It finally warmed up enough to get a spade into my garden so I decided to send some of my soil away to be tested. For a mere $13 (plus postage) I will get results back that tell me my soil pH as well as the amount of organic matter, if I have lead and how I'm doing in terms of various nutrient levels. The best thing is that the results will include recommendations for what to add to make my soil better.
I mailed my envelope of dirt this morning and I am incredibly excited about it. Every time you read a seed packet, the planting instructions include what kind of soil conditions the plant thrives in. Other gardeners are often talking about what to add to the soil to make it better but, until you (I) know what my soil is actually like I think its hard to know what pieces of advice to take. This is especially important because "over-fertilization" is a problem that can cause all sorts of plant disorders, not to mention water pollution. Its kind of like eating too many carrots (which my dad did once and yes, he turned orange) causing something good for you to become something toxic and overwhelming. I plan to use compost mostly which has fewer risks but, it would be good to know if my soil could really use some extra goodies. "Amendments" is the word I've heard for stuff you add to your soil to improve it but, I'm not enough of a garden geek to start using words like that. First of all it might make me seem like I know more than I do and secondly, no one else would know what I was talking about.
Most people add lime to adjust the pH and just about any garden center sells bags of powdery stuff that add nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. All organic. I bought a bag last year but, I didn't really know what I was doing so I hardly used it. They come with numbers on them that tell you what amount of each of the nutrients they are adding but, I still haven't figured them out.
Another popular approach to improving your garden soil is to add worm poop. I am not kidding. There were several well attended workshops on this at the gardening event I went to a week ago and the people who practice "Vermiculture" -- as its called -- are dead serious. The pro-worm propaganda (which I basically buy) is that worms have this amazing ability to turn decomposing food and vegetable matter into really wonderful and nutrient-rich stuff that comes out in their poop. So, if you want some exceptional garden soil you should just adopt some worms, feed them and put all their poop in the garden. Does anyone else remember Oscar the Grouch's pet worm Slimey? Its kinda like that. I'm not ready to keep worms but, it is true that the best and most universally admired gardener at my community garden (everyone says so) is a friend of the worm.
Here is some more info on garden soil from PBS if you're interested.