Saturday, August 16, 2014

Potato Omelette ( Tortilla de Patata)

Tortilla de Patata

I have discovered a new wonderful way to use up more of our eggs from our faithful Girls. A friend told me about this delicious dish and it's origins. It is a Spanish dish found in variations over all of Spain. Beautiful in it's simplicity and delicious but the best thing about it is how easy it is to make.


Ingredients:
Approx. 5-6 medium red skinned potatoes
1 large onion
3 Tbsps olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
7 large eggs (when I had pullet eggs I used 10)
bacon or ham (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter 9 inch pie plate.

Par boil potatoes, either peeled or with skins on and slip skins off after boiling. Peel skins and slice potatoes in 1/4 inch thick slices or desired size.
Dice onion. Heat olive oil and butter in large frying pan. Saute onion in pan until translucent. Add potatoes to fry pan and cook  with onions just till onions start caramelizing and turning light golden brown. If adding bacon or ham, crumble crisp cooked bacon or diced ham into potato onion mixture now. Remove pan from heat. ( You can put potatoes right into pie plate and pour beaten eggs over them if you like but I prefer mixing together in bowl them putting in pie plate.)


In large bowl, beat eggs thoroughly. Season eggs with salt & pepper. Add potato mixture to eggs and toss to coat.

Pour mixture into pie plate and press potatoes down to eliminate big air holes. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until eggs are set and cooked through. Allow to stand for few minutes before serving.


A delicious dish for brunch, breakfast, lunch or main dish for dinner. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Get Susan's Ebook On Amazon For Kindle ~ "Gardening For The Girls"

Midway through Summer and I begin to think about storing up feed for the Girls. Yes, as well as putting up the harvest for me and my husband, it is important to plan for our feathered family members who serve us all year by giving us fresh eggs and hours upon hours of joy and companionship.
Last December when I published my ebook, "Gardening For The Girls" I had not planned on increasing my flock nearly 50%. Yes, I went from twelve hens to 23. So coming up with more treats and supplemental feed was a priority.
So far the Sunflower harvest has started and these beauties are drying out nicely. I will not only separate the seeds but I will dry the petals and sprinkle them over the feed this Winter. The seeds give the Girls added protein during the Winter months.


Gardening For The Girls
Starting over on a new farm is always a work in progress and it takes approximately 2-3 years to get a routine and design down that works for everyone. So over the next few months as Summer come to a close and leaves start to fall,  I will be coming up with more creative ways to grow treats and food sources for our flock over the Winter months. Stay with us and follow along as we design new gardens and come up with new crops to grow for the Girls.

In the mean time get a copy of my ebook and get inspired to start growing supplemental feed and treats organically for your flock. Click on the book cover to go to Amazon now. 






Friday, February 22, 2013

Love Strawberries? Grow Your Own


Growing your own strawberries is so wonderful and easy.  Strawberry plants have zero pests, are hardy in most zones and will reproduce plants for you so you can expand your crop if you wish. 

The most important first step when you decide you want to grow strawberries is determining where you want to grow them. They do best in their own bed or garden area because they should not have to compete with other plants for nutrients and space. And they need room to spread their legs~literally. Strawberry plants send out runners and make new plants from the main or "Mother" plant. This can be a burden or a blessing to the gardener. If you have space and want to increase your crop, strawberries are working it for ya! If you have limited space then you can enjoy growing strawberries too but you will have to work a bit harder keeping them contained by removing the runners and giving them to a friend or neighbor for their garden. 

The first thing I noticed when I started growing straws was how quick they make runners and baby plants, they don't waste any time propagating, making babies usually in the first couple months after planting. 

To start, I built a 4' x 8' raised bed out of 2 x 8 pine. Eight inches is plenty deep for a strawberry bed because they are shallow rooted plants. I planted 25 plants down the middle of the bed in two rows. So 12in one row and 13 in another row about 8-12 inches from the first. See photo below.....


