Best way to identify and correct soil

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by Bradley Vrecko, Aug 14, 2020.

  1. Bradley Vrecko

    Bradley Vrecko New Member

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    Hey there,

    So my family and I finally bought a home with a yard last year and this year I was excited to start a vegetable garden! Growing up with a Dad who farmed in Alberta before moving to Cloverdale, I learned some basics (watering, weeding, pruning) but have struggled in my first solo attempt. If he had lived a decade or more longer he could’ve passed on his knowledge as I’m working off what I remember as a teenager.

    I planted a bunch of things to see what worked; kale, lettuce, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers and carrots all did well. Tomato (blight) and red onion not so well. And my pumpkin, squash, and zucchini started out great but have withered (possibly powdery mildew from Google image search) and are dying off rapidly.

    How can I determine what my baseline is for soil? The house is in the Bear Creek area of Surrey and was built 30 years ago, and from the original development plans our garden used to be an access road used during construction. From exploratory digging around the yard it’s pretty consistent that we have about 15-20cm of soil sitting on top of clay.

    The previous owners didn’t maintain the garden for vegetables so it was overgrown with a variety of annuals and weeds, with some random herbs (dill and chives) until we cleared it last year.

    Any advice on where I could get soil tested or buy a soil kit would be great. I read advice here that mentioned soil testing isn’t adviseable as the Lower Mainland earth is generally nutrient poor with drainage issues due to clay, so perhaps I need to start with some amendments? We started a compost for next season but from some internet searching I’m worried the soil could be tainted with a bacteria that may continue to devastate certain crops that we love.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    A situation where soil mineral deficiency is suspected is the very one where sampling and testing would be undertaken. Use a soils lab if available as home test kits are said to be rinky dink.
     
  3. Sulev

    Sulev Contributor

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    For pumpkin, squash, and zucchini - don't plant into the ground, but make a pile of organic wastes - grass clippings, weeded weeds, uppers and peels of vegetables etc, mixed with some soil, and plant your plants on top of such piles. These plants like warm soil with high organic content.
    Onions usually do well in sandy, well drained soil. If your soil is clayish, then raised bed with lots of compost mixed in could help.

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    Last edited: Aug 15, 2020
  4. Bradley Vrecko

    Bradley Vrecko New Member

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    Thanks. Here is what mine is like now; i tried raising it off the ground using an old wooden bench seat and that helped a bit but the soil is very hard. I can’t push my finger into it near the root as it feels very compacted despite there being no foot traffic.
     

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  5. Sulev

    Sulev Contributor

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    Looks like root rot. Maybe too moist or too compacted soil. But this soil looks still promising, it should be pretty ok for pumpkins if you make even small hill of it and plant on top of the hill. But pile of organic wastes should work even better. I am pretty sure, that next year you'll have plenty of pumpkins, squash, and zucchinis, if you pile organic wastes from current year's harvest now. It is possible to pile up a hill for pumpkins even in the spring, but then you must be more cautious, because fresh organic waste could get too hot for roots. It is ok if you add grass clippings to the sides of the pile next year or even if you are already planted on top of the pile.
     
  6. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    Absolutely agree with Ron B (above)

    I forget if Bear Creek neighborhood is where Surrey (King George Hwy) starts to slope down toward (eventually) the ocean Boundary Bay

    So are you mainly south facing ?
    And long hours of sunlight?

    I would not be surprised if developer had to log then likely sold some layers of soil before building the houses ... so your place might be compacted and or skinny in soil layer

    —-

    AND remember that this growing season in Okanagan and Coast both has been cold and hot and dry and wet and ... just name something else !

    I think - and it works for me in a hot then abrupt shade area - look in to some RAISED beds for your new home

    Remember do not use any treated wood !! And I think maybe some cedar might also be harmful to food plants tho you’d need to verify that.

    There are all kinds of simple assembly connectors from places like Lee Valley and so forth.

    Pinterest is fun of course and can drive you beyond practicality — I would start at www.sunset.com and look around at attractive solutions to suit a suburban home

    Also - find out what vegetable garden success and flops your new neighbours have - better neighbor living thru backyard farming !

