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Posted under Home Gardening by Nan Fischer on 
Source: Natures Path

Why do we garden in soil, yet when we wash it off our hands or out of our clothes, it is annoying dirt? How can one item have two definitions, one positive and one negative? Soil provides food, trees, shrubs, and flowers, but dirt is a nuisance remove. Yet they are the same thing!

The Soil Science Society of America defines dirt as ‘displaced soil’, which covers the scenario above, when you clean up after working in the garden. On a larger scale, think of how much soil gets displaced from a landslide and suddenly becomes dirt!


Soil is alive with living organisms such as worms, fungi, insects, bacteria, and organic matter. It supports life with its naturally occurring nutrients and minerals, making it a perfect planting medium. It is a complete and self-sustaining ecosystem.

Sand, silt, clay, and organic matter make up soil. The different sized particles create texture and structure, which aid in aeration and drainage. Soil color shows its mineral content. Different soil types are described by their properties.

When this magnificent living thing called soil leaves the garden on your hands or clothes, it gets displaced and is now defined as dirt.

Source: Natures Path
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook


Dirt is made up of sand, silt, and clay, and it may be rocky. It has none of the minerals, nutrients, or living organisms found in soil. It is not an organized ecosystem. There is no topsoil or humus, no worms or fungi. Lacking texture and structure, dirt does not compact when wet, unlike a handful of soil. The result is run-off and erosion. An old dirt road comes to mind with this definition.

Dirt is dead and does not support life. You cannot plant a productive garden in dirt.


All soil began as dirt. Natural soil formation takes thousands or millions of years, as rocks erode into sand and organic matter decays and accumulates. To archaeologists, the resulting layers of soil represent time, each telling how and when it was created. To them, dirt has no history.

Think of that landslide again. Ancient layers of healthy soil wash away to a new location with no topsoil, no layers, no organization, and no history. Now it’s a pile of dirt, and the process of soil building must begin again.

There are five factors that affect soil formation:

  • Climate
  • Organisms
  • Relief (landscape)
  • Parent material
  • Time

These factors are known to soil scientists as CLORPT, which work together to create the earth’s crust.

There’s no need to wait a million years to transform dirt to soil in your yard, though. Soil is made by mixing dirt with the living organisms that make soil soil.

Source: Natures Path
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Build a compost pile, and add it to your dirt. Organic matter such as leaves, kitchen scraps, and grass clippings attract the beneficial organisms necessary to break it down into beautiful and productive soil. Worms, fungi, microbes, and bacteria are the natural result of good composting practices. Through this video, Dr Elaine Ingham, a renowned soil biologist, speaks in detail about soil microbiology and the importance of compost.

You don’t have to be a soil scientist to see that the difference between soil and dirt is compost. Healthy living soil is all you need to have a beautiful yard and abundant vegetable garden, so there is no need for synthetic, toxic pesticides and fertilizers.

Next time you go inside to clean up after gardening, maybe leave some soil in the garden to cut down on dirt in the house!


What will you be growing this year? Consider this as you amend or develop your soil. Where will your garden be located? Why?

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Know Your Garden Soil: How to Make the Most of Your Soil Type

Source: Earth Easy

If you’re planning to get serious about gardening it’s crucial you get to know your soil type. No matter how much work you do in your yard and garden, all that careful sowing, weeding and tending could be in vain if the quality of your soil is not up to scratch.

The soil provides your plants with the vital nutrients, water and air that they require for healthy growth and development. But each plot of ground has its own blend of minerals, organic and inorganic matter which largely determines what crops, shrubs or trees can be grown successfully.

Ideal soil conditions for specific crops can be created in contained plots such as raised beds or planters, but for larger gardens and landscapes it helps to understand the characteristics of the soil you have to work with.

The Six Types of Soil

There are six main soil groups: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky and loamy. They each have different properties and it is important to know these to make the best choices and get the most from your garden.

1. Clay Soil

Clay soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Clay soil feels lumpy and is sticky when wet and rock hard when dry. Clay soil is poor at draining and has few air spaces. The soil will warm up slowly in spring and it is heavy to cultivate. If the drainage for the soil is enhanced, then plants will develop and grow well as clay soil can be rich in nutrients.

