By Rebekah Pierce
You wouldn’t bake a cake if you didn’t have the right ingredients - so why would you try to grow a garden without the right nutrients in your soil and water?
Potassium and nitrogen are to plants as flour is to cake - they are absolutely essential for success. While it might seem odd to compare plants to baked goods, the reality is that gardening is quite an exact science. You need to have the right ratios of water, air, sunlight, and, again, nutrients, if you want to enjoy a bountiful crop.
Yet many people overlook this vital aspect of food production and homesteading and instead attempt to plant wherever there is an empty space.
Here are a few things you probably didn't know about soil and water analysis - a few of these tips will likely surprise you!
Are you one of those people who claims to be missing a self-professed “green thumb”? If that’s and your plants keep dying, the case is likely that you aren’t a bad gardener - you just aren’t starting with the right raw materials.
The secret to raising healthy fruits and vegetables is starting with good soil. The only way you can tell what your soil is missing is to conduct a detailed soil analysis.
So many gardeners focus only on adding synthetic fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) to their soil, thinking that their plants need these three nutrients and nothing else. However, the reality is that there are several variables that you need to pay attention to when it comes to soil quality.
This is the most crucial element when it comes to soil analysis - if you don’t take the time to research anything else about your soil, put some thought into pH. This measures how acidic your oil is. If your soil doesn’t fall in the right range, your plants won’t be able to take up nutrients properly.
This is the one that very few gardeners forget! Everybody remembers the fertilizer, but fewer people remember to actually test the soil first before applying fertilizer. Getting a detailed soil analysis before you apply any fertilizers is integral, because otherwise, you could be over applying nutrients that your plants don’t need.
While nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the most common nutrient that people add to the soil (and the most important nutrients for plants), don’t forget that your plants need lots of other micronutrients, too, including zinc, calcium, sulfur, manganese, iron, and more.
Structure and Tilth
Both soil structure and tilth are incredibly important for the health of your plants. Soil That is rich in organic matter tends to have good structure, forming round shapes that are overall more open and porous. This allows oxygen, nutrients, and water to move freely among the roots of your plants so that they can grow strong and productive.
You’re looking for soil that holds its shape well under pressure. Similarly, you want to avoid soil that isn’t overly compacted. Compacted soil impacts water availability and root growth. It also makes it more difficult to work.
Your soil is a living, breathing thing. If you dig down six inches into your soil, what do you see? If you don’t see anything, that means your soil needs some work. If you see dozens of worms, spiders, beetles, and centipedes, that’s great news - your soil is of good quality. Healthy soil contains all kinds of visible and “invisible” microorganisms, including insects, bacteria, fungi, invertebrates, and other creatures that are necessary for plant life.
Approximately 71% of the Earth is water. We take it for granted that water should be pure and clean, but unfortunately, if it’s contaminated in any way, it can seriously harm your plants.
When you water your plants with a contaminated supply of water, it will be dispersed throughout the entire plant. Although that’s not a big deal for plants that are grown merely for ornamental purposes, eating plants that were grown in contaminated water can make you quite sick. It can also kill your plants.
City water tends to be tested and monitored, but if your water comes from a well, rain barrel, or pond, there’s a chance that it could be contaminated. One of the biggest culprits behind water contamination is fertilizer runoff. Run-off generally contains high levels of nitrogen that can make you sick, along with bacteria and pathogens that can cause diseases like salmonella and E.coli.
Think you can bypass that variable by only using water you harvested in rain barrels? This does tend to be a better option, but what you need to keep in mind is that rainwater, when it trickles down from your oof, can still be contaminated by feces from squirrels, birds, and other “rooftop” organisms. It can also contain heavy metals (as can the barrels themselves) like zinc and lead.
Therefore, it’s essential that you start by cleaning your rain barrels at least once a year. You can also purchase a water testing kit specifically for rain barrels, as well as rain barrel and rainwater harvesting solutions such as rain barrel filters and pumps.
When it comes to testing groundwater, you’ll need to explore a more thorough solution. There are plenty of options you can explore, from testing via your local Department of Public Health or testing through a private agency. It doesn’t matter how you choose to have your water tested - just do it!
Educate Yourself to Become More Self-Sufficient
Learning more about the water and soil quality on your land can go a long way. It’s crucial if you plan on raising animals, growing your own food - or simply being more self-sufficient in general. When you partner with Wildline Solutions, you’ll be able to discover more information about the minerals and nutrients that are already present - as well as which ones you can add for the best success.
Your journey toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle starts today. Contact Wildline Solutions for a detailed analysis and a comprehensive plan, and be sure to take a look at our other solutions in our Master List of Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency Solutions, too.