Gardening starts with the soil...
Make sure you have the best soil possible.
Soil is the top layer of the Earth's surface like the frosting on a cake.
It is the stuff that grass grows on and that baseball players play on.
You probably call it dirt. Soil is made up from rocks that have been broken into millions of tiny pieces and then got mixed together with organic matter (tiny living creatures, rotting plant and animal parts), air spaces and water.
Plants need all of these things to be healthy. In the garden, it's all about ingredients, texture, and chemistry.
SPECIAL NOTE for KIDS:
A good kid-friendly site that describes soil is one published by the Bureau of Land Management.
Below is more info for older readers....
Soil "texture" is how the soil is "built"... it's structure, what it is made up of and the size of its parts. The soil has to be "built" well so the plants roots can grow through it and absorb the right amounts of water, air and nutrients.
You can judge the soil texture by the way the soil feels between your fingers. Just like the texture of a piece of cloth can be smooth like the cotton in your underwear or bumpy like the lining in your slippers, soil can be CLAY (smooth and shiny) SANDY (dry and gritty) or what they call LOAM.
- CLAY is made up of very small, flat mineral particles or pieces. When it gets wet, these tiny particles pack together very tightly making it difficult for roots to get through or to breathe. If the soil is too tightly packed, water cannot get through either and so the soil holds too much water. When that happens there is no room for air and the plant can drown just like people do!
- SANDY soil
SOIL CHEMISTRY: ACID OR ALKALINE
And now let's look at chemistry. Chemistry is the study of "matter"... the stuff that has mass and occupies space. Although there are countless types of matter all around us, most everything is one of the 100 chemical elements or a combination of those elements. understanding the basic properties of the elements and learning how to predict and explain how what happens when they combine to form new "stuff" is what chemistry is all about.
Chemistry happens inside our bodies when the food we eat is broken down into the building blocks our bodies need grow and stay alive. Plants get "building blocks" from the soil and then transform them into .
The pH scale runs from 1 to 14. A measurement of 7 means the soil is neutral. Below 7 means the soil is acid, and over 7 means it is alkaline.
Most plants like a soil pH close to neutral or about 6.5, just a little on the acid side.
In Acid soils
- Calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) are less available to plants.
- Aluminum (Al) and manganese (Mn) may reach toxic levels. P
- hosphorus is tied up by iron (Fe) and aluminum (Al).
- Bacteria grow poorly as well.
Carrots, eggplant, sweet corn and potatoes like acidic soil, about 5.5
In Alkaline soils...
- phosphorus (P) gets tied up by Ca and Mg.
- Iron (Fe), zinc (Zn) and manganese (Mn) are less available.
- Sometimes excess salts accumulate and potatoes are subject to bacterial diseases.
Cabbage and cauliflower will grow fine at that level and also as alkaline as 7.5
Your plants can't go to the store to pick up food.
They need to get minerals and chemicals they need from the soil around them.