“THE SWEET AND SOUR OF SOIL”
January is here. Hope you got to spend some time looking at seed catalogues and are already dreaming about this year’s garden.
All the vegetables we eat are domesticated from wild plants. Over time we have cultivated these species into plants that are more palatable and desirable to eat. Vegetables are not field crops like grains or corn. Field crops can grow in relatively poor soils while vegetables require more fertile conditions to do well. Historically vegetables were grown in the garden patch behind the house. This is where all the waste from human activity was thrown and buried. This became as you might have guessed, “the compost heap!”
Naturally this became a very desirable spot for plants to grow larger and tastier. This is how vegetable varieties were born. As the plants found themselves in these nutrient rich conditions they began to change and adapt without us having to do anything! Humans assisted this process by recognizing the value of these tasty plants and saved seed from the most desirable plants. This process is the same to this day.
My point is that vegetables became the high maintenance plants of the vegetative kingdom. In order to grow to their best potential they have adapted to grow in nutrient dense soils with the least amount of competition.
One of the most talked about and confusing things to understand about our soils here on the west coast is the pH, whether to lime or not. It is pouring rain as I write and I know that our rains make the soils of this part of the world naturally more acidic. Our great forests of cedar, hemlock and spruce, the rhododendrons and wild berries are all adapted to these more acidic soil conditions. Vegetables do not like acidic soils so we are required to add sweetener to the soil in our gardens to provide a hospitable environment for vegetables to grow. Most commonly we think of adding lime.
Unless you are farming you do not require the addition of lime to your garden. The best thing you can do is to keep incorporating finished compost into your beds. In time the pH will adjust itself on its own. Most backyard gardeners can create enough compost to fill the needs of their patch. Farmers have a harder time getting or producing enough compost to rely solely on that source.
There are definitely vegetables that require more nutrients than others. Some are easier to grow than others. This is where crop rotation comes in. You are simply designing a plan so that you are getting the most value out of the resources you are putting in. A common query from people is that their garden is too small to adequately rotate species of vegetables. Do the best you can with what you have. Keep same family of plants together, such as brassicas; which include kale, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower in one area and plant legume type vegetables together in another section. Crop rotation is one of the best things you can do to keep your garden in top condition. It helps with disease prevention, insect control, nutrient balance and prepares your garden for next year’s planting.
Simply put, don’t worry about soil tests and such. Make compost and keep adding it to your garden on a yearly basis. Our ancestors have been doing it forever.
I will include a list of easy to more challenging vegetables to grow and an illustration of crop rotation which can be found on the website.