-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Sunday, March 07, 2004

email minutiae: soil testing

Extracts from various emails to Mum 6th/7th March 2004

I think we need to do a separate sample for each acre or so. According to the CSIRO website there can be dramatic changes of soil even within a single paddock. They showed a pattern where you take samples along grid lines... it's not perfect but is a million times better than taking just one sample and assuming everything around it is the same.

I ordered a pH soil test kit from a garden website in Australia and it's being sent straight to Dave's Dad. It says it can do between 20-40 samples. I spent over an hour searching for kits for the more advanced tests, like for nitrogen, etc and could only find really expensive ones in Australia (where you have to send samples off to labs), so instead I ordered kits from Queenswood's UK online shop. They too are being shipped to Dave's Dad, via airmail. I bought 5 of the advanced test kits (which includes 4 separate tests, including a test for nitrogen). Each of the kits does 5 samples so there's enough for 25 of them.

I don't think it will take too long, at least I hope not... Actually from reading the instructions I think you don't even have to do the tests on-site, e.g., you could just dig out the samples, put them in labelled plastic bags so can see where they appear on the grid, then could do the tests at home. If it made it easier, perhaps you could all stay up there overnight e.g., there's a B&B cottage at the winery with 2 rooms. We could pay for it as a thankyou for doing the tests.

Don't worry, I know it will need loads of water, but that's why we have to be very clever about recycling water... every single bit must get re-used. Also, we will need to invest in improving the soil to make it better at storing and retaining water, as well as investing in having a place to store it. In a sense, we have 30 acres to collect water over, to use on 10 acres.

Because of the water situation, that's why it can't be a straight English style garden, we have to plant things that are suitable for dry areas and can withstand drought. However you can do an awful lot, eg: one of Edna Walling's gardens I saw a picture of is up in Goulburn, that's pretty dry and has been stricken by drought, yet they've managed to keep that going.

It makes the planning doubly important, as the climate isn't going to do us any favours so we have to be really clever about how we get round the problems it creates. There is a lot I can learn from gardens in Spain and Italy, they have a pretty dry climate, and there were many English gardeners who retired to Spain and Portugal and created gardens there too. We are going to try and visit some in the next few years. Also, I've been doing a lot of reading, and have bought several books about dry climate gardening, xeriscaping, etc etc. It's a big deal in the US, especially California with their recent water problems, so there's a lot written. Also, Beth Chatto in the UK has written some useful books that give me hope.
e.g., http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/075281642X/ref=sr_aps_books_1_3/026-3497574-5529207

I have to believe we're going to find a way of doing it, and Dave promises me we will, because the opportunity to build a big garden like that is one of the main motivators for buying the block in the first place. I'd hate it if I had to have a dreary dust-prone paddock around me and no garden, in fact I wouldn't, I wouldn't live there. Just because others might choose to do so they probably have a different set of priorities and aren't prepared to put in the creative and physical effort plus financial investment to make it possible.

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