The first year I planted the bed I planted onions on each outer edge only because I knew the straws would take a while to get going and strawberries like to grow near onions. I mulched with straw NOT hay. 
I filled the beds with 1/3 loam and 2/3 aged cow manure. My experience has been that strawberries do not need much fertilizer if any. The manure seems to feed them well. I did add a little lime to each bed which will last for a couple years. 


This is the same bed four weeks later. They went crazy and were producing flowers already. They loved their new bed. 


This is a photo taken in July, four months after I planted the beds. The onions are out and if you can see the center plants,"Mothers" are starting to make runners and I planted the runners to the side of the row creating a new row. I also scattered a few more runners staggered between the rows. Once the baby plants have rooted into the soil you can snip of the cord holding it to the Mother plant. As soon as runners are formed you will almost immediately see roots forming on the baby. Gives the roots a couple days to grow out then just tuck the baby gently into the soil and in a few more days it will have taken hold and started getting bigger. This is when you can snip the cord from Mom. And in 2-4 more weeks this is what you will have.....


As you can see the babies are now making babies. I planted two beds last year and will need to build about four more to accommodate my crop.

About varieties: June Bearers are plants that produce for approximately 8 weeks, having bigger berries and then are done producing. Everbearers are plants that produce over a longer season producing right up until frost and their berries are usually a little smaller than June bearers.




The biggest problem I had with my strawberries was keeping the birds away from them. I plan on using hardware cloth to cover the beds and elevating it by a few inches to keep it off the plants. I do not recommend bird netting because birds can get caught in it. 


Planting Your Plants:
Dig out a hole big enough to spread out the roots of each strawberry plant. In the bottom of the hole, create a mound or hill of soil that is flush with the surrounding soil level. Put the strawberry plant on top of the hill inside the hole so that the crown is at soil level and spread the roots out down the sides of the hill. Fill in the hole and ensure that the soil level is even with the middle of the crown. Planting too shallow may cause the roots to dry out before they establish, and planting too deep can also damage growing strawberries. See the figure below for proper crown placement. Once the plants are planted, press to firm the soil around the roots and then water thoroughly.



After the first year you can fertilize in very early Spring with a 5-10-10 fertilizer or a seaweed and fish emulsion water soluble fertilizer. This will help the beds get a needed boost after Winter. You can also add a light layer of aged manure around the plants and between the rows to help cover new roots that have formed and build up settling soil levels in the bed.

Most strawberry plants are Winter hardy but it does not hurt to mulch with straw in early Winter if you are in a zone that goes below freezing for a good part of the Winter or if you get a great deal of snow. In early Spring remove the straw, add your manure and fertilizer and use the straw around the plants as mulch to help conserve water and keep soil moist in the Summer as well as act as a resting place for berries as the grow to keep them clean and dry while they ripen.

Strawberry plants will produce well for about 5 years. At that point it is best to start new beds with new plants and remove and compost your existing plants. 
That's it! Easy to grow , a delight to eat. Add strawberries to your garden plan and enjoy fresh home grown berries.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snow is Our Friend and Our Gardens Friend

Being a gardener in Massachusetts can be, well a test of patience for one thing. Have a growing season of only 158 days brings out the creativity, resourcefulness and yes, Good 'Ole Yankee Ingenuity!  SNOW.  It is a fact when you live here.
 Ah, but ever the optimist, as anyone who lives and gardens in Massachusetts has to be, I look for the good in snow. 

For one, snow provides insulation that prevents soil temperatures from constantly fluctuating between freezing and thawing. The reason this matters is because these changes cause the water in the soil, and thus the entire mass, to expand and contract. Roots can be damaged, even tossed out of the soil. The same goes for all those fall-planted bulbs.
In addition to preventing frost heave by keeping temperatures below freezing, the snow prevents plants from starting at the wrong time. By the same token, most plants won't start up in the spring unless they have had exposure to a certain number of days of cold. Snow cover during a prolonged warm spell is a gardener's dream.
In this regard, it actually can pay great dividends if you pile snow on your garden beds. This is especially so if you are one of those stubborn readers who refuses to apply an insulating cover of mulch over perennials and around trees and shrubs. Remember, we have had winters where we have not had a good snow cover and the frost went down so deep we have had to worry about our pipes, not to mention our plants.