Great for: Perennials and shrubs such as Helen’s Flower, Aster, Bergamot, Flowering quince. Early vegetable crops and soft berry crops can be difficult to grow in clay soil because of its cool, compact nature. Summer crop vegetables, however, can be high yielding vigorous plants. Fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs thrive on clay soils.

2. Sandy Soil

Sandy soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Sandy soil feels gritty. It drains easily, dries out fast and is easy to cultivate. Sandy soil warms up fast in spring and tends to hold fewer nutrients as these are often washed away during wetter spells. Sandy soil requires organic amendments such as glacial rock dustgreensandkelp meal, or other organic fertilizer blends. It also benefits from mulching to help retain moisture.

Great for: Shrubs and bulbs such as Tulips, Tree mallow, Sun roses, Hibiscus. Vegetable root crops like carrots, parsnips and potatoes favour sandy soils. Lettuce, strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens and tomatoes are grown commercially in sandy soils.

3. Silty Soil

Silty soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Silty soil feels soft and soapy, it holds moisture, is usually very rich in nutrients. The soil is easily cultivated and can be compacted with little effort. This is a great soil for your garden if drainage is provided and managed. Mixing in composted organic matter is usually needed to improve drainage and structure while adding nutrients.

Great for: Shrubs, climbers, grasses and perennials such as Mahonia, New Zealand flax. Moisture-loving trees such as Willow, Birch, Dogwood and Cypress do well in silty soils. Most vegetable and fruit crops thrive in silty soils which have adequate adequate drainage.

4. Peaty Soil

Peaty soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Peaty soil is a darker soil and feels damp and spongy due to its higher levels of peat. It is an acidic soil which slows down decomposition and leads to the soil having fewer nutrients. The soil heats up quickly during spring and can retain a lot of water which usually requires drainage. Drainage channels may need to be dug for soils with high peat content. Peat soil is great for growth when blended with rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity. You can also use soil amendments such as glacial rock dust to raise pH in acidic soils.

Great for: Shrubs such as Heather, Lantern Trees, Witch Hazel, Camellia, Rhododendron. Vegetable crops such as Brassicas, legumes, root crops and salad crops do well in well-drained peaty soils.

5. Chalky Soil

Chalky soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Chalky soil is larger grained and generally stonier compared to other soils. It is free draining and usually overlays chalk or limestone bedrock. The soil is alkaline in nature which sometimes leads to stunted growth and yellowish leaves – this can be resolved by using appropriate fertilizers and balancing the pH. Adding humus is recommended to improve water retention and workability.

Great for: Trees, bulbs and shrubs such as Lilac, Weigela, Madonna lilies, Pinks, Mock Oranges. Vegetables such as spinach, beets, sweet corn, and cabbage do well in chalky soils.

6. Loamy Soil

Loamy soil
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Loamy soil, a relatively even mix of sand, silt and clay, feels fine-textured and slightly damp. It has ideal characteristics for gardening, lawns and shrubs. Loamy soil has great structure, adequate drainage, is moisture retaining, full of nutrients, easily cultivated and it warms up quickly in spring, but doesn’t dry out quickly in summer. Loamy soils require replenishing with organic matter regularly, and tend to be acidic.

Great for: Climbers. bamboos, perennials, shrubs and tubers such as Wisteria, Dog’s-tooth violets, Black Bamboo, Rubus, Delphinium. Most vegetable crops and berry crops will do well since loamy soil can be the most productive of soil types. However, loamy soil requires careful management to prevent depletion and drying out. Rotating crops, planting green manure crops, using mulches and adding compost and organic nutrients is essential to retain soil vitality.

Simple Tests to Help Determine Your Soil Type

The water test

Pour water onto your soil. If it drains quickly it is likely to be a sandy or gravelly soil, on clay soils the water will take longer to sink in.

Squeeze test

Grab a handful of soil and softly compress it in your fist.

  • If the soil is sticky and slick to the touch and remains intact and in the same shape when you let go it will be clay soil.
  • If the soil feels spongy it’s peaty soil; sandy soil will feel gritty and crumble apart.
  • Loamy and silty soils will feel smooth textured and hold their shape for a short period of time.

