Let’s face it. Our gardening efforts have thus far produced results that are, shall we say, less than spectacular. Last season, a good half of our tomato plants simply refused to grow. The cucumbers produced a few gnarled, yellow specimens. The collards were obliterated by some unidentified green-eating insect. I believe we totaled six butternut squashes from a squash patch the size of Rhode Island.
I could go on, and tell you about the mealy beets, stringy fennel, and sour raspberries, but I’ll stop now.
We have long suspected that the culprit is our soil. Our property is uniquely ill-suited for gardening. We’ve got a large (110 acres) kettlehole pond on one side, and the land slopes up from there. Then it slopes down again, to a small (800 square feet) kettlehole marsh in our backyard.
The garden and hoophouse are about midway between the two, and we’re pretty sure that any nutrients that were in that soil eroded down one hillside or the other back when mastodons still roamed the earth. What’s left is a gardener’s nightmare – a heady mixture of sand, rocks, and decomposed pine needles.
We’ve amended like mad. We’ve probably put five yards of compost out there, as well as various NPK fertilizers. For specific plants, we’ve used kelp and bone meal. But what we need is good, old-fashioned dirt.
Or at least that’s what we think. And, this winter, I’m going to find out. Since October, when we decommissioned the garden, I’ve been planning to send samples to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which runs a soil testing lab. For $15., they’ll test for pH, nutrients, heavy metals, and a few other things I don’t fully understand the purpose of. They’ll make recommendations for appropriate amendments.
It sounds like just the thing to do, but I somehow haven’t gotten around to it. Other things intervened, I put it off, and now, of course, the ground is frozen.
I don’t think that’s just garden-variety procrastination. I strongly suspect that my subconscious has a hidden agenda. If our dirt passes its tests with flying colors, or even turns out to be better than expected, I will have no choice but to conclude that responsibility for our lackluster garden lies with us, and not our soil. But I’m going to face the music. I can already take soil out of our hoophouse, where the ground isn’t frozen, and the next week or so may warm up enough so we can get a sample from the main garden.
We’ll send in our samples, we’ll act on their recommendations, and we’ll have high hopes for a better yield next year. But I’ll have a few excuses on the back burner, just in case – I did hear they’re predicting a banner year for slugs.