Care And Feeding Your Dirt – Garden Soil 101

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npk Know Your Dirt. These are common soil preparation and soil amendment recommendations. No two places in the world have the same soil conditions nor can you apply the same procedures in the southeast U.S. that work well in Ohio or else where.

A soil test is best. With that said, I know that most gardeners will never take the time nor spend a few dollars to have their garden soil tested. Not knowing what you garden soil really needs means that we must use that shotgun approach to soil care. Almost without fail garden soil is low or very low in humus and nitrogen.

Nitrogen can be added to your soil using a pure nitrogen fertilizer like 20-0-0 but I recommend a better balanced fertilizer like 13-13-13 or maybe something like 10-5-5.
Tilling in a good compost material will add both nitrogen and humus to your soil and most of us need both nitrogen and humus added to our garden dirt.
I do not recommend applying raw manure or livestock bedding in the spring time. Add this type of materials in the fall, till in well, thus giving raw manure and livestock bedding 3 or more months to decompose before planting time.

Caution Tip Don’t over do the nitrogen! To much nitrogen on root and fruit producing crops can cause your vegetables to be all nice green foliage and produce little or no eatable roots or fruits! High levels of nitrogen is fine for leaf crops like leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula and so on.

Container gardening can be a real challenge to get and keep your fertilizer levels correct for the crop(s) you are growing. Having such a small amount of soil to work with and the need to water almost daily quickly leeches all nutrients from your container soil. Mixing in well composted manure before planting is very helpful. Fertilize every two weeks or so at 1/2 the recommended application rate used when fertilizing garden soil.

Source Carl J. Rosen and Peter M. Bierman, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, University of Minnesota Using Manure and Compost as Nutrient Sources for Fruit and Vegetable Crops
Manure and compost not only supply many nutrients for crop production, including micronutrients, but they are also valuable sources of organic matter. Increasing soil organic matter improves soil structure or tilth, increases the water holding capacity of coarse textured sandy soils, improves drainage in fine textured clay soils, provides a source of slow release nutrients, reduces wind and water erosion, and promotes growth of earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms.

Fresh vs. composted manure. Fresh, non-composted manure will generally have a higher N content than composted manure. Caution Fresh manure may contain high amounts of viable weed seeds, which can lead to weed problems. In addition, various pathogens such as E. coli may be present in fresh manure and can cause illness to individuals eating fresh produce unless proper precautions are taken. Always carefully wash all vegetables under cold running water. Cook meats and vegetables to a temperature of 160 degrees to kill bacteria like E. coli that may be present on meats, fruits or vegetables.

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