Sunday, June 26, 2011

Do as I say, not as I do...

Have I ever told you about the importance of soil testing?  I don't think I have.  It's one of the first things I learned in Hort school - test your soil, it's a must.  Ask any serious gardeners if they've ever done it, and most haven't.

When I put in my raised beds at our new house last fall, I got the soil mix from a really reliable source (and all around nice guy who was my soil science professor in hort school).  He advised me that I should add nitrogen in the spring, as most of it would leach out over the winter.  Easy enough right?  I followed his directions and in the early spring I added nitrogen, and waited for the soil to warm up enough for planting.  I did not once ever consider soil testing.

Fast forward over the next few weeks and an unusually wet and cold spring.  My vegetables were kind of  limping along.  Peas, and lettuces were doing okay, but the other early crops were having problems.  Carrots, swiss chard and beets were germinating, but not growing.  They weren't growing, but they weren't dying either.  It was my first year with this garden, so I was contemplating, are the drip lines providing enough water?  Or too much?

Then it was time to put in the rest of my transplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and peppers.  Except for a few very hot days, the weather was still very up and down, and wet.  Stuff just wasn't growing.  My tomato plants still looked perfect, but they were the exact same size that they were when I put them in the ground.  Be patient I said to myself, tomatoes like really hot weather, and again I contemplated the drip lines.  Then my 4 inch tall cucumber plants (whose vines can easily grow 4 feet) set flowers.  This all of the sudden seemed to to look like a nutrient issue, right?  But how could it be? I talked the problem through with a couple of friends, and we all had the same conclusion.  I ran to Agway to get a soil testing kit.  In general I think these "home testing" kits are wildly inaccurate, and like to send samples off to the lab at UCONN for testing, but time was of the essence.  Completing the test would at least hopefully give me a general idea of what was going on.

And this is what I saw.....

pH is perfect
Phosphorus is a little low and Potassium is okay, but uh-oh.

No nitrogen at all!!!

Lessons learned; 1-Take your own advice and soil test, 2- trust your gut when it seems like something is going wrong, instead of blaming external forces, 3-I must have the most well drained soil on the planet to lose that much nitrogen.  The fortunate thing in all this is that plants are pretty forgiving and after a heavy dose of blood meal (gross I know, but organic) things are starting to bounce back very nicely.

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