Settle test

Add a handful of soil to a transparent container, add water, shake well and then leave to settle for 12 hours.

  • Clay & silty soils will leave cloudy water with a layer of particles at the bottom.
  • Sandy soils will leave the water mostly clear and most of the particles will fall, forming a layer on the base of the container.
  • Peaty soils will see many particles floating on the surface; the water will be slightly cloudy with a thin layer at the bottom.
  • Soils that are chalky will leave a layer of whitish, grit-like fragments on the bottom of the container and the water will be a shade of pale grey.
  • If the water is quite clear with layered particles on the bottom of the container with the finest particle at the top – this soil is likely to be a loamy one.

Acid test

The standard pH for soils usually ranges between 4.0 and 8.5. Plants favor soil which has a pH between 6.5 and 7 because this is the level where nutrients and minerals naturally thrive. You can buy a pH test kit here, or from a local garden center. As a general rule, in areas with soft water you will have acid soil and hard water areas will tend to have alkaline soil.

Soil test kit

Use a soil test kit to assess primary nutrients (N-P-K) as well as pH levels. By testing your soil, you determine its exact condition so you can fertilize more effectively and economically. Soil should be tested periodically throughout the growing season.

How to make the most of your soil, whatever the type

Plants generally prefer neutral soil but it’s worth bearing in mind that some favor slightly acid or alkaline soils. Regardless of the pH of your soil it is possible to adjust the level slightly to make it more hospitable to the type of plants you want to grow. Remember this is only temporary, so it’s advised to make the most from the soil type you have.

Adding ground lime to your soil will make it more alkaline and aluminium sulfate or sulfur will help to make your soil more acidic.

If your soil is low in nutrients (like sandy soil), try supply it with organic matter such as compost and manure to enrich the soil and improve its texture. Use organic mulches such as straw, dried grass clippings and deciduous leaves. These mulches break down and incorporate into the soil, building a new supply of organic nutrients while improving the soil structure.

Clay soil is often not aerated enough and is deficient in good structure which makes it more difficult for successful growing. To get the most out of clay soil it’s best to add large quantities of well-rotted organic matter in the fall and peat a few weeks before planting. Greensand can also be used to loosen heavy clay soils or bind sandy soils.

It is often difficult to cultivate in chalky soil due to its alkaline nature. To help rectify this add bulky organic matter which breaks down over time, adding nutrients and minerals to the soil.

Make sure your soil is healthy.

It’s a good idea to regard your soil as living as your plants – it too needs food and water. Make sure it contains the three main nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) which are vital to growing plants effectively. Organic matter and fertilizers are rich in these.

After a crop is harvested the soil needs to be renewed before planting a successive crop. Many gardeners plant ‘green manure’ crops such as legumes, buckwheat, vetch and clover which fix nitrogen into the soil while building texture, improving aeration and drainage and adding organic matter. These cover crops are tilled in before they go to seed, and break down quickly so a new harvestable crop can be planted without much delay.

Crop rotation, green manures and cover crops, the use of mulch and the periodic addition of organic materials like compost and fertilizer are standard ways of restoring soil health after crop harvests. Rock phosphate, or rock dust, is also a valued amendment to restore phosphorus levels needed for vigorous plant growth.

If you can, introduce and encourage living organisms to your soil. The fungus Mycorrhize will aid your plants in the absorption of water and nutrients and worms will help speed up the composting process and help spread fertilizer through the soil.

When you first start out this can all seem very complicated but by identifying your soil type it will make the growing and maintaining of a healthy garden a lot easier. Remember, it’s well worth the trouble as your soil type is never going to change!

Garden beds
Source: Earth Easy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

About the Author

Ruth Barton
This article has been written by Ruth Barton on behalf of William Morfoot, soil and land drainage experts with over fifty years’ experience in creating and maintaining healthy soils.

What type of soil do you have? How has this article helped you determine your soil type and how to amend it? What will you grow this year and how does your soil influence that?

Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

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MiMi’s Flower

cynoglossum amabile shidonna raven garden and cook

MiMi’s flower has come a long way since they were just a couple of seeds. Her flowers’ have begun to finally blossom into beautiful clusters of deep lavender. They began as a few seeds in a growing kit. MiMi and Mom have since gotten their own growing kit with 2 different flowers. MiMi’s gift blossomed into a wonderful exploration between MiMi and Mom into starting their own kitchen garden. And the Cynoglossum Amabiles are a wonderful addition to our front porch. What easy and simple ways can you start your own garden along with MiMi, Mom and many others. Since the beginning of the pandemic many people have begun their own gardens for various reasons. Do you think starting a garden as a response to the pandemic is a good idea? Why? Share your thoughts below by posting a comment. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep growing!

Cynoglossum Amabile – MiMi’s Flower
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

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Sowing, Growing & Harvesting Carrots

Growing Carrots from Sowing to Harvest

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook
Sowing, Growing & Harvesting Carrots
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

The great news is if you know one root plant you pretty much know them all. Similar types of plants share similar growing and harvesting needs. Similar to radishes these roots will come close or above the soil when they are ready. As Chef Ponder would say, do you know the true color of carrots? The true color of carrot is purple. Do you know how we got the orange carrot? They added beta carotene to the carrot creating the color orange. How did this video help you? What did you learn about food and food production?

Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Watermelon, Greenhouses & Indoor Gardening

Sugarbaby Watermelon Shidonna Raven

When we decided to start our garden, as you know, it began humbly with a mere 2 packs of seeds destined for the kitchen window. It quickly grew into over 30 seeds. We planted each one. Some where successful and others were not. But, as Eliot Coleman will tell you, even the experienced farmer learns through trail and error. When we started we began in our mini greenhouse, which is really our garage with 3 windows. We were so excited to get started that we begun at the end of the winter season, which was at the very very beginning of the growing season for many of our seeds in our zone (Virginia, USA). When you began before the last frost has past, you must start inside with the seeds that can be transplanted. Then once the frost has past and its growing season has begun one can transplant them outside. So, because we began early we started in our mini greenhouse and got a jump on the season. Greenhouses can be used year around for various reasons. However, they are key when you want to grow outside of a seeds growing season by either starting early or extending the season.

Pumpkin Flower in Bloom
Pumpkin Flower in Bloom

The watermelon you see (1st image) in our outside garden started as a seedling in our mini greenhouse. The mini greenhouse presented several challenges to us with its high moisture and low light. We discovered there were many other factors that were hindering the success of some of our seedlings. When we had questions and were left scratching our head when our seedlings ran into trouble, we turned to Richard Bray’s book “Greenhouse Gardening” for answers to our questions. Understanding greenhouse gardening is understanding how to garden indoors whether one has a kitchen herb plant or a simple house plant. He helped me to understand factors such as heat, ventilation, watering and sunlight. This book was a tremendous resource that helped us grow our watermelon successfully. We had to sow her several times. At first she did not sprout successfully. But, once we understood greenhouse gardening more, we were able to grow her successfully into a plantling. Now she is in the garden outside thriving. We located “Greenhouse Gardening” for an absolute steal. We love deals around here. Click the link below to get yours. We can not wait to see her fruit. I know someone who is a huge watermelon fan! So we are happy to report that she is doing well and in the same row as pumpkin. Stay tuned to see her progress.

What information do you find helpful? How did “Greenhouse Gardening” by Richard Bray help you? Email us photos to share with the community. Which one do you prefer: pumpkin or watermelon? We have big fans of both. As usually, we are all waiting to taste!

Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

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Soil Blocks

We heard about Soil Blocks from another talented farmer and gardener. We were not sure what to think. But from all that we heard, we were excited to give them a try. Soil Blocks come in different shapes and sizes. Which one you use (size) is dependent largely on the size of your seed and plant. While they also can be used for seedlings that grow in size. Just like when you put a seed that is grown into a plant into a larger pot so that it can grow bigger. It is the same concept. There are Soil Blocks and Soil Pellets, which is largely dependent on the shape. Soil Blocks can either be made or purchased. We ventured out in this Corona climate and found Soil Pellets, which we have found to be quit nice.

