The Regenerative Garden

I believe that, even in the smallest section of your property, it’s possible to grow healthy and productive vegetables. The basic ingredients needed for success are a well-drained and nutrient rich soil, a location that receives at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight, a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.2 and a willingness to garden all season. This is where Regenerative Gardening (RG) comes in.

Dense planting of lettuce, collards, kale and beets

Remember, your garden’s soil is a living, thriving media containing thousands of different natural organisms working in harmony to sustain an almost perfect environment to grow vegetables. The other highlight, soil is a renewable resource. This means that no matter what your soil’s starting point is, you can make it better and keep it that way!

A new asparagus bed surrounded by lettuce, cauliflower and cabbage

RG is a combination of cultural practices that are implemented simultaneously, throughout the growing season, in order to maintain a highly productive soil. I consider the following as essential elements in establishing a Regenerative Garden:

  • Permaculture
  • No synthetic pesticides
  • Succession planting
  • Crop rotation
  • Soil incorporation of compost
  • Optimizing plant density
  • Companion planting
  • Cover crops

Our blog already includes information on most of these topics and eventually, we will cover them all. As you already know, there is a wealth of information available from an array of sources on each topic. So, if you want to dig deeper, it should be simple to do.

The point of this post is to introduce Regenerative Gardening (RG) from a multi-cultural practice’s perspective. As a general rule, I attempt to incorporate as many of the cultural practices mentioned above, for any given vegetable planted at St. Joseph Street Community Garden. My objective is to manage our garden plot as an ever-changing plant growth environment which supports high levels of quality production.

Last, but not least, please be sure to take a soil test on year 1 of your garden’s establishment and every three to four years thereafter. It is important to monitor any shifts in soil available nutrients and soil pH. If you are adding compost on a regular basis, be aware that the quantities of available nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, from this source, may not be at the levels required by many vegetables (e.g., sweet corn, potatoes, etc.). There are several brands of granular organic fertilizers that can easily provide the balance.

Today, I’m headed to the garden to plant some squash seed, pull weeds, water a few areas and turn the compost. Not totally exciting, but that’s regenerative gardening for you.

What’s a pH?

Soil pH influences plant growth and can make our break a garden.  My intention is to highlight what I believe is of the greatest practical importance to the home gardener.

The pH of your garden’s soil is a numerical value which indicates its potential hydrogen ion concentration.  For garden soils, the typical range in values might be between pH 5.0 (more acidic) to 8.5 (more basic).  As you’ll recall, a pH 7 is neutral and this is typically the value for drinking water.

The soil’s pH is something every gardener should know before planting a garden.  The reason being that many soil nutrients (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorous, magnesium, etc.) are more readily available to plants in the range of pH 5.8 – pH 7.5.  In other words, if your soil’s pH is below 5.5 or higher than 7.8, the availability of plant nutrients decreases. Hence, nutrients become less soluble and/or bound to the soil media. Of course, this is a generalization since each nutrient behaves somewhat differently in relation to pH.

If you are about to establish a garden in new (unknown) ground, it will behoove you to have a soil test conducted before you do anything else.  You can typically do this via a county extension agent, a local (private) environmental laboratory or a university soil testing laboratory.  Fortunately, for Boone County (MO) gardeners, we have access to two laboratories who provide excellent testing services. I’ve listed these below.

The first reference is for a private lab located in Fayette, MO. This is a pleasant drive from Columbia and their company name is Inovatia Laboratories, LLC.

Inovatia Laboratories, LLC

The second reference is for the Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory located on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus.

  • 1100 University Avenue
  • Mumford Hall – Room 23
  • Columbia, MO 65211
  • Phone: 573-882-0623
  • Fax: 573-884-4288

In summary, by knowing your soil’s pH and its nutrient profile, you’ll be able to successfully amend your soil so that it’ll be more suitable for the growth of fruit and vegetables. For more information, please visit my post on pH and Amendments.


Soil Blending

Hi! Johnny L. Dose here again, aka John Allan. Now that I know how to contribute to The Garden Dreamer, I would like to switch gears to the topic of soil blending from the last topic of vermiculture, which we will definitely come back to.

I blend my own soil. Why? Well, first the growth media for plants has just as much importance as keeping your plants watered, your plants with the right type and amount of sun, and with selection of seed genetics that you choose for you plants. Soil Fertility is the collegiate term for this expertise. And as a science, it’s as old as dirt. 🤣

The ingredients that I use currently are:

  • Local topsoil
  • Sand or Clay (optional depending on your local topsoil’s texture)
  • Peet Moss
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Wood Ash from the fire pit
  • Re-hydrated oyster shells after burning (after planting)
  • Worm castings (after planting)
  • Osmocote pellets

How you blend these ingredients is up to you. I’ll tell you how I do it.
My unit of measure, which I totally made up, is The Smokey the Bear Shovel load; [unit = “sb”]

In a wheelbarrow, (Mfg: True Temper), add: 7sb of local topsoil, 5sb peat moss, 3sb vermiculite, 3sb perlite, 2sb wood ash. I usually put on some blue hospital gloves partly to freak out the cats, but also to blend ingredients by hand or you can use the shovel.
Note:  Chicks don’t like dirty fingernails.

As you are mixing include osmocote pellets. Don’t go overboard. Treat it like adding pepper to a pot of soup or a garden salad.

The addition of sand or clay is an important topic, which can be in the next contribution. If you look up soil texture and if the link above actually works, you’ll find that texture, what we know as combinations of sand, silt, and clay, is all based on particle size. The various other names for soil, such as: loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silty clay, silty clay loam, sandy clay loam, clay loam, and sand clay make up all the defined USDA textures; aka the texture triangle.