    Then if you do go for some raised beds - you get the proper bagged soil or a truck delivery only from REPUTABLE BRAND and nursery supplier retail place. There are many expensive disappointments detailed on this forum - incl my own

    So now, I swear by Sea Soil from up on the North End of the Island (website has lots of info ). It’s at many reputable retail nursery garden supply places

    This year I got in to the frenzy of vegetable plants and I really don’t have a garden zone for veggies - so I got some really big black Nursery pots and a small fortune of soil and planted what will result in the most expensive edible garden yet ;)
    1. Zucchini (looking good! I don’t worry about the mildew leaves)
    2. Fortex beans (avail widely as seeds - for example west coast seeds in Ladner mailorder )
    3. Snow peas. A failure —- they grew well but did not transplant
    4. Various tomatoes - I do not have a lot of sun so we will see
    5. Swiss chard - a proven win for me even thru the early winter in sheltered container (again - seeds at west coast in Ladner )

    I also am trying some huge black nursery pots AND some shopping bags for potatoes which I carefully « chitted » (a scrabble word?)

    —————

    ÉDIT - link to West Coast Seeds in Ladner ... I bet you would do well with some fall / winter experiment crops
    West Coast Seeds | Organic Seeds

    ÉDIT - link to Sea Soil
    SEA SOIL™ | Natural Organic Growing Soil for Your Flower & Vegetable Gardens

    ÉDIT - i meant to add - congratulations on your new home — that’s a major commitment in certain parts of BC for sure. We grew up on farms in SW BC and there’s no way we could buy that land back - woulda coulda shoulda 30 yrs ago.
     

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    Last edited: Aug 15, 2020
  7. Bradley Vrecko

    Bradley Vrecko New Member

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    Wow, the advice in such a short time is amazing so thanks!

    Bear Creek is on the main plateau of Surrey, so in every direction you’ll eventually go downhill. Our yard is odd shaped but the garden area gets full sun for more than 8 hours in summertime. The edges of the garden get a couple hours less as they’re blocked partially by trees, but for the most part sun isn’t a problem.

    The soil is fairly thin, and it compacts easily. There’s a lot of water moving on the surface when I leave the hose on, as opposed to the ground soaking it up. If I use hand tools and till it a bit, it becomes much nicer but settles into a firm and compact layer fairly quickly.

    This first year was my test to see what worked and what didn’t, and raised beds are certainly on my radar along with an automated watering system. I’m still actively clearing periwinkle and other invasive growers from other parts of the yard, and have a 1 and 5 year old keeping me busy, so the gardening hasn’t gotten the attention is probably needs.

    I’m certainly going to implement the advice on using loose compost for my pumpkin/squash/cucumbers next year, and as my budget allows, raised beds. I did use West Coast Seeds this year - more expensive but the nursery said they are perfect for our area and climate - and the leftovers are in the freezer for next year.

    Would adding a layer of manure in the fall help for next year? Growing up we had chickens and we’d open the garden up for them in the fall and confine them back to their pen in the spring, so the soil was always getting some extra nourishment.

    I’m trying to build a gardener timeline for the year so that I know when to add manure, when to add compost, when to turn, etc.
     
  8. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    I would be careful about chicken manure — see fruit vegetable forum

    I think fall when we harvest the final tomato potato bean and basil at the coast - that’s when you can turn your soil over and apply some nice sheep manure (never horse! Think # of tummies to digest seeds etc)

    Then our natural rainy season waters things in and then soon you have spring —

    If you are the spreadsheet Gantt chart person - go wth the neighbourhood sunlight and temperatures and frostfree natural calendar vs human who says « september 21st 9am = autumn”

    That said - do Remember absolutely to put a CHORE DATE for unscrewing and draining all your hoses and sprinklers so they do NOT freeze and crack. A good hose is worth every penny and can be expensive if you have a few of them.

    Same can be said of your fav tools and patio furniture / bbq

    One thing I suggest is when you tidy up your tools in the fall - take your blades and mowers etc in for service /sharpening (ask around for your neighborhood service people) ... then come spring - there is no lineup for you to wait in — the first Robins and you are enjoying the outdoors !