There is something else that happens when it snows: nitrogen is deposited by the snow and absorbed either into the soil food web residing and active at low temperatures or by plants as a result of nitrogen fixation, a microbial activity which, astonishingly enough, can take place even at low temperatures. Even when the soil is frozen, its eventual thaw can result in the absorption of nitrogen. 



I had always been just a bit skeptical of the fact that snow contains nitrogen.
Well, it turns out not only snow, but rain as well, contains nitrogen compounds that were suspended in air as they formed. It is estimated that 2 to 12 pounds of nitrogen are deposited per acre as a result of snow and rain. Most of this nitrogen comes from emissions as a result of burning fossil fuels and industrial manufacturing. The rest comes from lightning fixing atmospheric nitrogen, which makes up 70 percent of air. 

No wonder the old wives' tales called snow "the poor farmer's fertilizer."
So curse it if you must, but know that there is some good from any snow that falls.

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2008/10/08/550298/blanket-of-snow-is-a-poor-mans.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, January 28, 2013

Starting Seeds-In the House or A Greenhouse

To satisfy popular demand I am writing a quick lesson starting seeds and discuss starting in the house or in a greenhouse. 

Owning a greenhouse is not as costly as you would think. For the home gardener there are many portable greenhouses to choose for and one for every budget. When I farmed in NC Don built me a greeenhouse that was a lean to style off the side of our shed/shop building. I showed him a photo in a magazine and he just designed it as he went along, it was 8' x 12'. He finished it in 3 weekends and had we not made a poor choice for roofing it would have cost us $500. It ended up costing $800 but was worth every penny. It held up wonderfully and worked hard for me for five years until we moved. 

NC greenhouse on the right side in this picture.



Here in MA because we are in temporary housing I purchased a portable greenhouse. It is 5'x6' and 6' high. It has a large front door that zips and a zippered flap window on back wall and side flaps that roll up for more air circulation. You have to create shelving inside it but that is easy with cinder blocks and planks of wood or a shelving unit. This one cost me $99 at Home Depot and I consider it one of the best purchases I ever made. 


It was super easy to assemble and made of a sturdy steel pipe frame and a good weight plastic cover. My son put it together for me in about an hour.

Seed Starting 

I have alot of book knowledge on this topic and had a semester long course on just greenhouse production, but I am only going to share my own personal experience framed with the book knowledge about starting seeds. I have never, and I mean never, had one success with starting seeds inside a house in a sunny window.  They get white flies, knats, bacteria, mold, damping off. The first two years I farmed I bought all my seedlings or direct sowed. When I got my greenhouse I had a disastrous first year before I started my horticulture program. I discovered I was letting the greenhouse get way too hot letting the temps go to 90 degrees, thinking the plants liked that. My 1 or 2 inch seedlings would stop growing, and I couldn't figure out why. I fianally called my Ag Agent and he came to visit. When he went into my greenhouse he looked at my tomato seedlings that had been the same size for 2 weeks, and asked "what temps do you keep? " I told him I use the space heater when it drops below 35 and that's all. He smiled and said, "Don't let it go below 50 at night and get a fan and don't let it go above 70 in the day." I was shocked. When I told him the daytime temps he said thats why they are not growing. They have shut down. 

I ran and got an oscillating fan and opened the window and in a week the seedlings had tripled in size. Amazing!  


Greenhouse tomato seedlings getting hardened off outside my NC greenhouse
Last year was my first year farming in MA and using my itzy bitzy portable greenhouse. Here are some photos of the seedlings. 
MA tomato seedlings transplanted into window boxes to get bigger
MA broccoli & cabbage babies

Big MA tomato seedlings

MA broccoli

MA tomato seedlings getting big
 
Tomato babies in MA greenhouse
So, my sure fire method of starting seeds is to keep the trays evenly moist using the mist setting on a hand held sprayer attached to your hose. Do not let the water puddle, it will cause seed rotting, mold and bacteria. Mold, fungus and bacteria thrive in warm wet environment, that is why mushrooms are grown in dark damp places.  Starting seeds requires, light, moisture, warmth and air circulation. Keeping these things in mind you can easily start seeds that will grow into strong healthy seedlings. 