“Light” soils are sandy soils (course texture; large particle; easy to plow)
“Heavy” soils are clayey soils (fine texture; smallest particles; hard to plow)
Note: I guess they were thinking about the plow horse when they came up with those terms:

Good Textbook: “The Nature and Properties of Soils”, Nyle C. Brady, 8th ed. (1974).

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences with soil blending. I’ll stop now and save some material for my next post.

All the Best,

Johnny L. Dose

TGD 01/01/2022

Soil Texture – It’s Important to Every Gardener

Because gardeners are in a hurry to plant seed in the Spring, we sometimes overlook the importance of first examining the soil we are going to work with.  Soils vary considerably from location to location and even so within a location.  For example, on a single farm it is often the case that said property will contain soils of varying textures and productivity.   Even though most vegetable gardeners have a small area to work with, and most likely the plot will be uniform for soil type, it still remains important to become familiar with your garden’s soil.  This topic will address soil texture which can have a profound affect plant productivity.

A single definition of soil is being borrowed from a USDA publication located on the Internet as follows:

soil – (i) The unconsolidated mineral or organic material on the immediate surface of the Earth that serves as a natural medium for the growth of land plants.

Going a step further, a soil used in agriculture is said to be made up of the following constituents; Porosity (air) – (25%), Water holding capacity – (25%), Minerals – (45%) and Organic matter – (5%).  The organic fraction is typically comprised of Humus – (80%), Roots – (10%) and Organisms – (10%).  However, please use this as a guide only since many arable soils have 1 to 3% organic matter content thus reducing their water holding capacity below 25%.

Within the soil’s aforementioned “mineral fraction” there are three classes of soil particulate; sand, silt and clay.  Sand is the largest and clay the smallest in diameter.  The soil’s textural classification is based upon the quantity of each type of particulate.   For instance, a soil containing 15% sand, 50% clay% and 35% silt is classified as a clay soil.   This was determined by plotting the respective percent particulate content with the use of a soil textural triangle (Soil Conservation Service, USDA, Soil Survey Manual, Agricultural Handbook, No. 18 (1951).  However, there is good news ahead, when you perform a soil test with a University Extension Laboratory or private environmental lab you will typically receive analyses of macro and micro soil nutrients, pH, CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity), organic matter (%) and a soil texture classification.

OK, so what’s the big deal about soil texture and what can be done about it should you want to make improvements to your garden’s soil?  For instance, if you learn that your soil is 50% or greater in clay content you may be wise to add generous amounts of well-decomposed organic matter in addition to building raised beds.  Adding some excellent quality topsoil* would prove useful as well.  Working with a clay soil is possible but for the less experienced gardener it can prove to be disappointing.  A clay soil is tuff to dig, turn and/or hoe especially when it’s wet or dry.  Additionally, clay soils typically do not have good soil structure thus reducing good porosity and water relations between soil and developing root systems.  On the opposite side of the soil textural scheme, having a soil high in sand content also offers challenges to support a highly productive garden.  For example, sand has poor water holding capacity and will retain less plant nutrients to its colloidal surface.

In my opinion, soils with the following textural classifications; clay loam, sandy clay loam and silt clay loam are ideal garden soils.  These three soil types have a nice mixture of sand, silt and clay making them easy to till and generally have good retention of nutrients and excellent water holding capacity.

*Caution, avoid adding sand to your clay soil as this actually worsens the situation by creating concrete like structures in your clay soil.

There’s a lot more to be said on soil texture, so, if you have interest to dig deeper, I recommend that you locate a few used textbooks and/or search the Internet.  Good luck!

pH and Soil Amendments

Now that you’ve read my post on “What’s a pH?”, you may want to know what can be done to either lower or increase your soil’s pH.  Of course, the first thing you need to do is have a reputable university or private laboratory test your soil.    Once you have the lab results, you’ll know if pH needs to move up (more basic) or down (more acidic).

In all my years of gardening, I can safely say that the vast majority of garden soils that I’ve encountered were either too acidic (pH 4.6 – 5.5) or already in a suitable range for plant growth (pH 6.2 – pH 7.2).  However, it’s always possible to encounter a soil with a high pH (pH 7.6 – 8.8) as well.

By no means, will the following suffice to fully explain the dynamics relative to soil pH/soil chemistry/soil type and amendments.  There are complete texts devoted to these topics and some knowledge of basic chemistry is needed to weed through the facts. Hence, the following should be seen as a guide to amend your soil, if deemed necessary.

Should your soil test result in an acidic reading (pH 4.5 to 5.5), it is likely that the test results will offer guidance on the quantity of gypsum (CaCO3) to apply.  This is an easy task and product (CaCO3 / lime) can be purchased at a big box store.  As to knowing how much CaCO3 to apply to your garden, this depends on the soil texture, the soil’s pH level and the target pH you’re hoping to establish.

In the event that your soil’s pH is basic (pH 7.5 – 8.5), the means to lower pH is not as straight forward.  However, the use of fertilizers designed to benefit acid loving plants is one way to temporarily offset the effects of high pH.  Additionally, adding large amounts of compost to your garden will also lower your soils pH, but slowly.  A third factor involves incorporating green manure crops in your garden plot.  Although not considered as an “organic” amendment, fertilizing with Ammonium Sulfate helps to lower soil pH while also adding nitrogen to your garden.

Please, don’t be shy to reach out with any questions or comments regarding this post.  Managing your soil so that its pH is in a suitable range (6.2 – 7.2) for optimum plant growth and development is every gardener’s goal!