    The other detail I suggest is wait til Dec to trim the pine tree bough etc that is too low or other seasonal greenery - then you use it for holiday (for me Christmas) swags or patio planter filler. Why buy when you have it already perhaps.

    I think the other handy calendar input is your own phone and the camera - so take a photo of same angle / same time of day / the 1st of each month - plus the little treasures we find as the earth tilts and rotates )first snowdrop ... first flock of geese ... etc

    Or if you prefer nature journaling with a real pen and paper - same details

    This is especially helpful at a new to you piece of land — there are lots of fascinating books where authors have detailed observations like these.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2020
  9. Sulev

    Sulev Contributor

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    My neighbour is using chicken manure (granulated) for tomatoes with great success. The only risk is unknown quantities of antibiotics in the manure, because these come from large scale chicken farms.

    I have used cow manure and sheep manure earlier, when we kept own cows and sheep. Now I have no access to these deposits any more, but have a source of abundant horse manure from another neighbour. It works well on the sandy soil, especially for cucumbers and pumpkins. I have much less weed seeds introduced with a manure, than it was when I used cow manure or sheep manure.
    The only problem with horse manure is that it can turn the soil more dry during hot spells, so some extra watering may be necessary to avoid drying of plants. So, for potatoes I'd prefer cow/sheep manure (it's relatively easy to fight weeds on potato field, but it is hard to water potatoes, as potatoes don't like wetting of uppers - it is not recommended to use sprinklers because of blight risk).
     
  10. Acerholic

    Acerholic Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society

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    Regarding horse manure, this is absolutely fine as long as it is composted for at least two years. So having somwhere to store it is important.
    Most stables are more than happy for anyone to come along and take as much as you want at no cost. So this can be very cost effective.
    I was more than happy for people to take as much as they wanted when I had my horse. The local allotments used to collect it regularly and share it out. I received some lovely veg as a thankyou at harvest time, so everyone was happy.
     
  11. Bradley Vrecko

    Bradley Vrecko New Member

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    Curious, but one thing I left out was that I was using palm frond spines (the hard middle part once the leaves are removed) as garden stakes. I didn’t have any sticks and figured they’d be safe as I couldn’t find anything online to suggest otherwise, plus we have a palm tree so it was a way to reuse. However, when I pulled the stakes they’re quite black and so now I’m wondering if they change the soil; either through their own decomposition, or perhaps on how they attract or repel insects/bugs?

    Thanks again for all the feedback! I just planted some spinach, kale, and carrots for a fall harvest and am looking into manure options as well. Exciting!
     
  12. Margot

    Margot Renowned Contributor 10 Years

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    Another excellent product is available only on Vancouver Island. Earthbank Fish Compost ( Home ) has "been approved for use in certified organic food production. This approval is acquired based on an annual review of the inputs of our Fish Compost, as well as careful testing of the final product, by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). For more information about OMRI, including their testing standards and criteria, please visit their website via the link below."

    Depending on where you buy it, it is usually cheaper than Sea Soil.
     
  13. Margot

    Margot Renowned Contributor 10 Years

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    I am curious about how huge is huge in your opinion? I have about 10 very large black nursery pots that I have acquired over the years from here and there. I have cherry tomatoes planted in about 6 of them which seem to be doing okay - but I really don't have anything to compare them with. With your encouragement, I will plan on trying other vegetables next year . . . there's no good alternative here unless I were to spend big bucks building raised beds and filling them with soil.

    I have a friend in a similar position regarding lack of soil/sunshine and presence of deer. She doesn't even try growing food but says she prefers to support local farmers by buying her veggies from them.
     
  14. Georgia Strait

    Georgia Strait Generous Contributor

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    Margot - I started a new thread so as not to hijack OP topic

    Growing vegetables in large containers
     
  15. Margot

    Margot Renowned Contributor 10 Years

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    Good idea - thanks! Margot
     
  16. Acerholic

    Acerholic Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout Maple Society

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    My friends who have grown the above vegetables on their allotments for many years, only use very well rotted manure. ( composted for at least 2 years). They do not use fresh at all. Just thought I would mention this.
     

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