Talkin’ Dirt

In New England, we’ve been gripped by the longest winter EVER (at least that I can remember). I’m desperately wanting to get outside and say spring has officially arrived! I can’t wait to wake up the flower beds and start the veggie garden again. This season, the first thing I’ll do, once the ground thaws, is something that every gardener and farmer ought to do!

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Let’s talk dirt! Soil, that is. This long winter’s been more bearable because I’ve been busy doing something I’ve wanted to pursue a long time: studying to become a Certified Master Gardener! Right now I’m an “intern”, but I’ve learned so much already! Having gardened since I was seven years old, (in three states and several zones), I know there’s always something more to learn; it’s one of the great things about gardening.

Can't wait for the cutting garden to look like this again...

Can’t wait for the cutting garden to look like this again…

Instead of looking like this. Current status, 3/13/15

Instead of looking like this. Current status, 3/13/15

We’ve covered all sorts of topics in the classes, but one of the best things I’ve learned is the importance of soil testing. Whether you’re planting a huge field or a small bed, veggies, flowers, trees, or turf, every plant needs good soil to thrive and be healthy. Did you know that there’s over a billion organisms living among a single teaspoon of healthy soil? There’s more life in a teaspoon of soil than humans on earth! A plant is only as healthy as its roots, and good roots start with good, healthy soil.

All plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers get nutrients from the soil. A soil sample test measures the soil’s pH, indicating if soil is alkaline or acidic. Different types of plants prefer different pH conditions (“neutral” is seven on the scale). A scientifically done test can also measure nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, as well as other needed micro-nutrients. Go to any garden center or store with lawn-care products, and there’s bags of lime. Many a homeowner automatically incorporates lime into their lawns each year, and many of those lawns may not even need it! How can you tell for sure? By doing a soil test. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive, and can even save money in the long run by telling you exactly what you do and don’t need.

Before the ground froze completely, I sent in my first-ever soil sample from my veggie garden to be analyzed, as part of a class assignment. Using my spade, I “sliced” the soil about ½” thick from about a dozen random areas in the vegetable garden, mixing the slices together in a clean container. I then took a cupful (that’s all it takes) and placed it into a plastic bag. I placed the sealed bag into a mailing envelope with my check and sent it to the address for the sampling laboratory (in my area, it’s through UConn). The postage wasn’t that much since I only sent in a cupful of soil.

My tools are ready...a soil sample test is a useful tool, too.

My tools are ready…a soil sample test is a useful tool, too.

Results came back a few weeks later, and I was quite happy to see my garden’s soil is in good shape for vegetables, and that area needs no limestone. Recommendations were made (that I can achieve organically, if I desire). I also found out I have low, typical levels for lead. This is important especially since we’ll be eating what grows here. (Lead occurs everywhere, but you wouldn’t want to plant edible plants in an area where lead is high, for example, next to an older home’s foundation where lead paint was once used).

Fresh veggies, I'm dreaming of you! Kale from the garden, 2014

Fresh veggies, I’m dreaming of you! Kale from the garden, 2014

Different areas of soil should be sampled, depending on what’s growing. Once the spring thaw finally happens, I’m sending a few more samples from different areas of my property, (for instance, where my azaleas and rhododendrons are planted, which prefer soil on the acidic side).

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At-home testing isn’t nearly as accurate. One could test the same soil with several different devices, yet get different results each time. Testing through a laboratory is the best way to get an accurate, complete test. Check your local county’s extension or master gardener’s office for information on how and where to send a soil sample in your area.

For now, I can only dream of spring, as it’s still pretty cold. Mother Nature teased us a bit last week when she gave us a sampling of temps in the mid-fifties. I took a walk with my little dog on our Main Street, where the sidewalks were shoveled. It was like walking through a tunnel, and I had to give the dog a bath when we got home, since he was so covered in mud and salt, but it was GLORIOUS!

Isn't this color divine? This will be my new spring sweater.

Isn’t this color divine? This will be my new spring sweater.

Someone very special sent this bouquet to me. I'm enjoying them on my desk while I write. It's spring indoors!

Someone very special sent this bouquet to me. I’m enjoying them on my desk while I write. It’s spring indoors!

Started some seeds indoors. I had to buy new trays, instead of my usual recycled cups. They were in the shed, which I can't get to yet for all the snow and ice!

Started some seeds indoors. I had to buy trays, instead of my usual recycled cups. They were in the shed, which I can’t get to yet for all the snow and ice!

For now, I’m content knitting a new spring sweater in a bright color, and starting some of my seeds indoors. When that thaw comes, I’ll be outside…happily digging!

