Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


In the Garden: The Dirt


Our planet’s essential elements are often taken for granted: earth, fire, air, water. Gardeners contend with it all, but especially in springtime the earth, soil, dirt is a primary focus– the blanket that surrounds and nurtures plants, the food we eat. I read somewhere recently that worldwide we’re covering so-many thousands of acres with concrete daily. At least for this moment in time that soil is ‘gone’ and perhaps tainted for a very long time, the earth that allows us to produce food, to sustain life. There should be a bumper sticker: Save the Soil! Seriously.

But it’s the soil in our own backyard, in large pots or tiny plots, that we can directly nurture, and where we can grow some food, maybe salad greens.

Soil: first, you have to have some, and then to understand that baby seeds want light, water, and minerals via that soil, their mother’s milk so to speak. Lots written about how to achieve the best soil for growing food, here’s an offering for getting started:

  • You could just jump in, plant and see what happens;
  • The best first addition to any soil is compost, either homemade or from a garden store;
  • Next, consider slow-release organic fertilizers to amend your soil like a multi-vitamin, because plants need nutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, essential plant elements. Fertilizers provide a mineral boost. Some boxes/bags are specifically labeled ‘for vegetables’.
  • Due to winter rains, soil in western Washington becomes slightly acidic; add lime to neutralize;
  • If using compost and fertilizer, stir the fertilizer into the soil along with the compost. Packages suggest ratios – read guidelines and talk to garden store experts. You can create your own homemade mix of dirt, compost and fertilizer, but if you’re starting out and want to plant a small plot, a pot or two, you can purchase what you need at the garden store.


(Links to additional and in-depth information about soil, composting and seeds are at the bottom of this posting. Read or skim, either way they’ll give you something more.)

There are advantages to growing food in pots: you can place them for convenience and optimal sun; if they’re on wheels they can be moved around easily, in or out of more sun; they’re probably nearer the kitchen than a garden plot so that care and harvest are relatively easy. A disadvantage is that they’re heavy once filled with dirt, moisture, and plants, and become difficult to move around. With this in mind, place pots thoughtfully.

Whether it’s a plot or a pot, prepare the soil, let it settle and take some time to peruse seeds that are labeled ‘hardy’ for early spring planting. That would include things like mesclun (the mixed baby greens you find at the grocery store these days), certain radishes and carrots, peas. Ask questions at your garden store. They’re happy to help – they want you to be successful and return to spend more money.

A few weeks ago I included a comment and link to an article by gardening/sustainability expert Joan Dye Gussow, (2/26/08 MixedGreens posting), in order to note the importance of showing children something other than grocery store aisles as a food source. Enlivening kids’ awareness could be the primary motivation for growing some food of your own and it would be enough; in addition though, you have the ultimate kinesthetic pleasure of seeing, harvesting and then tasting your own homegrown greens.

Tomorrow: planting seeds

Call the Natural Lawn and Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 for a list of soil testing labs.

Tilth, is a rich resource for PNW organic gardeners: http://www.seattletilth.org/hotline/





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