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The temperature reached 72 degrees yesterday, just shy of the 75 degree record for our county here in Northern Indiana. What a perfect day to be working in the garden. And what was I doing? I was sitting in Memorial Hospital’s emergency ward getting three x-rays and stitches in the top of my foot, as well as a tetanus shot.
To say this injury was a gardening injury is a little bit of a stretch. But it wouldn’t have happened had I not been testing the soil yet once again. (Monday I conducted my fourth pH test, this time using distilled water. And yet the results remained the same: high pH, somewhere between 7.0 and 8.0, and, as close as I can guess based on the inaccuracies of matching to a color chart, probably nearer to 8.0 than 7.0. Oh, and the second test for nitrogen was the same as well — no nitrogen to speak of.) This is what happened:
To conduct the nitrogen test, I had followed the directions to the letter. I took 1 tablespoon soil samples from three locations in the garden and from depths of four inches. I mixed the soil samples in a drinking glass and thoroughly stirred in 15 tablespoons of distilled water (one part soil to five parts water). After waiting 10 minutes for the mixture to settle, I used an eyedropper to remove the proper amount of water from the mixture, without disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the glass.
And, here’s my critical mistake, I put the glass on a ledge just inside the back door after shaking out the water and most of the mud. It had been my intention to wash the glass right away and return it to the cupboard, but this is a household with two teenage girls, three golden retrievers, and frequent visits from two adult sons, my daughter-in-law Jenni and my two young grandchildren. Somehow, with all of this going on, my attention was diverted and the glass remained on the ledge until yesterday morning when, at about 5:45 a.m., the tangle of golden retrievers at the back door coming in from our first walk of the day caused the jar to fall. It landed on carpet-covered concrete a few inches from my slippered foot, broke and one of the larger pieces ricocheted into the top of my foot.
Miraculously, all of the dogs escaped injury, but I was wounded. It turns out that the skin on the top of our feet is not very thick, and I was pretty certain that the inch-long gash completely cut through all layers of skin. The washroom is just feet away from our back door, so I immediately rinsed my wound by running warm water on it for about as long as I could stand. I could tell that I was going to need stitches. Rinsing the wound seemed to make it bleed more heavily, but thankfully, I was able to stop the bleeding with liberal amounts of antibiotic ointment on a wad of gauze, which I secured with surgical tape.
After I saw the two teenagers (and my daughter Anna’s assistance dog Blue) off to school, Jenni came and drove me to the ER, where over the course of the morning, I was x-rayed and stitched. Little Jaxon, my 21-month-old grandson, was fascinated by all of the buttons and gears in the little room where we waited and was far more well-behaved than any of my children would have been under similar circumstances. On the drive home, he fell soundly asleep. After lunch, I did too. And that was the extent of my day. Entirely unproductive, to say the least.
And so, what’s the moral of this story? I suppose it would be this: don’t use glass when testing your soil, or at least pick up right away after yourself if you do.
Today, thundershowers are expected. I have purchased a 15-pound bag of aluminum sulfate to sprinkle over our garden soil and hopefully lower the pH about to around 6.5. It’s also supposed to add nitrogen as well. I’m doing this reluctantly, because I’d rather not be adding a chemical. But it is a chemical that is supposed to occur naturally in soil. Still, I would have preferred to attempt to lower the pH entirely by mulching with acidic natural matter, like pine needles and oak leaves. I’m hoping, by practicing good mulching techniques throughout the growing season and then through the winter, that we will be able to maintain a mildly acidic level. But for now, it’s aluminum sulfate. (Which, I must say, is rather pricey at $24.99 for a 15-pound bag at a near-by garden center. Unfortunately, I was not able to find anything similar at Home Depot or Menards, which are also within a two mile radius of my home.)
I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on soil since my last post. I’m concerned about the high pH level result that I got yesterday. If you recall, it appeared to be very close to 8.0, which is not typical for our area. According to what I’ve been reading, usually soil east of the Mississippi River (that’s us) tends to be acidic, while soil west of the Mississippi tends to be alkaline.
