Tim MacWelch: Hi, I am Tim MacWelch of Earth Connection School of Wilderness Survival and Ancient Skills near Fredricksburg Virginia. This is our video clip series on Organic Gardening. In this clip we are going to talk about the importance of soil and how to test it?
Soil is the most important thing you can grow in your garden. I hate to be melodramatic but this is the crop you should be growing, good soil. It takes nature about 2000 years to make one inch of good top soil, but with good organic gardening practices we can do that in our lifetimes. We can grow an inch of good top soil in 50, 60 or 70 years by adding to the soil every year, we add something back. We add compost, we add cover crops and tilt them in, we do lots of different things to recharge the soil, to make up for what we take away every time we harvest a vegetable. So the importance of soil cannot be understated, it is the most important thing you can grow. Different soils require different things to be added to it, some soils are not good for all types of gardening. Here where I garden I have a lot of clay in my soil and I have done stuff to amend that and we are going to talk about soil amendments in a subsequent clip. But right now we are talking about how important the soil is.
Organic gardening is good for the soil, there is no doubt about that, there is no question there. Organic gardening keeps the soil in one place. We are taking soil with conventional gardening methods and choppen up big huge fields of it and it washes away every time it rains. So top soil is lost from large scale commercial agriculture, but with small scale organic home garden your soil stays in the same spot, sometimes a little bit washes down hill when it rains and all we have to do is scoop it up and throw it back up into the beds, but by maintaining raised beds and good walkways and working with the slope and lay of the landscape we don't have too much erosion. We are also adding nutrients to the soil by growing different crops like compost crops. If we grow clover all in and around our vegetables they add to the soil and they build it up by adding nitrogen. Clovers are legume, they are member of the pea and bean family and they have nitrogen fixing bacteria on their roots. Well these little bacteria just hang out and suck in nitrogen and make it fixed, they make it acceptable for other plants to consume. The clover makes more nitrogen then it needs. So the excess is going to remain the plant and in the soil. Any time we chop up or til in those clover plants we are putting back nitrogen that the other plants take away. So there are lots of different organic practices which can make the soil better. We are going to show you a little bit about compost in a subsequent clip and compost is another great thing to add to the soil. This No-Wait soil test kit can be used to test for the pH. Now pH is the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, it's a scale of 1-14. 7 is neutral, 7 is right in the middle and its neigther acid nor alkaline. Most of our garden soils that are very good and productive are a 7 or just a touch acidic, maybe a 6.5 on the pH scale. So with this test scale we can test for pH and we can also test for the nitrogen content. Nitrogen makes your green growth, your leaves and stems and stocks and the majority of the plant above ground. So if it makes that it's ver critical because we need all of that different plant growth to generate the flowers or the roots or whatever we are after on that vegetable. So nitrogen is tested in this kit. Phosphorus is the next nutrient that's tested in this kit. Phosphorus is responsible for the flowers and the fruit. So a lot of our vegetables are either a flower or a fruit and the phosphorus is what they need to grow and the final nutrient that this test kit looks at is potassium. Potasissum is necessary for good root growth and some plants like potatoes and sweet potatoes and carrots require a lot of potassium for their generous sized roots. So by using this kit and following the directions we take little bit of soil and some distilled water, shake it up in a little container with different tablets and these little different tablets will generate a color and on the back of the box we have a set of charts for comparing that color. This will tell us simply if we ar elow or medium or high in that nutrient. Once we find out if we are high medium or low in that nutrient we can amend the soil, we can correct any problems that we may have, so that our plants can reach their full potential. One other testing device is a pH meter and this doesn't requre any water or tablets or any kind of fancy scientific equipment. This is simply a probe that you punch down into the wet soil and immediately the needle will register on this guage and show you whether your soil is alkaline, neutral or acidic. Now right now our soil is showing just a little bit over 7. 7 is neutral just like pure water. So we are just a little bit over 7 and that's fine but ideally for most crops we would want to be a little touch more acidic, somewhere around 6.5. By adding compost which is rich and humic acid, humic acid will lower our pH and get us within that perfect range. So now that we have talked about the importance of soil and how to test it, our next clip is going to involve organic soil amendments.