Always use trays that will drain do not start seeds in huge pots, they like small shallow containers to start out in. I use the flat trays that you can get at garden centers or from many suppliers online. When the seedlings get their third or fourth set of leaves I move them to bigger containers, but still keep them in the greenhouse.

Mist when watering to be gentle on the seeds and seedlings as they will be very fragile when young. 

Keep night temps at 50F and day temps no higher than 75F. I got a small table top space heater that also has a fan setting and oscillates at Walmart for $12.00. It worked perfect in my portable greenhouse set up on the bench so it was at plant level. In my bigger greenhouse in NC I used a floor model of the same type. 
I also got a small tabletop oscillating fan to keep air circulating and for cooling off on sunny days. It may only be 40 or 50 degrees outside in March or April but inside that greenhouse it is easily 80 degrees+. I open one flap window and turn on the fan. On days it could get to be 90+ inside I open the door and window flap and use the fan. 

The seedlings are stimulated and grow stronger stems with a little wind on them. So I keep the fan on during the day  on the lowest speed and keep it oscillating. 

I use an organic seed starting soil and when the seedlings are getting their second set of leaves I gently water them with water soluble seaweed/fish emulsion from my one gallon watering can. That is all the fertilizer they will need until they start setting flower buds (tomato) or when they are transplanted into their permanent beds or spot in the garden. 

That's it. If you follow these steps I can assure you, your seed starting will be as good as a greenhouse professional. In the photo below, see the plants on the left side of the picture? The huge ones, those are the tomato seedlings in the greenhouse photos above from last year. My friends and customers joke that I don't sell tomato plants I sell tomato trees!

Tomato trees
Ok, One more thing to talk about. I realize not everyone wants or can afford to get even a portable greenhouse. For those folks I recommend starting cold frames which can be built inexpensively with wood sides and free windows. It is similar to a greenhouse environment but has the much needed fresh air factor that inside of a house cannot offer. I use a drop light in a cold frame for heat at night rather than a heater and prop the window open slightly for air circulation. 

Soil 101 Pt 2- Compost & Manure as Amendments

Since posting Soil 101, we have had great questions asked and thought this would be a good addition to the topic. Most of this info was gathered from my personal notes and Soil Science textbook used in my horticulture class in college. 
 
Manure Composition 
When compared to commercial fertilizers, all manure is relatively low in nutrient levels. 
It releases nutrients slowly and only when the soil is warm and moist enough for microorganisms to break down the components. While each batch of manure will vary in nutrient content, horse and cow manure have more similarities than differences.

Manure isn't made up of feces and urine alone. By the time it reaches your garden, manure may include animal feed, bedding, soil, plant matter and many other materials. The amount of nutrients in the manure will be directly affected by the quality and composition of the animal's diet, as well as its size and physical condition. You would have to analyze a sample to know the exact breakdown of its nutrient content. For most home gardeners, that level of detail isn't necessary.

Cow Manure
When nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels are analyzed for cow manure, a distinction must be made between dairy cows and beef cattle, primarily due to their different diets. Within the dairy cow group, calves, heifers, lactating cows, dry cows and veal calves will show variations. The size of the cow also affects the nutrient levels in manure from beef cattle. For cow manure, in general, nitrogen will vary from 0.5 to 2.0, phosphorus from 0.2 to 0.9, and potassium from 0.5 to 1.5.

