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Only this year I found out that soil pH meters are very inexpensive! I always had assumed that they would be hundreds of bucks but I got one for $35 that should be fairly accurate.
Joan you are spot on about how to manage clay based soil. I'm hardly an expert but I studied soil ecology at K-State while getting my merit badge in Boy Scouts ages ago.
Here on the high plains of Kansas I have to work with a soil that barely falls inside the silty clay classification. Root crops have to work extremely hard to produce. Even many trees here cannot send roots down past the "B" soil layer about 8" down. Compost and sand are key for high garden yield.
One factor to keep in mind is that if you change your soil type from native your plants may not do as well. For example in dry windy climates high clay content leads to very small soil pores helping it to retain water. A sandy soil in the same climate will require careful supervision to avoid it going dry. Contrawise if you are in a high rain area and add clay or compost you will make your sandy/volcanic soil have a lot less drainage so be ready for that.
Don't try to till or grow crops in the "B" layer or subsoil. If you need more topsoil it is better to build it up with compost than try to dilute, aerate, and culture the subsoil. The exception is that when planting trees pierce the subsoil and replace with topsoil. Use the subsoil to make a berm around the plant whose radius is appropriate to the length of the branches. The idea is so that the tree creates its own rain shadow and makes it easy to water the tree without making a ditch or drip system. Pick trees that thrive in your climate and soil by looking at what types grow without human intervention.
I guess those are some random tidbits hope someone finds them helpful.
Barbara, I just read your wonderful comment about learning about composting. Most people do not realize how valuable leaves and grass are. But then, not everyone is interested in growing soil. As to what kind of soil pH to have for what plants, that just comes from experience. If you see a plant wilting in one place, it may be because the soil is not correct. A simple search on the internet will provide information on the needs of the plant and the soil requirements.
Recommended Soil pH for Growing Garden Fruits and Vegetables.
Vegetable pH Levels (list by Vegetable type).
pH for Trees, Shrubs, Vegetables, and Flowers.
The best way to know your soil pH is to call your Houston USDA Extention Agent for information on how to do the test. It is a simple process, just takes time. Because your soil is probably clay, you will need lots and lots of humus, which you will get from your compost. Your tiller will work fine working the humus into the clay. You could also use some sand. I get mine from the people to make tombstones. They will often give sand to you without charge, just haul it away. Sand from granite and marble offers many minerals to the soil.
This sounds really complicated, I know. Just start slowly, Do a small patch at a time so you don't get too tired, and read a little as you encounter problems.
Knowing that you are replacing your lawn, you could do lasagna composting. It saves you a lot of work, It kills the grass and you don't have to make a pile and move it later.
I do both bins and piles for my composts. I don't turn either of them. I fill bins or make the piles and make sure there is water getting to them. I use a soaker hose and during the summer I turn it on for a while and then off. During autumn, winter, and spring, I just let the rains keep the pile moist. You will have a different situation in Houston.
During the winter, I do indoor composting with a worm farm.
composting with worms
Right now, I am moving compost and it is a big job. I like it though. So do the mice and squirrels.
I asked this on the Food group, but I may get more responses here. Will sweet potatoes grow in a container like regular potatoes, where you keep adding material that they grow in?
Sounds good Joan. I like the sound of a "Food Forest".
Spud, Seattle is developing a Beacon Food Forest Permaculture Project. You may not realize it, but you may be starting a new trend in your community. Pocatello, Idaho may become a Food Forest Permaculture Project.
"A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals make up the lower levels. The Beacon Food Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening. "The goal of the Beacon Food Forest is to bring the richly diverse community together by fostering a Permaculture Tree Guild approach to urban farming and land stewardship. By building a community around sharing food with the public we hope to be inclusive to all in need of food. "The Food Forest is set to include an Edible Arboretum with fruits gathered from regions around the world, a Berry Patch for canning, gleaning and picking, a Nut Grove with trees providing shade and sustenance, a Community Garden using the p-patch model for families to grow their own food, a Gathering Plaza for celebration and education, a Kid's Area for eduction and play and a Living Gateway to connect and serve as portals as you meander through the forest. "
Randy, a beautiful harvest of sweet potatoes. Some mighty good eat'n awaits. I like your brick ground covering. Very pretty way to manage getting out of mud and having a solid surface. Did you put it in?
Patricia, the video of the hummingbirds coming in through the open window to the feeder is a remarkable sight. The bird has the best of both worlds, access to freedom and the outdoors, and feeding in a safe place away from predators. What a nice idea. I wonder what the poop is like for a hummingbird?
Daniel, organic gardening makes good sense, with the understanding that it takes knowledge of the effects of an organic garden and what it produces. Management by using nature's chemicals, such as barnyard manure, adds more than just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The chemical components may not support the bacterial growth and microbial metabolism life the way that compost and barnyard fertilizer does. There are times when I cannot find a source other than petrochemicals. Using them sparingly enhances the garden. With proper management, it harms very few other things.
My soil is alive! Spreading compost around also spreads the earth worms and all the microbes that develop over a year's time.
Years ago, I used gasoline to edge the grass from the borders and it killed the grass very nicely the first season. The second season I had the finest growth of grass bordering and invading my border than ever before. That tells us something about petroleum products and its use in the garden, doesn't it!
I finally had a watermelon stolen a couple of days ago. It was one that grew outside the fence. It was just sitting there on the sidewalk, tempting everyone that walked by. Haha, I think they're going to be disappointed in the taste. Too much cold weather to ripen properly. So far, In the two years I've grown them, no one has leaned over the fence to take one inside. It would be easy to do.
I've been eating raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries for about 2 months. They are finally tapering off.
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