soil, garden soil, garden earth, acidic soil, compost

Seeds n’ Soils

By Catherine Winter

Just about every person who’s tried to grow vegetables or herbs has had to deal with “failure to thrive”, whether it’s from seed failure or seedling death. It’s disappointing (even devastating if someone’s dependent upon gardening endeavours for their food), and there are a number of different reasons why it happens. One of the most common reasons is that the plants haven’t been cultivated in the right soil, so it’s important to determine what type of earth your plants need so you can give them the most optimal conditions from day one.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that you’ll find different plants in different areas. On my land, there’s a ton of coltsfoot and mullein growing in the sandy soils around the creek, but I’m not going to find those plants tucked in amongst stands of birch in the loamy forest soil. They’re growing in the areas that are best for their development, and will fizzle out and die if forced to swap spaces.

peppers, capsicum, hot peppers, chili peppers, jalapenos, piri piri, banana peppers

Acidic Soil

Radishes, peppers, and potatoes all thrive in acidic soil. You can add sphagnum peat moss into an all-purpose organic seed-starting mix, and the sphagnum will increase the soil’s acidity and increase the chances that your plants will germinate successfully.

Sphagnum is a good option for container gardening, but if you’ll be planting a large garden’s worth of food, you can get sulphur at your local garden centre and work that into the soil you’ll be planting into.

Here’s a tip: If part of your land is naturally acidic, take full advantage of that area and plant a bunch of perennial berry bushes. They’ll grow really well there, and you won’t have to put any extra effort into making the soil a happy place for them to be.

Cabbage

Alkaline Soil

Brassicas, peas, beans, and most leafy greens (like chard, lettuce, and spinach) prefer alkaline soils, but can do just fine in pH neutral soil as well. If the earth in your garden is on the acidic side and you’re really keen to have a ton of broccoli and beans, you can add some pulverized limestone to increase alkalinity.

If you’re uncertain as to just how acidic or alkaline your soil is, you can test it with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and plain white vinegar: take two samples of soil, and add a bit of baking soda to one sample, and a bit of vinegar to the other. If the sample with baking soda in it fizzes, then your soil is acidic. If the vinegary one fizzes, it’s alkaline. If nothing happens at all, it’s neutral.

You can, of course, also use pH testing strips, but this is an easy way to test your soil using items you likely already have at home.

carrots, root vegetables, roots, orange carrots

Sandy Soil

Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and beets tend to do best in sandy soils, as do aromatic culinary herbs like thyme, summer and winter savoury, oregano, and sage. Just like amending your soil with sphagnum, you can work sand into your soil prior to planting your seeds.

*Note: root vegetables can also be stored in sand in a cool, dry place over the winter. If you have a root cellar or cool, dark basement, try this method after you harvest them.

squash, squash seeds, heirloom squash, cucurbits, organic squash, Baker Creek

Rich Soil

Squashes, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, broccoli, and cucumbers are heavy feeders that suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil, so it’s important that whatever they’re planted into is very nutrient-dense and rich. Work aged compost into your seed-starting mixture, and work a good fertilizer into the soil they’ll be planted into about 3 weeks before transplanting them. Once they’re in the soil, it’s good to re-fertilize every few weeks (compost tea is ideal for this), but along the “drip line” (around the edges of your plant) so you don’t burn or damage the plant itself.

 

Many seed companies (especially organic and heirloom dispensaries like Baker Creek) have in-depth information on the backs of their seed packets: they’ll tell you exactly what type of soil is best for your plant, as well as their sun and water requirements. If your seed packets don’t give you this information, a quick Google search should work wonders. We’re in the process of compiling a rather large database of information that will let you know exactly what each species needs, but it’ll take us a little while to get all of that sorted out.

Have you had to amend your soil to suit different plants’ needs? Which techniques did you use? Please let us know in the comments section below!

If Not, Flowers

By MK Martin

Our little corner of the earth sits atop one of the highest elevations of the Province. This is where wind is born. Zeus sometimes hangs out here, in the winter, zapping a few trees here and there, while the winds swirl and gust through hidden crawlspaces, resulting in sounds best left to Halloween.

As such, it can be pretty tough to grow food here. Alternating years of heavy rains, lost from some other continent, and drawn out drought have compacted most of the dirt into a stubborn, grey clay in which sturdy, local potatoes grow and not much else. Our yard seemed at first, an abyss. A grand stretch of land we’d run across fields and fallen into rivers and rolled over our hems for. One season of too many tomato plants told us otherwise.

We planted seed after seed in little peat pot after egg carton, grinning at the tadpole tails and embryonic leaves that emerged after a few days’ simmering in humidity and moisture. But then, they all become seedlings, and I could not bear to just ‘thin’ them out. So I planted them, green beans and another mistaken monster, oregano, in the same place and watched as the tomato jungle took hold. I knew nothing of pruning, or pinching. I knew nothing at all. And we drowned in tomatoes, were drunk on the scent of tomatoes in the air and giving away tomatoes with pleading croaks, ‘Surely you can trade us a zucchini!’

When I had the first, shiny green eyes of garden planning, every scene was a Monet before me: the idle buzzing of insect wings around plentiful flowers, trailing bean tendrils looping through a lattice, fat little squashlings basking in a not too hot sun, for exactly seven hours. What bucolic, Antoinette bliss it would be, as I pop myself into the picture, dressed in linens, harvesting crops in a fine wicker basket. The reality looks more like the yoga pants I wore during the early stages of labor, covered in dirt as I tried to hack enough organic materials into unrelenting clay, hair in my eyes, itching my nostrils, black flies biting my ears, picking rocks, just so I can get seedlings in the ground. No matter how much we amend our soil, it insists its true makeup is clay.

bachelorbutton

Each year, for the past eight years, something goes wrong. One neighbour started using Roundup. The other neighbour mercilessly cut down every tree in his yard, ripped up every plant and installed a chemically fed lawn, which he cuts every other day for one hour. Both yards run right into ours because we are strangely situated lower. The year after the Tomato Jungle, we wanted to grow kale, and were besieged by flea beetles. No natural remedy worked, and the consensus was clear: unless we took care of it in the early stages of spring, we were out of luck. Our early tomato jungle became wilted, pale and blossom rotted, no matter where we planted them.

This year, I planted flowers. Flowers upon flowers, fragrant flowering herbs and let the weeds grow where they may. Our garden was bursting with poppies, bachelor buttons, clovers, melilot, calendula, zinnias, marjoram, sage, thyme, rosemary, nasturtium, morning glories, yarrow and borage. The dream of hovering bees was realized, and we were not plagued by insect destruction.We had very little rain for most of the spring and summer, a possible monsoon season is our future reality. Our zone has changed from 4b to 5b in the time we’ve lived here, so each food plant needs babying to survive. Where a cultivated species fails, a wild bloom flourishes, sending its encoded roots down to heal what it can. We may not see the the fruits of letting our ‘field’ lie fallow in flowers, but we know the possibility is there. Putting my ear up against the ground, I inhale quietly, hold a breath and listen to them work.

bee_on_borage-pollinator