Horse Manure
 
The variation in nutrient composition between batches of horse manure depends on what the horses were fed. Manure from horses eating all forage has a slightly lower nutrient content than those fed a 50-50 mix of grain and forage. In horse manure, nitrogen tends to range from 0.5 to 2.5, phosphorus from 0.3 to 2.5, and potassium from 0.5 to 3.0. 
Fresh or Composted Manure 
Nutrient levels are highest in fresh manure, but it may contain weed seeds, salts and disease-causing bacteria and viruses such as Salmonella and E. coli. To avoid contamination of edible plants, do not apply fresh manure on crops that grow near the ground and are eaten raw. Whenever fresh manure is used, wait three to four weeks after applying before you plant seedlings. Composting manure removes the issue of weeds seeds, salts, bacteria and viruses. You can apply composted manure at planting time or use it to side-dress growing plants. 
 Because the nutrient value is relatively small for both horse and cow manure, it's best to consider them soil conditioners rather than fertilizer. As a soil conditioner, either form of manure protects against erosion, helps the soil absorb water, improves drainage, creates better soil structure and enhances microbe activity. Whichever manure is more readily available is the best one to use. If you have access to both horse and cow manure, put them both to work in your garden.

How common manures measure up
Manure Chicken Diary cow Horse Steer Rabbit Sheep
N-P-K 1.1 .80 .50 .25 .15 .25 .70 .30 .60 .70 .30 .40 2.4 1.4 .60 .70.30 .90
Sources: Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.

Chicken manure
Poultry manure (chicken in particular) is the richest animal manure in N-P-K. Chicken manure is considered "hot" and must be composted before adding it to the garden. Otherwise, it will burn any plants it comes in contact with. Because chicken manure is higher in Nitrogen than other manures, it is best used for vegetables that their leaves are eaten. Again, I always tell gardeners to experiment and create their own personal gardening preferences and styles.

Chicken manure composting gives the manure time to break down some of its more powerful nutrients so that they are more usable by the plants.
Composting chicken manure is simple. If you have chickens, you can use the bedding from your own chickens.
Remove the chicken manure and shavings from your coop. You can put your compost pile in a compost bin, or pile on the ground (a pile about 3’ high and 5’ wide.) Mix equal parts of topsoil or dry grass clippings, dry leaves, sawdust, newspaper or hay to  manure and mix well.



Lightly wet the compost pile down and cover it to keep compost warm and improve decomposing process. We use a large dark colored tarp.



Allow the manure compost pile to decompose. If using a compost bin wait at least 60 days, (follow manufactures instructions for the type of bin being used.) For a pile on the ground, wait 6 months.  Rotating the soil or stirring it every so often and covering it again will speed up the decomposing process.



The compost is ready when it is dry and loose, it will have a slight sweet smell and be nice and dark. Till compost into your garden 1 part compost to 2 parts soil.

General Compost
Plant materials, grass clippings, kitchen vegetation scraps, dried leaves can all be composted and turned into a great soil amendment and fertilizer. It can be composted mixed into manure that you are composting or it can be composted separately. I just mix everything together and compost in two bins. When one is half full I start piling into the next one. 

Compost Accelerators 
Composting takes time, to speed up the process you can add natural accelerators that are high in protein. Protein causes the materials to break down faster and encourages beneficial micro organisms to multiply and eat up your garbage and turn it into garden gold. Some accelerators are soy bean meal, cottonseed meal, high protein chicken mash and high protein dry dog food.  
Add about 1 qt of accelerator material to pile when raw and mix in with garden fork. Turn compost as usual at designated times and add water and keep warm.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Soil 101 ~ The Scoop On Dirt

IT'S ALIVEEEEE!!!!

The soil in your garden beds is just teeming with life. A healthy soil births a healthy garden. The topic of Soil Science can be daunting unless of course you are a soil scientist. Here we will keep the discussion as down to earth as possible so that we can apply it to our everyday gardens. This is meant to be a learning discussion, please fell free to post questions and share with us any successful methods you have come to utilize in your gardens, that has improved your soil. The information gathered for this lesson is compiled from my Soil Science book from the Horticulture program I received my degree through and also from my own practices and experience with my garden soil. I have farmed in North Carolina for 8 years with a heavy clay soil and learned by hands on experience how to amend that soil into loam. I have been farming in Massachusetts for 3 years where my gardens soil is a sandy/silty soil. Here we will discuss scientific facts about soil and also incorporate into the discussion simple skills to improve what ever type of soil you have to work with.
Learning as much as you can about your soil will help you decide what needs to be done to make it ideal for the plants you want to grow. If you can learn about your soil’s texture, composition, drainage, acidity, and mineral density, you will avoid, up front, the disappointing results that can occur when your soil is unsuitable for your dream garden.


