Gardentalk – Taste-testing your garden soil

Layers of horse manure and soil are being spread out in this Douglas Island planter as various varieties of garlic are broken up into single cloves before planting.
Layers of horse manure and soil are being spread out in this Douglas Island planter as various varieties of garlic are broken up into single cloves before planting. This soil was not taste tested, either before or after the addition of horse manure. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

As gardeners clean up their old garden beds and build new planters, they may be thinking about where they can get good soil before they start planting. It’s not like you can just go online and order topsoil.

In this week’s edition of Gardentalk, listener Mistee writes:

Hello! I have a question for Ed. I am wondering where he recommends getting good quality, topsoil for starting a raised garden bed.

Yum! Master Gardener Ed Buyarski prepares to taste some topsoil that he’ll be using in his garden this season. He’ll mix in the horse manure after he fills in his garden plots. (Photo courtesy Ed Buyarski)

Master Gardener Ed Buyarski said there are several places in Juneau that provide topsoil for yards and gardens, including:

  • Duran Construction
  • Glacier State Contractors
  • SJS Construction, Bruce Griggs

Buyarski suggests that Juneau gardeners inspect what they have before having a dump truck deliver a load of topsoil in their driveway.

He said price per yard plus delivery fee is normal. So he recommends that gardeners figure out how much they may need. Plan on soil about 8 to 12 inches deep with more organic matter for garden beds, and expect more sandy soil about 3 to 4 inches deep for lawns.

And always expect to add an organic amendment and fertilizer before the soil can be used for growing flowers and vegetables.

Buyarski said he knows some landscapers and hard-core gardeners who actually taste the soil before deciding whether it’s suitable for their project. They can sometimes determine if the soil is too acidic or alkaline just by taste.

Just don’t chew and swallow.

“You do want to spit it out,” Buyarski said. “Kind of like tasting wine.”

A more conventional and practical testing method includes grabbing a handful and checking for sand, gravel, wood chunks and sawdust.

“To feel, to squeeze, to rub between your fingers,” said Buyarski.

Finally, a reminder that a free virtual garden conference is being planned for this spring. That’s after the March event in Juneau was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. You can sign up and find more details at the Southeast Alaska Master Gardeners Association website.


Do you have a garden question for Ed? Fill out the form below, and he’ll answer your question in an upcoming segment.

Listen to past episodes and subscribe to the podcast on the “Gardentalk” page, so you’ll never have to worry about missing Thursday’s live radio broadcasts.

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