Assessing Your Soil

The ground beneath your feet will provide all the nutrients, water, and support that your herbs will need for a healthy productive life, so it is vital that you get to know just how reliable your soil really is.

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Leave Overnight

When you have finished digging, leave the holes for 24 hours (cover them with a board to protect from rain or trapping wildlife) and then check for any water in the bottom. If there is only a little water or the hole is mostly dry, nothing needs to be done; but if it is half full or more, the site drainage may need improving. This can be quite an extensive project as it may entail installing pipes or gravel-lined drainage channels to a deep water sump or pond. Your sample hole may fill up with water as you are digging it, which could indicate a high water table and poor drainage. This may just be a temporary or seasonal result, but it does mean the site is not ideal for most herbs, although raised beds may work.

Herb Garden Water LevelsEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Fill up with water

For more information about your soil, fill the hole with water, using either a hose or bucket (pour gently as the sides of the hole can collapse). The speed at which the water drains away will give further indications of the suitability of your ground for herbs and the additives that could be included when cultivating to improve the structure and texture of the soil. More radical drainage solutions may be needed if the water is still sitting there the next day, but this could just be a localized problem — try digging another inspection hole 3 ft (1 m) away and testing again. On very well-drained sites it can be difficult to fill the hole as the water may dissipate as quickly as it is poured in. This need not be a problem, however, as many herbs like this type of soil.

Soil Drainage CheckEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Scrape Soil Away From Sides

Once the water has substantially drained away, carefully scrape the sides of the hole with a trowel. The layer most recently in contact with the water will be damp and dark and the extent to which the water has seeped sideways should be clear.

If this horizontal seepage is small, it is possible that the soil is over compacted and simple cultivation may relieve the problem. Additional sand and organic matter added together with rotted compost or manure will also help your soil absorb and store moisture without becoming waterlogged.

Dampen Sides of Hole for Sand, Organic MatterEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited
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Excerpted from Simple Steps: Herbs

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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