Spring will be here soon…I hope!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 20 Comments

  1. Judy says:

    Hi Nicole, Thanks for sharing those gorgeous pics with us. That’s going to be a lovely sweater. You’ll be ‘pretty in pink!’
    Yesterday we had 60’s and sun all day and we were outside cleaning out the shed and really enjoying it….becaaaause….
    by Friday winter is suppose to return to N.E. Ohio. weee….lol…here we go again.
    I knew winter wasn’t through with us and that the sun and warm temp was just a tease and a glimpse of things to come, but I really don’t want to see any more snow. hahaha Wishful thinking! Today is high 30’s. BUT the sun has been blazing away. Surely can’t complain about that!
    Happy St Patty’s day and just know that your snow will all be gone soon!
    Good for you taking classes on something you love! Enjoy and…You Go Girl!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Judy! Thanks so much. I hope to learn a lot of new things with gardening. Happy St. Patty’s to you, too. I remember some St. Patty’s where we were in full spring mode, and others with white out conditions. This one wasn’t too bad – thirties. Still snow and ice everywhere, of course. I learned that I shouldn’t expect spring completely until after St. Patty’s – seems like we always have a cold spell around that day, and like your area, last night the temp dropped again and March winds are fierce! Oh well, more time to knit that sweater! Thanks for “stopping by”! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. Dori Troutman says:

    Hi Nicole! Good for you working towards being a Master Gardener. I’ve looked into it through our University, but haven’t had the courage to take the plunge! I’ll be anxious to hear more about it. Yes that pink will be the most divine color for spring! It makes me smile just looking at it! You’ll have to show us a picture when you finish.

    We are in full spring mode here – finally. Daffodils in bloom, birds singing, sun shining, cows happily grazing on fresh green grass. Our excitement about spring arriving is always a little fearful too because that is when our tornado season arrives. It’s a little unsettling for us being here only 4 years and every year in April we’ve had tornadoes very close.

    I hope your snow all melts and spring comes bursting through soon!

    Hugs – Dori, the Ranch Farmgirl –

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Dori! Thank you…I am really enjoying the journey to be a Master Gardener. I’ll keep ya posted! I am working hard on my sweater, too…first warm day I am dressing up! (It’s short sleeves).

      Just hearing about your lovely spring with your cows and sunshine and flowers makes me smile. I understand your concern about tornadoes. I guess it is true that no matter where you live, there is a drawback somewhere with the weather…too hot, too cold, tornadoes, hurricanes…we must all appreciate what we have. Can’t control the weather, right? Tornadoes are very frightening, though.

      Enjoy your spring weather! Send some of it up our way! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. susana says:

    I can’t wait until spring gets here too. But I expect the best time fir me will be April 13….according to the muskrats, who came out of their holes March 13. As they don’t come up out of their holes to mate unless its going go be nice in 30 days, approximately.I love smelling the musk in the fresh Dean are, fir me that’s the first real sign ,that I will be in my garden soon.
    As for testing the soil, I’m sure my soil has plenty of iron, as the previous owner used to bury old nails in it…found plenty of them while digging. But I always add magnesium, for green vegetables love it and grow profusely when I remember to put some, scattered about. And always add a but if fertilizer, want it or not. And I figure if I see a lot of worms, there’s enough goodness in the soil. And full of life. (Not/sure if I want to see my soil under a microscope.) And I always rotate my plants, be year a seed producing plot will become a flower plot the following year.or a strawberry plot.rotating is good because some plants will take the nutrients of e element whereas another pant will leave it behind. For my tomatoes plot of soil I always burn some newspaper, as tomatoes love a little ash in their space. But I sure wish I knew what those slimy snails
    hated, as I would put more in the soil to discourage them from hanging around, and those green tomatoes bugs with the horn, saw one east year. Haven’t seen them n ears so I wonder hat I’m doing wrong that they came back after many years.
    Yes, I’m ready for my garden. Anxious as anyone else whose tired of winter. Love to enjoy my space…every year I too learn something new.there’s always lessons go be learned from a garden. To get kids interested, I always gave them a jacket of seeds. Got a neighbor kid interested. Such I could get my whose tin interested in growing beautiful gardens. Makes you want to live outside all the time! I love it when I can touch the soil with my bare hands…..did you know people ho do, are healthier than those who don’t garden? I knew this woman whose mother lived to be 103, and the daughter felt it was due to her interesting in gardening. As she didnt like it, but she did grow these beautiful flowers. The daughter only lived to be 98! So working a garden has its blessings….hard work keeps you young! Go garden! Happy gardening!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Sue! I love hearing about the muskrats! Thanks for sharing. Your garden sounds lovely. Don’t be afraid to get soil testing…it won’t scare you! What it will tell you is if you need something or not, and the pH of the soil. For instance, ash makes soil more acidic. Also, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, even fertilizer, so testing tells you the exact needs of the plants you’d be planting. I totally agree with you about gardening – keeps ya young! My grandmother was born on a farm, and I remember her happiest times were in her garden. I still can’t look at a rose and not think of her. Happy gardening, and happy spring, sweet farmsister! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Kristy says:

    I grew up in the New Haven area. In 1967, Easter was March 26, and I wore a straw hat, a spring coat, and my winter boots. The following week, my fiance was in Hawaii and sent me a lei. Mom took a picture of me, wearing a dress, no coat, the lei, standing in front of my Skylark convertible with the top down. The only snow was the stuff that had been plowed up on the sides of the roads.

