gardeners will be reported to the developers so the app will be even better in it's next release.

Enough of the geeky, tech ranting. It reached 75 degrees today which made it nearly unbearable to be in the office. After dinner with friends, I still had enough daylight and pleasant weather to wrangle my four-footed garden crew and head out into the back yard to play. The Better Half and I constructed two 4' x 4' raised, lasagna beds last fall. Over the winter the contents had settled. Tonight I topped off the bed with a mix of top soil and manure. If the weather holds, we'll be planting our first round of vegetables this Saturday.