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|Choosing Good Land for Gardening|
|Written by Megan Brown|
Starting a successful garden begins with choosing the right land. Whether you're planning to start a garden in your backyard, or perusing land for sale to start a community garden, knowing what makes good ground and what doesn't can be difficult. If you aren't quite sure what type of land is best for your garden, check out these tips to get a starting point and learn the basics of choosing the perfect location for your new plants!
Check the Surface: You can learn a lot just from judging a plot of land by its soil. If you do not own the land, be sure to obtain permission from the landowner before treading on their grounds. Feel the soil and give it a look. Loose, dark soil is best for growing all types of plants and also good for proper drainage. Basic home soil tests can also give you a feel for the land and what amendments it might need before it's ready for gardening.
Start by taking a handful of soil and squeezing it. If it holds its shape and crumbles when poked lightly, you have great soil that will retain nutrients and moisture, without becoming soggy. If it holds its shape even through a few pokes, you have thicker soil that holds nutrients, but also holds water and is slow to drain. If it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, your soil will drain quickly and will have trouble holding onto nutrients and moisture. Feel the soil at the different areas on the land to get a feel for the soil as a whole, not just in one spot. Check every place you think you might want to plant.
Check Below the Surface: Your plants will have to put down their roots somewhere below ground, so you want to be sure the soil's consistency is the same a few feet down. Though you can't dig a 30-foot pit, digging just a few feet can give you an idea of what lies beneath. Again, obtain permission from the landowner before digging. If the soil is rocky 2-4 feet below the surface, your plants won't flourish and you can probably expect even rougher terrain further down. You can also test the drainage of your soil by digging a one-foot hole, or using the hole you've already dug and filling it with water. Let it drain completely and then re-fill it. Time how long it takes the water to drain out the second time. If it takes over four hours, you have a bad drainage situation and might be at risk for flooding.
Check the Surroundings: One of the most important aspects of finding good ground is taking the surroundings into account. If you're buying a lot, be sure to consider how much of it you can use for gardening. If it's too forested or covered by small bodies of water, you aren't really getting a good bang for your buck. Choose a lot that's mostly open, level and flat. Check for any ditches or other difficult landscaping, as this will also make more difficult for you. Have a look at neighboring land too. If the lot you're planning to buy is on a downhill slope close to any sort of manufacturing plant, your soil might be contaminated by chemicals or toxins.
You can also check the pH level of your soil, as it is a major factor in how well your plants grow. With the level of acidity ranging from zero being very acidic to fourteen being alkaline, plants do well in a neutral pH of about six or seven. Most home and garden centers will carry a pH test kits and are fairly accurate so long as you follow the instructions closely. You can always try to amend the soil after receiving pH test results, or send it off to a lab such as A&L Western Agricultural Labs to have it professional analyzed.
Do Your Research: Try to find out who owned the land before you, what they grew and why they left. Feel free to ask the seller plenty of questions, but keep in mind that their number one goal is to get the property sold. If you're moving into a new house, ask the previous owners about their soil and if they ever grew anything in the backyard.
Only buy the property if you are sure that it can meet your needs. You don't want to be stuck with a financial burden that doesn't yield a profitable garden. Don't be afraid to walk away from a site and keep searching until you find the perfect place to begin your garden.