It All Starts With Some Soil

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Starting a Vegetable Garden

The events of our country in the last several months have pushed us toward an interesting trend toward self reliance. Locally, I’ve heard from so many people who have either started a garden for the first time or have plans to next year. Families want to secure at least part of their own food supply by growing fruits and vegetables in their own backyards. Our job here at the Cooperative Extension is to provide them the tools and techniques to get their new gardens off to a great start or make their current gardens more productive.

Vegetable gardens have long been a staple in American life. It’s only since the end of WWII that people began to rely more on imported food to grocery stores than on their own supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. This trend has lead us to a point where we are vulnerable to any disruption of this supply (as we have seen play out since the pandemic came on the scene). It is truly refreshing to see the resurgence of those wanting to start their own small backyard vegetable garden. A small garden can produce more food than one might think and it is worth the time and effort to establish and maintain.

The key to growing quality produce is good soil. Now, I know virtually none of us start with excellent soil, but that is something that we can amend. Soils come in several forms from sand to loam to clay. Clay can be hard to work with, and it should absolutely not be worked when it is wet, but it holds a vast amount of nutrients ready for exploitation by our crop’s roots. Sand, on the other hand, will need constant additions of nutrients as it has little holding power.

The trick to getting any soil to give up its nutrients is to adjust its Ph level. Ph is the measure of the acidity that is in the soil. In North Carolina, the majority of our soils are inherently acid. That means that on a Ph scale of 1-14 where 1 is extremely acid and 14 is extremely alkaline, we are in the 4-5 range. In general, garden plants grow best when the Ph range is between 5.5 and 7. When the Ph is in the proper range, the plants in our garden can gain maximum use of the soil’s available nutrients.

When planning a garden (assuming you have decent drainage), obtaining the proper Ph is one of the most important steps to take in order to be successful. You can get to that “magic” Ph range first by conducting a soil test offered through your local Cooperative Extension Office. Once you’ve mailed your sample and received your results by email, you have a blueprint for exactly what you need to do to get your soil to work best for you and your garden.

If you have ever considered starting a backyard garden, there is no better time than now. With external factors making our continued food supply uncertain, it’s time to assess your ability to sustain your own reserves. As I’ve stated before, begin with the soil and work your way up. By preparing your soil in the proper way, you can prevent 80% of your future problems. Do something great for yourself, your family and your community. Grow a vegetable garden!