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By Peyton Ellas
Gardening in the Central Valley 

Gardening in the Central Valley


Last updated 10/17/2014 at 8:15am | View PDF

Photo courtesy of Peyton Ellas

Testing your soil is as easy as following printed instructions and mailing a sample to the lab. Pictured is Alondra Silva.

A popular trend in home gardening is biodynamic growing. This style has been around in one form or another since ancient Roman times and maybe even longer in Asia. Although it is mostly applied to growing food, it can also be used in growing ornamentals, even native plants. One of the key features of this style of gardening is to feed the soil, not the plant. Taking care of the soil is one of the keys to successful gardening of all species, and plants grown in cared-for soil withstand stress, including drought, better. They also repel pests better and just generally grow, bloom and reproduce up to their full potential. It is also the ecologically better way to care for the planet and keep it growing plants for generations to come.

Some general practices can benefit all soils. One of the most important is adding compost at regular periods, at least annually. This not only adds a balance of major and micro nutrients, but also helps replenish micro-organisms that the soil needs to be healthy. We should think of soil as a system, just as we do with our human bodies. Good things in, good results. Junk in or starvation... well, you get the picture. Compost benefits all soils. If you can't make your own compost, which is the best practice, you can purchase it. Compost is not potting soil or fertilizer, so be sure to buy the right product.

Beyond that, we can test our soils to see what nutrients they may lack. Soil testing locally can be done by A&L Laboratories in Modesto. Instructions are on their website at The cost is reasonable and you can get a recommendation for specific crops, as for home vegetable gardening, or a general picture for ornamental gardening.

Photo courtesy of Peyton Ellas

Alondra Silva

Another general good practice is to use mulch to cover the soil. I once had a soil scientist explain to me how damaging even rain drops can be on uncovered soil. Take a look at nature. Bare dirt is rare, and soon becomes dust or lined with erosion channels. Top soil is precious as a supplier of those nutrients and home to micro-organisms. It's like clothing. Naked soil has no clothes on. Did I put a picture in your mind? Just like with clothing, find a style you can live with and go for it! Two-to-four inches replenished annually is sufficient. Winter is a good season to do this, with fresh tree trimmings, insect-free leaves, pea gravel, rock or commercial uniform bark.

Good soil means good gardens. These steps can help you improve your garden and have healthier plants without a lot of chemicals and worry.

Peyton Ellas is a local landscape designer specializing in California native plant-based gardens, a certified U.C.C.E. Master Gardener, and the owner of Auntie's Home Grown, a small sustainable farm operation. She is also the conference specialist at Tulare County's outdoor school, SCICON, and is finishing her second novel. She can be reached through her website:


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