Bugs All Around Me

Today I was surrounded by so many bugs.  Really they were BUGs, folks participating in the Building Urban Gardens program. 

This was the second meeting we had, and the subject matter for today’s class was about soil:  soil structure, soil composition, soil ph, testing soil, composting to amend your soil, vermicomposting to amend your soil.

Our presenter was a celebrity once removed.  Bill Shores is a garden designer, and one of his assignments is running the Bayless Family Production Garden where he raises micro greens and salad greens.  Although I’ve never been to the restaurant, I watch Rich Bayless’s public television show, Mexico-One Plate at a Time.

I kind of brag about the fact that I don’t bother with testing soil ph, not after buying an electronic meter that didn’t work…not the first one or the one I exchanged it for and finally returned to the store.  I figure if the veggies are doing okay, the soil must be okay.  The one test they mentioned that I think is worth doing, though, is a lead test. 

According to our presenters, lead doesn’t move once it enters the soil.  You should take a soil sample at different spots throughout your garden, ideally at four-foot intervals, but definitely where you’ll grow food crops.  They suggest taking samples from different areas because the levels of lead can be very low in one section and four feet away the levels can be through the roof. 

Lead causes you a problem not necessarily by ingesting it, but by inhaling it, so they suggest that if you find high levels of lead that you put a barrier between yourself and the soil.  It can be something as simple as grass or mulch, anything that will keep the dust down.

This is probably more of a problem for those of us in an urban setting, and luckily for us in Chicago there is a testing facility where we can drop of soil samples (saving a few bucks on shipping costs).

Let me think…What else did we cover?

Here’s a quick way to get an idea of your soil composition.  You’ll need:

  • About a cup of soil
  • Distilled water (or tap water that you’ve let sit overnight so the chlorine dissipates)
  • A clear container with a lid that you’ll use to mix the soil and water
  • A squirt of dish washing detergent

Mix the soil with water (about three parts water to one part soil) and add a quick squirt of dish washing detergent and shake really well.   Let the container sit for a few hours and you’ll be able to see the levels of sand, silt and clay.  You can use the chart below to determine what kind of soil you have in your yard.

Soil Structure Diagram

If you’re up for a better, more technical explanation, try the link.

Finally, thank you , Mr. Gregory Bratton, Master Gardener, for taking me under your wing and getting me into the program.

Happy Gardening!!!



  1. engineeredgarden said,

    February 15, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Cool program, Cheryl! Isn’t it great to learn all of the technical stuff? I hope you get the opportunity to be exposed to some more stuff.


  2. gardengoodies said,

    February 15, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Yep, the class was fun. We talked for four hours about dirt….ooops, I mean soil. I’m sure you’re learning lots of interesting stuff with your program and I hope you’ll share it with us. I enjoy hearing things from different people’s perspectives.

  3. engineeredgarden said,

    February 16, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    You said the forbidden “D” word. That’s the first thing they taught us, was to call it soil, not dirt. Sounds like your instructor shared the same feelings about it.EG

  4. gardengoodies said,

    February 16, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    You could tell he really loved what he’s doing. He brought soil from his own garden to pass around the class and a bunch of samples in baby food jars. He even brought a worm bin. Out of 50 people in the class, about 7 indicated they had worm bins at home. I still haven’t bought mine yet, but I’ve hunted down a Chicago source, so I’m getting there.

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