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[personal profile] ar_wahan
I've been wanting to get more serious about my vegetable gardening this year. I built raised beds eons ago, and enriched them with composted horse manure, and kitchen compost, and the occasional freezer-burned brook trout (from husband's catch, which he'd freeze and then forget about) over the years, plus lime because, like much of New England, our soil is acidic.

But in recent years, the garden has done poorly. I blamed part of it on the fact that since the beds were built, we added a story to our original one-story house, and this has reduced the light in the afternoon. For this reason, I decided to try straw bale gardening this year for at least the tomatoes, positioning the bales in the center of the back yard where the light is best. Things like broccoli and lettuce, even green beans, do OK in the raised beds, but tomatoes and peppers have not been happy.

So a week or so ago I stopped by a garden center to get the fertilizer mix I need to get the straws bales ready. On impulse, I also bought a soil test kit.

I spent a lot of time doing it! I took samples from six different parts of the property (two from front yard circle garden, which is for flowers; one from the original little bed against the south side of the house; one from the rock garden with the hydrangea that Samurai created several years ago; and one each from the two raised beds). Each sample was in a separate paper cup, labeled with origin. The Ph tests were easy, and all came in at about 6.5 (slightly acidic, less than expected), with the amusing result of akalinity in the raised bed that I'd heavily limed in an attempt to get rid of moss! The hydrangea area was actually less acidic than blue hydrangeas want, which explains why this past year the flowers were more white than blue.

The other tests (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash) were more complicated. I had to take soil from each area and measure out a precise amount into their separate cups and then add a precise amount of distilled water, and let it settle. I did this a week ago Friday, and last Saturday morning began running the tests -- each took about 10 minutes, and there were 18 tests! (Six sample areas x 3). So it took all morning.

Having read the symptoms of potash deficiency, I was already expecting that result, given what I've experienced in the last couple of years. But I actually thought all my lovely composted horse manure might have meant I had TOO MUCH nitrogen.

WELL! The old bed on the south side of the house -- the one we've been using longest -- does have a surplus of nitrogen; the hydrangea area, which was only recently established (with horse manure added) is "N1," or deficient... and all the other areas are N0 -- DEPLETED in nitrogen!

The old bed at least registered a little phosphorus and potash. Maybe from rose food I'd given the climbing rose in the past. Not sure about that.

Front circle garden also had sufficient potash -- not sure why.

And both raised vegetable beds were inadequate in phosphorus and potash.

I feel both accomplished for having discovered this and foolish for not having done this sooner!

I'm still going to try the straw bales, though, since I know there isn't enough sunlight to make tomatoes happy in the raised beds, but maybe the peppers will be OK there if I fix the soil.

FYI to Samurai, I put a Miracle Gro product to acidify the soil in the area around the hydrangea, so maybe it will be blue again.
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