Hoe Down: Garden Makeover winners rake in soil suggestions

By Stacee Sledge
For the Bellingham Herald

Remember making mud pies? We just might have been onto something there.

Much to the surprise of the Herald’s Garden Makeover winners Dave and Teresa Anderson, garden columnist George Kaas suggests that gardeners sample the dirt in their yards. The taste test can help figure out which nutrients it’s loaded with – and those it might be missing.

“Any good farmer or soil scientist can tell a great deal about a soil by tasting some,” says Kaas. “With a little experience, you can discern a slightly acid or alkaline reaction.” The Andersen’s soil, to George’s taste buds, was rather sterile and almost metallic in its reaction before they amended it with compost and peat.

Looking at loam

To prepare the soil in a flowerbed intended for a cutting garden, the Anderson’s amended the dirt, adding two yards of composted dairy manure and peat moss. They now have a good balance in grit for drainage and cohesiveness for nutrients.

Tool time

An avid garage-saler, Dave Anderson picked up this pick mattock nearly a decade ago, unsure when it would come in handy. “It’s something a convict would use,” he jokes. Over the years, he’s used it to dig ditches and break up asphalt.  It came in handy pulling out masses of kinnikinnick ground cover creeping along a sizable flowerbed.

Earthly pleasures

Tasting soil can determine how silty or sandy it is. Silty soil is heavy, clay-like and sticky, especially when wet, while sandy soil is light and dry. Loam, the ideal soil structure, falls favorably between the two. A suitable soil structure for flowers and vegetables balances between clay, sand and loam, which allows drainage while permitting water retention.

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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