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Soil Testing And A Kitchen Garden Plan

Last weekend I decided to take a look at the soil in my new kitchen garden.  I had a good idea that it was a heavy clay soil by how it sat in big hard ‘clumps’, but I wanted to confirm this before I started to grow any vegetables.

My soil before I have worked on it

My soil before I have worked on it

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I started by checking the soil texture:

  There is a really good RHS guide here that tells you exactly how to check your soil texture.

The three main categories of soil texture are…

  • Sand ( has the largest particle size, so it feels gritty )
  • Silt ( the particle sizes are moderate, so it has a smooth, more floury texture )
  • Clay ( has the smallest particle size and it feels sticky).

(A ‘loam’ is the ideal soil to have, which has equal parts of all of the three categories above).

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 Why do I need to know this?:

Clay soils have the smallest particles which helps to retain water as it drains away more slowly than other soils, however this can make the soil more prone to waterlogging in prolonged wet weather.  Clay soils also hold nutrients well, but they are slower to warm up in the Spring and they can be very hard to dig.

Sandy soils have much larger particles which allow water and nutrients to drain away easily which is not good in dry weather, but is better in prolonged wet weather. Sandy soils are much lighter to work with and have the added advantage of warming up quicker in the Spring.

Silt soils are fertile and light to work and have the advantage of being moisture retentive, however it is easily compacted.

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My soil:

My soil

My soil rolled into a ball very easily and then easily into a long sausage….so I was right that my soil was a clay soil.

My old allotments had a clay soil so I am well used to working with this:

My old allotment plots

My old allotment plots were clay soil.

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I also decided to check my Soil pH…..

The pH of soil is measured in a scale of one to fourteen.  Soils with a pH of less than seven are acid and soils above seven are alkaline.  Soils with a pH of seven are known as neutral.

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I decided to test five different areas of my new kitchen garden .  I first used an old soil tester that I have, which you just insert the prongs into the ground.  In all the areas it gave the same result of alkaline soil.

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As my pH tester was very old, I decided to also buy a soil pH testing kit, (just to make sure my old soil tester was working correctly) and I also tested five different samples:

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The kit was very easy to use and it actually confirmed that each sample of my soil is alkaline:

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So why do I need to know this?

Different plants need different conditions, for example blueberries need an acid soil to grow well.  Also acid soils are more prone to ‘clubroot’ (a fungus-like organism) which can affect brassicas, so if you know that you have an acid soil you can add lime to your soil to increase the pH.

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So I now know my soil is a clay, alkaline soil.

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This week I began planning my kitchen garden by drawing out a plan on graph paper.

I was then able to replant the raspberries and fruit bushes that I ‘heeled in’ three weeks ago, to their permanent position along the ‘sunny’ edges of my new kitchen garden and lay my ‘weed suppressant’ paths in front of them:

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I could then start the job of creating my beds and preparing the soil:

I am a big fan of ‘fixed beds’ as I don’t need to walk on the soil (as the beds are small enough to reach into) and this stops the soil from becoming compacted.  I also choose fixed beds rather than raised beds, as I don’t like the idea of having to import top soil to fill the raised beds.

I again decided to use my old weed suppressant paths from my old allotment to separate the beds and I worked out that I could have four beds either side of my central path, with each bed being 130cm’s wide.

So I began digging…..

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The soil was very heavy to work, with plenty of weed roots such as bindweed and couch grass and I also found lots of rubble in it too.  It was a lot different from my beautiful allotment soil that I had worked on for the last ten years.

I must admit that I never really did anything previously to this part of the garden (except plant a few shrubs when I first moved in), so I knew the soil would really need improving.

After just an hour of exhausting digging, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing to give my allotments up and start again here….but unfortunately circumstances that brought me here can’t be changed, so I gave myself a ‘good talking to’ and carried on!

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After I dug a bed I then ‘forked in’ a bag of soil conditioner, (I managed to get a few cheap bags from my local nursery), but I know that the soil will need a lot more than this.

I must say I have really regretted not bringing some of my lovely well rotted organic manure back from my old allotments before I gave them up, but I suppose time was against me.

However this week, I did managed to complete my first two kitchen garden beds:

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So now I just need to complete the other six beds and to plan what I am actually going to realistically grow in them.  I know this will be a challenge as I am so used to growing my vegetables without thinking of space, or even shade…. but I like a challenge!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday as usual.  I hope you have a good weekend,

 

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