Going Underground: How to Analyze and Regenerate Your Soil

Did you have a less than stellar crop of flowers or veggies this year? Guess what? It probably wasn’t your brown thumb, but rather what’s right beneath your feet.

Phoenix, AZ-based DaNelle Wolford, whose blog Weed ‘em & Reap details her adventures in sustainable urban farming, says if you can’t get things to grow, the problem lies in your soil. Here are her tips, just in time for fall planting season.

Why is it so important to have good soil? And what is the ‘ideal’ kind of soil to have for a great garden?

Soil is everything when it comes to gardening. If your soil doesn’t retain water, it’ll drain too quickly, washing away water and nutrients and your plants will starve. If it just has dirt but no nutrients, your plants won’t grow very large. The best soil contains parts that retain water and nutrients to facilitate microbial growth. Soil is a living thing; you want it to thrive.

What kind of soil did you start out with?

In Arizona, we deal with hard, clay-like soil. For years, I rented a tiller and amended the soil with horse manure and some minerals. That worked well, but was very labor intensive. We then went with raised garden beds and it’s been perfect! Because we live in the dry desert, we add plenty of coconut coir to our soil and wood chips on top of the garden to help retain moisture and encourage microbial growth. The biggest mistake gardeners make with their soil is only using store-bought compost or potting soil and then wondering why their plants don’t grow.

What’s the easiest way to figure out what kind of soil you’re dealing with?

See what happens when your soil is wet. Does it mix well with your hands or does it clump together in a sticky mess? Some soils can be worked with and amended, but for soil that is too sandy (falls apart even when wet) or too clay-like (clumps together and becomes incredibly heavy when wet), it might be best to create your own from scratch by using my soil combo.

What about turning soil into ‘super powered soil’?

If you have a pretty loamy soil (not too sandy or clay-like) then you can simply amend the soil with a few ingredients. You can prep your soil any time of the year, but it’s best to do it a few weeks to a month before planting, if possible.

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Photo Credit: NRCS Soil Health via Compfight cc

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