Our gardens in North Carolina. Notice the difference in soil color, as we were still amending.


Soil Texture
Soil is comprised of air spaces and organic matter, but mostly mineral particles. There are three kinds of soil minerals: clay, silt, and sand. The relative percentage of each of these particles in the soil determines its texture.

Clay soil has the smallest soil particles (less than .0001-inch diameter) and the least amount of water and air spaces between particles. Consequently, a soil with at least 50 percent clay will have all the opposite characteristics of sand. It drains, dries out, and warms up slowly, but is very fertile and, once wet, holds water well.The particle size of silt soil is between that of clay and sand (.01- to .0001-inch diameter). The characteristics of silty soil are similar to those of clay, but are moderated by its larger particle size.
The particle size of silt soil is between that of clay and sand (.01- to .0001-inch diameter). The characteristics of silty soil are similar to those of clay, but are moderated by its larger particle size.
Sand has the largest soil particles (.4- to .01-inch diameter) and the largest pores between particles. A soil with 50 percent sand tends to drain well and dry out and warm up quickly, but it also tends to be less fertile and doesn’t hold moisture well throughout the season.
The ideal soil texture is loam. It is composed of 40 percent sand, 40 percent clay, and 20 percent silt. 
 
Whether you have dry, sandy soil, silty soil, or wet, heavy clay soil, adding organic matter in its many forms will improve the soil structure. The ideal amount of organic matter in most soils is between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Microorganisms feed on organic matter and produce polysaccharides. Polysaccharides help form humus, which enables small clay or silt particles to stick together to form larger aggregates. Larger aggregates create more pores for water and air to flow. The soil drains better, the plants grow better because of the increased pore space, and more nutrients are available.
In sandy soils, humus acts like a sponge to catch and hold moisture. Humus also helps accumulate nutrients, making a sandier soil more fertile.
Clay soil, exactly what our looked like when we started in North Carolina
How do you think carrots are gonna do in that?


Soil Structure
The structure of a soil can be changed by amending it with materials that will create better drainage, more pores for the transporting of nutrients and air.


Soil pH: Acid or Alkaline?
The pH of soil is a measure of the sweetness (alkalinity) and sourness (acidity) of the soil. It is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. A soil pH below 7.0 is considered acid; above 7.0 is alkaline. The correct pH for your plants is important because certain nutrients are only available to plants within a specific pH range. Usually areas of high rainfall have a low pH and areas of low rainfall have a high pH.
The mineral in lime that raises pH is washed away in heavy rain areas, thus making the pH low.


Down To Earth Basics
Now that we have touched on the scientific description of soil let's talk in gardeners language.
In general, soils are classified as clay soils, sandy soils, or loamy soils. Clay is nutrient rich, but slow draining. Sand is quick draining, but has trouble retaining nutrients and moisture. Loam is generally considered to be ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy.
To determine your soil type, take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil from your garden, and give it a firm squeeze. Then, open your hand. One of three things will happen:
  1. It will hold its shape, and when you give it a light poke, it crumbles. This means you have luxurious loam!
  2. It will hold its shape, and, when poked, sits stubbornly in your hand. This means you have clay soil.
  3. It will fall apart as soon as you open your hand. This means you have sandy soil.
This is simple but very accurate testing method. If you are of the scientific variety of person, you can take a soil sample and send it to your county or state agricultural department for testing. You will receive back a detailed analysis of your soil.

