How do you improve your garden soil in Spring?
Spring is here, the sun is shining and I have an irresistible urge to get out in the garden and plant vegetables. My soil is quite heavy clay, except where I have raised beds for growing vegetables.
1. Roughly how much does soil-testing by a laboratory cost?
2. Do you think it's better than buying your own soil testing kit?
3. What do you think about wood ash as a soil improver?
Wood ash contains about 10% potash. Traditionally wood was burned and the leachate or run off produced from mixing the ash with water was evaporated to produce "pot ash". This is potassium carbonate, and potassium is one of the essential elements, along with nitrogen and phosphorous, for plant growth.
I doubt whether wood ash would improve soil texture as it would be sort of pasty. My soil is clayey also. I don't grow vegetables, but over decades I have dug home made compost into the soil in flower beds, which improves matters tremendously. I grow flowers and shrubs in containers in neat compost and they flourish. Compost breaks down into humus and this provides nutrients, helps to retain moisture, aerates the soil (oxygen is needed by roots also), loosens the ground so roots can spread outwards and acts as a source of food for worms and micro-organisms.
As regards soil testing, you can buy your own kit , and the important thing is to try and take a representative core sample of your soil from under the surface. A laboratory would possibly take more/larger samples to get a better representation of mineral content/composition/quality of the soil.
The university Extension offers soil test and the rate varies on the state. It's an easy, science and research based test that is very reliable. Buy three different kits and get three different answers. Not all kits are helpful.
Wood ashes are excellent but should be used as soon as possible to receive the most benefit. Nutrients quickly dissipate, providing only a short term benefit.
By all means, add them to the soil and add other organic matter such a shredded leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper, wood chips, coffee grounds.
It is almost impossible to add too much organic matter, so keep adding organic matter, always mulch and, avoid soil compaction. Your clay soil will continue to improve every year.
We work in lots of good homemade compost. Not only does that improve the soil's tilth, but it also gets the pH at the level that's best for most plants.
I think a home test kit is quite effective for getting a read on the pH and, with more elaborate kits, the N-P-K as well. I agree w/ Patsy that adding lots of compost to clay soil is good to bulk it up and give it better aeration and drainage for your veggies. Well-composted materials are better than their coarse counterparts because of the carbon:nitrogen ratio. While a great source of potash, wood ash raises the soil pH, so you need to consider the types of plants you wish to grow and the current acid :alkaline profile of your soil .
All the best,
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