I don’t know how I got it into my head that oak trees can make soil alkaline, but according to multiple Internet sources, the leaves from oak trees should leave soil acidic. Now, given that we have a lawn, it’s possible that the leaves have been removed to such an extent over the years that they are not getting a chance to compost and return nutrients to the soil in this particular patch of grass.
I think, however, I have a more likely explanation. We are planning this garden for the sunniest area of the yard, a plot from the back southeast corner of the property extending west along the garage and then following the drive toward the street. And here’s the important factor: this is an old farmhouse, and the drive is not paved. It’s limestone. That’s right. I’m betting the lime is what is making the soil alkaline.
So here’s my plan. First off, I’m going to do a couple of additional soil tests, since for the first test, I simply walked outside down the porch steps and across the drive until I got to the nearest spot we will till and cultivate. I dug up a bit of dirt, came in and completed the test. Yup, that’s right. I tested soil right off the top and about a foot away from our limestone drive. Hence, the alkaline results. Since the test was only $1.19, it seems reasonable to do a few more in various spots along the 60-foot length of the garden plot.
However, I have also searched out sources for pine needles which I hope to use as much on the garden this summer. The needles also can be chopped up and mixed into the soil in the areas where we need to lower the pH. Pine needles, of course, are quite acidic and would help pull the pH levels down to the more acceptable range of 6.0 to 7.0.
My son Jacob and I went to pick up six large bags of pine needles from a kind woman who lives about 2 miles from my house. She had recently had 60 trees removed from her property, and we were able to get another seven bags of shredded pine that had been left behind. We will be able to use that in between rows, once we have our plants in the garden in May.
We filled the entire back seat of the car with the bags of pine needles and shredded pine. Once we got it home, we emptied the bags on the ground behind the garage, to begin the weathering process.C Clearly we are going to need much more. Here’s a photo:
I’ll report later on the additional pH tests. Keep in mind that this is a learning process for me and that I am likely to make many similar errors in the course of this adventure. Hopefully, they will all be as easily caught as this one has been.
Here it is, everyone. My little plot of land. It doesn’t look like much, does it? It’s only March here, and temperatures went down into the single digits last night, so it’s hard to envision what this piece of land will look like in a few months. We have a piece of land that measures about 15 by 60 feet that is sunny, flat, and evidently fertile. We’re told that a garden once sat on this very same site, so that’s reassuring.
There also is another 15 by 20 feet available behind the garage and tree in the photo that could be used to grow vegetables needing less sunshine, such as the spinach crop I have planned. We will have to dig that site right away, as the seed can be sown on frozen soil for early harvest. What will grow there later in the season I haven’t yet figured out.
Today, the temperatures are above 40 degrees, and it is quite bright and sunny. So I have returned my previously planted flats to the sun porch, and I planted another today: leeks. Again, one flat of 50 cells. It is not supposed to dip below freezing this weekend, so I won’t have to move the flats in and out, which makes me very happy. I need to find someone who can tell me how much cold my sprouting seeds and seedlings can tolerate overnight in their enclosed but unheated space.
We are expecting sunny days in the 50s over the weekend, and my sons and I will be starting to dig. The spinach patch will be our first priority, so that we can get the seed in right away. We’ve purchased a bag of peat moss to mix into the soil for the spinach patch. I have no experience with this, and I don’t know how many bags of peat I will need in total for the entire garden. I’ve decided to buy one bag at a time. The first bag, purchased at a garden center about one mile from our house, was $8.99. It’s very heavy, so I expect it has been compressed a great deal, given that — in my experience, at least — peat moss is not particularly dense. It may be also that in time I’ll find a better price.
I just did a soil test with a little kit that I purchased at the same garden center for $1.19. It turns out that our soil is very alkaline — I’m guessing close to pH 8.0. As I said in my last post, we have ten large trees on our property, and as best as I can tell now (given that they have no leaves at present), I believe they are all oak trees. So the alkaline soil is to be expected. Tonight I’ll be researching my options on how to get that pH down between 6.0 and 7.0, which evidently is where most vegetables like their dirt.