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Let's get ready to garden without breaking the budget

By Bonnie Davis Guy
Spring is on its way and with its arrival is the time to prepare those summer vegetable and flower gardens. If you are like most folks when you go into those garden centers full of beautiful plants and products promising extraordinary growth and production, your eyes widen and your budget goes out the window. You come home and then face the remorse of overspending and under planning. Well, not this year. This year you are going to be prepared – prepared to have a beautiful and healthy garden and to do it all within your budget.
Step one is preparing your garden area and its soil. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac one of the best things you can do for a great garden is to test the soil before planting. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. There are inexpensive kits available at most garden centers or hardware stores. Your local farmer’s cooperative extension office may also be willing to do this for you at a low cost. One of the big issues is the PH balance of the soil. It is important to make sure your soil PH is at a neutral value of 7 or as close to that as possible. Microbial activity and greatest plant growth happens when the PH level is between 5.5 – 7 range.
What do you do if your soil is not in good shape?
Plants need three main ingredients. (N) nitrogen, (P) phosphorus, (K) potassium. These nutrients can be provided via a good fertilizer or with organic matter such as manure. But be careful, too much fertilizer can actually cause more damage than good. Too much of a good thing will not only damage the roots but reduce overall productivity. Some other soil fixes are coarse sand and compost to clay-based soil. Add aged manure or sawdust to sandy soil. Silt soil needs coarse sand, gravel, and compost. Well-rotted horse manure mixed with straw works very well in this situation too. Bark will improve soil’s structure. Compost is an excellent conditioner for the soil. Leaves decomposed will add nutrients in a natural way instead of chemical fertilizers. Lime is good to raise the PH of acidic soil and it also loosens clay rich soil and makes planting easier. Finally, the old standby manure and peat moss, both are great conditioners and help the soil retain water. If too much water retention is the issue think sand. Sand improves drainage and helps prevent root rot. Be sure to do your prep work by tilling up your garden at least a couple of times and removing rocks and hard clumps before planting.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.