    Plowing seems to make the snow denser. Spring has sprung here in Indiana, and even the stuff on the sides of the roads is gone. The huge mountains of snow in the parking lots however, are still with us.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Kristy,
      Lucky you, that snow is almost gone there! I love the story you shared. I bet that is a treasured photo, and a great one at that. I grew up in Houston, Texas. Easter there, was of course, warm. Sundresses and sandals. Since I have lived in Connecticut, I find it goes either way. Warm sometimes, or the pendulum swings the other way -and we could get a blizzard. The trick is to be patient, of course, but I can’t wait to see something green! Thanks for commenting, Kristy! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Joan says:

    We didn’t get nearly the snow but our COLD happened and we have to be concerned into late April early May for night freezes – it has been known to freeze late May – so all our new gardening has to be put undercover and the perennials sometimes get nipped – we do feel your pain of not being able to get out there and ‘do dirt’. Congratulations on becoming a Master Gardener – real talent in those people. God bless.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joan! Thank you. It is not an easy task to become a Master Gardener, and I have a long road ahead, but I am enjoying it. Anything worth doing isn’t always easy, of course.

      Nothing is worse than a spring freeze, especially after the gardens and flowers are planted. I feel your woe, and hope that your plants survive. Good luck!

      As I hear the March wind blowing today, I am reminding myself that I will not complain about the heat this summer. Not one complaint, and my farmgirl sisters can hold me to it! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Bonnie ellis says:

    Oh, Nicole, I so know where you are at now. Minnesota usually has tons of snow and we have cabin fever. But we got hardly any snow and they are talking drout. We all need a happy medium. Congrats on your master gardener program. It is so worth it. Your sweater and its color left me drooling. Hang in there and think Jubilee

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Bonnie! I think we got all of your snow! Another two inches (not much, but I don’t want any now) is expected Friday. And it is so very cold still. I hear ya…think Jubilee! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. ulla christensen says:

    Hi Nicole.
    I like to read your blog , and I always looking forward to see what you have written this time, and see your pictures.

  8. Vivian Monroe says:

    Nicole, I am praying for all of you people in the northeast to have Sping weather and lots and lots of sunshine soon. :) Here in the piedmont area of NC we are experiencing some spring weather, of course we have a few cold days ahead but not bitter cold. Being from La. I appreciate the four seasons here. We get just enough of each season to not be overwhelmed. The next season pretty much starts the day the calendar says it should. :) I also took a Master Gardener’s course at home at LSU Ag Center, it was so much fun and so full of exciting things to learn. We did the soil test as well, only we didnt have to send our off because it was there on the campus. :) I was very surprised to learn how some people really do destroy their soil for many years because of just adding lime and things they it doesnt need. Sort of sad. :( Well here is to wishing you lots of Spring blessings coming your way and that beautiful color will for sure make any day brighter. Be Blessed. Neta

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Vivian! Thank you for the wishes of warm weather. Today was sunny but cold, but bundled up it is still nice to walk outside. Tomorrow we have heard reports of two to six inches of snow! Blech!

      Awesome that you did the Master Gardener’s class,too! Already, I look at the world and my surroundings differently. I also attended the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) Winter Seminar at WestConn a few weeks ago. I took three courses there and spent the day looking at all the vendors offerings…if I can’t get outside and garden yet, I can at least learn about it (and dream)! Hopefully soon. I do enjoy the four seasons here, too, being from Texas originally, but this winter just won’t let go! Thanks for saying hi! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  9. Beverly Battaglia says:

    I really enjoyed reading the information about the soil we plant our vegetables and flowers in. Never knew any of this! Your pictures are all so pretty. Love the tulips and last summer when I was there in July, I saw and tasted your garden vegetables and herbs. Beautiful and delicious. You fed me well! I am so proud of you becoming a Master Gardener soon, and your pink sweater is lovely and well made. Glad you are using the talents God blessed you with.
    Love you,
    Mother

  10. Jennifer says:

    Hello from snowy Higganum, CT! I’m so happy to have found your blog. I can’t wait to get my hands into the soil this year…if it ever stops snowing.

    Good luck with your spring sweater – it’s such a lovely color!

    Jennifer

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Fellow Frozen Farmgirl! I hear ya! I wonder with all this snow how long it will be before anyone can get outside! Thank you for the compliment – I love the color, too. Thanks for “stopping by’ the blog! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole PS Your soaps look lovely!

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