The seeds are placed in the center of the flat discs. The discs are placed in a tray. We have been moving from plastic trays to clay trays to be more true to our organic pursuits. Clay, we have found, is excellent in disease prevention as well as drainage, especially when there is a hole at the bottom of the pot for drainage. Once your seeds are in place you water the discs, follow the directions on your package, from the bottom (because they are sitting in some type of tray). In the case of our pellets you must be careful to water from the bottom so the seeds do not fall out from the disc. The disc grows about an inch to an inch and a half in height becoming cylinders. The soil medium grows around the hole where your seeds are and effectively buries them in the soil for you.

Our instructions advised us to water the Soil Blocks whenever the soil medium is a light brown. We are still trying to figure out a good labeling system. For now we just used a little paper. We liked the Soil Blocks for several reasons:

  • Saves Money – Because you are using less soil and no pots. You save a tremendous amount of money. We got 36 pellets for around $4.
  • Saves Space – Because you are not using pots and the space the Soil Blocks takes up are considerably less. You save on space and then can spread natural resources such as water, sunlight and soil much better.
  • Saves Stress – Because you do not have to remove transplants from pots, you save on stress plants experience when you transplant them. The entire Soil Block is placed right in the soil. If you have inside contained plants, when moving from say a larger pot from a smaller pot because your plant is growing, the transplant process is a lot easier and also reduces plant stress.
  • Save Time – Because your Soil Blocks do not have to be watered everyday, you save a tremendous amount of time. When it rains outside and your Soil Block are moist inside, you have a day off from watering.

We have not yet transplanted our Soil Blocks. Nor have our seeds grown into plants yet. Check back. We will keep you posted. A few have sprouted. We expect the transplant process to go very well. Another note, the plant roots will be poised to settle in their new homes / the surrounding soil as long as they do not sit to long in the Soil Blocks. Unlike plants in pots whose roots can begin to circle the pot as they grow in search of new soil and resources.

We are all about sustainability so when we saw these clay trays we knew that we could re purpose them when all the plants are in the ground and out of the mini greenhouse. In our garden we have a few melons and squashes. It is recommended that some of them will need to be raised off the ground to prevent rot and other unseen issues. So when we are done with the clay trays in the greenhouse, we will use them to lift our melons off the ground. Wood would probably be easier and more cost effective. However, wood is susceptible to mold and may not resolve the issue we are trying to address.

The Soil Blocks have been a game changer for us. Thus far, we highly recommend them. How can Soil Blocks help you get your own garden started? Try them out and let us know what you think. Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

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Soil Pellets (Soil Blocks)
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook
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Harvesting Herbs

We had a few questions about harvesting herbs. And we are here and happy to answer. First and foremost we have a love for herbs because they are a great way to start gardening. You can keep them in containers on your window seal if you like. Or you can place larger pots on your front or back patio. It is how we begun our organic garden. Although we went from 2 seeds to over 30 seeds in the same day, it is a great way to get started and introduce yourself to organic gardening. We highly recommend it. So, go ahead and get started. Remember, to send us your pictures and leave comments all about your journey in organic gardening. We invite you to join us on ours.

Dill before harvesting
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Question: When you harvest your herbs will they grow back?

Answer: The quick answer is yes.

As long as your herb is in its season it will continue to grow back for some time. Some herbs will come back year after year but lose their flavor after a few years, like oregano.

1.You can see the dill before harvest. 2. You can see the dill pre cooked. 3. You can see the dill after we cooked it up with salmon. 4. You can see how the dill is slowly growing back in its small container. This is after about 5 days after the initial harvest. Dill was the first plant that we harvested in our organic garden. We also used a little thread from our sewing room and a popsicle stick (from the local general store) to stake the herb as dill has a tendency to get a little leggy and want to flop over. We did this to encourage growth and to prevent the stems from breaking and becoming damaged, hindering growth. Remember to keep the herb and not the popsicle stick towards the light.

Thank you for your questions. We truly enjoy making this journey with you and hope that you will soon visit one of your local garden stores or nurseries and began your organic journey with us. What questions do you have? What are your observations. We invite you to leave your comments with us. We love pictures. Be sure to contact us and e mail them right over.Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.