Now here is where we start teaching from my hands on experience. When I farmed in North Carolina, we turned over virgin ground that was wooded and we cleared. Silly me assumed that because the land had trees growing on it the soil would be loamy. When we finally removed the last stump and brought in a tractor with a plough blade, we turned over the ground to discover soil so red, I distinctly remember my jaw dropping and saying "what in the world do I do with that dirt?" A farmer friend said to Don & I, "You amend it." I didn't have a clue. This is what it looked like.

For the first year I only amended the rows I was planting in, rather than an entire 100' x 150' plot. It was incredibly hard and time consuming work. We would drive to a horse farm and get truckloads and trailer loads of manure. We added all of our lawns grass clippings, and in the Fall tilled, or disced in dry leaves. We also tilled in plants that were finished producing and grew cover crops that were tilled in while still green. All this had to be done in the Spring and in the Fall. One year we only amended in the Spring and discovered by the following Spring that not amending in the Fall made a huge difference.
Our corn crop year four.



As you can see in the photo above, our soil in NC during our fourth year there, still had the clay characteristics but was taking on a more loamy brown texture. When amending clay soil you are really only able to change the texture and structure of the soil about 6-8 down. We would till or disc to 12 inches down for good root growth.

Discing in leaves in NC



The above photo is of a virgin garden that was tilled up our first year living in Massachusetts. Soil here can range from Loamy in some areas to sandy in others to rocky in other places. We live about 20 minutes from the coast, in between Plymouth to our South and Boston to our North. Our soil at our farm here is loamy bordering on silty. It drains very well, has a nice amount of sand and takes amending well. The only amending needed here is to add manure for nutrients and enriching the texture. Soil tests are done only to guarantee proper pH for particular crops or plants.

Raised beds in Massachusetts filled with composted leaf mulch
These beds I filled with "compost" that I purchased from a supplier. It was leaf compost. It was pitch black in color and very fine loose structure close to sand. I neglected to test the pH of this compost and filled my raised beds and planted. Most veggies did well in the compost but in one bed I planted beet seeds that were 62 day beets, meaning from day of germination you should have harvestable beets in approx. 62 days +/- a week. After nearly 90 days I had beautiful beet leaves but no beets at all, they just wouldn't make the root. We were able to grow gorgeous beets in NC so I was very discouraged and confused. When I put the electronic soil tester into the soil I discovered the pH in the compost was 8.0, way to high for beets. Beets like about 6.0 pH. I had to do some fast amending and research. I learned that vinegar can be used to quickly lower pH. Adding 4 Tbsps of Apple Cider vinegar into one gallon of water and applied to the garden weekly around the roots of plants that need a  lower pH. I did this in my beet bed and did manage to harvest a few beets. A long term pH amendment is adding powdered sulfur, available at most garden centers   will lower pH in soil and need only be applied once yearly and works slowly over time.

Peat moss is another amendment that will lower pH in soil. This should be added at time of planting and again in the Fall around established plants.
Used coffee grounds will also lower pH and feed plants as well. Place around base of each plant.

To amend and completely change the structure and texture of my raised beds I have removed some of the compost material and added aged manure. I used a formula of 1/3 leaf compost with 2/3 manure. I added lime, bone meal and when my seeds have germinate or I planted seedlings I fertilize with a water soluble fish emulsion/seaweed liquid fertilizer.

In Conclusion

Determine what type of soil you have.
Learn what the pH requirements are of the crops or plants you intend to grow.
Utilize natural amendments rather than chemical ones.
Learn to amend for long term rather than quick fixes.
Adopt the mindset and growing habit of "Feed the soil, not the plants." This truly works and will keep disease, insects at bay while creating strong healthy plants and abundant harvests.
Plan ahead. It is better to amend early than make a quick fix for struggling plants.
Amending soil and making it a healthy environment will invite worms, feed plants and give you long term production in your gardens. Amending is a yearly exercise best done in early Spring with the addition of cover crops planted in Fall and worked in before the freeze of Winter. 

I hope this lesson has brought some information that will assist you in your gardening success this year and change the way you look at soil. Remembering that soil is a living thing will change your habits toward soil nurturing.
Happy Gardening!