Grit Blogs > Tackling the Country Life

Grow, Garden!

By Steve Daut


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A photo of Steve DautWell, after all of the preliminary projects have been completed (tree felling, chipping, composting, tilling, fencing), the garden plot is up and ready for plants.

We found that there were quite a resources available that should be helpful as time goes on. On he USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website you can find a soil survey application. Using this tool, you can focus in on your property to determine the soil types that have been mapped. I used to do these lookups when I worked for the Iowa Geological Survey way-way before the Internet, and even though I’m pretty tech-savvy, I was amazed at how much easier things are now than they were in the old days (translation: 30 years ago). Using this tool, I determined that my property is split between Houghton Muck soils (the pond and surrounding lawn), and Fox sandy loam (the slopes in and behind the house). The garden is going in the Fox loam.

We had the loam analyzed by the Washtenaw County MSU extension service for a number of soil characteristics:

Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which measures the nutrient holding capacity of the soil. With most soils in the range of 1 to 25, our measures 11.8.

The organic matter in our soil measures 1.8 percent, with the ideal for a home garden at 5 percent.

Our soil is slightly on the basic side, with a pH of 8.0.

Based on all of that, we have applied some more acidic compost, muck from the pond, and pine needles. Hopefully, that will bring the soil pH down to the more ideal 7.0. The Extension Service recommended a 4-7-10 fertilizer (meaning it contains 4 percent nitrogen, 7 percent phosphorus, and 10 percent potassium) for our soil.

Next, the deer issue, which means a fence. We also put it close to the house, which should at least give the deer a little initial hesitation to close in on it, although we have no illusions that it will stop them from overcoming any initial caution they may have.

Steve's Garden Plot

The photos show the layout. We figure we have a number of things going for us. First, the proximity to the house. Although we don’t use the mercury vapor light that is mounted on the corner, it’s not disconnected so we’ll plug it in if that will help save the garden. Then, the plot is pretty small so we used 4-foot chicken wire to make it seem pretty enclosed to a deer. We strung a hot wire at the top, which ends up being about 5 ½ feet off the ground – a little above deer nose height, but hopefully close enough to give them a good zap on the ears if they try to stick their heads between the chicken wire and the hot wire. Finally, we put pink flagging all the way around on the hot wire to keep a little movement going. This has the added bonus of reminding us not to touch the wire.

Solar fence unit

We used a solar power unit for the fencing, which should still deliver plenty of zap since it’s such a small area.