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Give your soil the ole “turn your head and cough”

June 20, 2012

Healthy soil grows healthy plants. How healthy is your soil? How do you find out? Give it the ole “turn your head and cough” of course! Here’s how:

Step 1 – Hang a sheet or curtain around your garden so that others cannot see. This makes your soil feel a little more at ease in an uncomfortable situation.

Step 2 – Remind your soil that you are a gardening professional and that while this may be uncomfortable, you’ll pass no judgement and that this really is necessary.

Step 3 – Put on your gloves if you are worried about getting your hands dirty.

Step 4 – Gently excavate 1 cubic foot of soil. (1 ft wide x 1 ft long x 1 ft deep)

Step 5 – Gently sift through the soil. Be careful and remember that the soil is very sensitive. Count the earthworms that you find in that cubic foot.

If you have 12 or more worms, your soil is considered quite healthy.

5 to 6 earthworms is ok, but your soil needs to make some lifestyle changes to avoid future problems and should avoid very strenuous activities until overall health increases.

1 to 2 worms (or none at all) is a problem. We’ve found some pretty big lumps. The patient must immediately be admitted for intensive care and serious lifestyle changes absolutely must be implemented now, not later.

Step 6 – Schedule a follow up appointment and thank the soil for it’s time. Remind it that you are here to help it be healthy and it should let you know if it notices any changes or has any concerns.

And there you have it! Get out there and help that soil be healthy! What’s that you say? What about commercial soil tests? Alright, we’ll mention those. Whether done at home with a purchased test kit or sent off to a lab, actual soil tests can be helpful if you are trying to determine nutrient content in the soil, however many tests will focus on the 3 majorly recognized components, N-P-K, but will tell you virtually nothing about the life of the soil. It is this life within the soil that makes nutrients available, suppresses disease, and keeps the plants in tip-top shape. The N-P-K focus that many subscribe to simply says xx amount of N + xx amount of P + xx amount of K = mucho healthy plant! That’s as silly as saying tires + seats + steering wheel = mucho great car! There’s a little more to it than that….

Also, the results of the soil test can vary a lot. If you were to take a sample in March and one in August, you’d think they came from different places. You could also see major differences by sending samples to different labs. For me, I’d rather spend time and money on other things than variable, academic, often ambiguous, perhaps even useless information. There is nothing that I need to know about my soil that the worms and plants can’t tell me. If the worms have more than enough to eat, there will be enough organic matter to supply the rest of the soil and the plants with the nutrients they need.

Happy gardening.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. DeLane Spriggs permalink
    June 21, 2012 1:59 pm

    What do you suggest that we do to the soil to make it healthier? Do we need to go get worms and put them into the soil? Do we need to add something to the soil? If so, what? I’m in plot 39, and haven’t seen any worms. I tilled up my plot 18 and never saw a worm either. What should I do. Thanks for all these posts.

    • June 26, 2012 2:22 pm

      Great question! The best thing you can do to increase the diversity of life in your soil and therefore the health of the soil is to add compost. The free stuff at the garden is ok, but in my opinion should not be the sole source as it appears to me to be more of a mulch than a compost. Hopefully the worms will come on their own after adding food (compost), but If not, adding worms would not be a bad idea. In order to take care of our squirmy little friends, tilling should be rarely, if ever done. I’ll write a post with more detailed information on increasing soil health and fertility. In the meantime, read my posts on why everyone should compost and drought proofing your garden for some suggestions.

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