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Taking the Rapitest

So yesterday’s question was what I should plant, assuming I only have it in me to do one more this year.

Strawberries seems to be leading the pack (the only answer, btw, where are the other revelers – come back in from the garden and let us hear from you).  Okay, so I did try strawberries in a container last year in a bit of shade.  They got sun starved (I assumed, anyway) and their weak little stems and leaves pretty much just shriveled up and died (very similar to what my ivy is looking like on the upstairs terrace but I’m thinking maybe that’s the multiverse telling me there are better ways to find shade and privacy, and I should try instead just to love my neighbors not hide from them, and maybe a wall of ivy would block their sun and be a bug haven).  Ivy aside, I would LOVE to have some cute little strawberries to throw in a summer salad, so I think I’m gonna take Ralph’s suggestion and try, try again.

I checked in my handy dandy guide to gardening – “How to Grow Practically Everything” by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz (what great surnames for garden book authors) – and it makes no mention of strawberries being sunhogs.  It does recommend using slow-release granular fertilizer for container planting strawberries, though.  This gave me pause because I’ve generally shied away from the stuff  since I don’t trust it – not with good reason necessarily.  I typically put together my own soil mixture in a large paint bucket, comprised primarily of the $5.00/bag organic Hamptons Estate topsoil (whose price tag I’ve prematurely bitched about), PLUS a few large handfuls of no frills mulch, PLUS a few quarts of homemade compost (this batch is peepee free – I’m still cooking the human nitrogenized stuff), PLUS a few cups of peat moss if I have it, and/or a handful of Perlite.

Out of curiosity today, I tested my hodgepodge soil using a store bought kit, the “Rapitest.”  It’s a truly awful name, I know.  I felt like I was on CSI, Hard Core Unit.  It set me back about 6 bucks, give or take, at my local gardening store, and has the capacity for about ten tests.  The Rapitest told me that the batch I composed (which is pretty typical of what I usually put in my containers) was around a pH 6.5, “slightly acid.”  I was satisfied with that, and didn’t mess with it any further.  I consulted “How to Grow Practically Everything,” to find out whether I’d get a gold star for my person-made dirt composite but was disappointed to find that all they really say about soil is to know the pH, but not what to do about it once you find out, which, of course, leads me to my

QUESTION:  How do you know what a good pH level is generally?  Does it really depend on the plant?  On where you’re growing?  Do other gardeners mess with their soil to try to get it right?  Or do they just jump in, pH be damned?  How many of you pshaw with the pH testing as all a lot of fussiness?  Is it a damper on the revel spirit to engage in fretting over soil composition?  Or is a soil’s pH the necessary foundation for a garden?  Do any of you swear by testing?  Do any of you just go by feel?  If you’ve changed course and either ditched or adopted a soil ethic, tell me your story.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

4 responses to “Taking the Rapitest

  1. Ralph ⋅

    My small strawberries are in a container, second year growing in the same place. This year I decided to give them a little space and cut 3 plants from their ‘jungle habitat’ crammed into that box and gave them a new home in another container. The original is still in the same soil and producing little nuggets of flavor. Mine get maybe 6 hours in the afternoon and are doing fine. PH does matter some. Most plants like it close to neutral, but recently I heard some berries like it a bit acid. If you want to get rid of some of your acid you can add some powdered lime/ limestone which they sell by the bag. Although I’ve never heard or read it, finely ground egg shells should slowly do the job. The calcium in the shell neutralizes acid (think Tums), and calcium is needed in soil. I have heard of composting ground egg shells. The one thing I have noticed many times is that strawberries don’t like to dry out. I try to water them early in the day so they are not falling over from thirst, sometimes again in the afternoon.

    Check episode 85 on podcast. It’s the strawberry episode.
    Also, on
    Episode-149- Creative ideas for producing and storing your own food
    (How to make a cheap strawberry flower pot, dehydrating ’em, and more). Put ‘strawberry’ in the site search box and it will come up with a couple others.

    Peat moss is acidic, so if you want to reduce acid try to avoid it, or mix in a little lime with it. I’ve used peat moss, soil, and some lime to start off plants. I just take some lime and mix it in well. I haven’t checked the PH on anything in the yard, and I just take a guess when mixing in the lime. Don’t put a whole lot of lime or it may make your soil too alkaline which can also be a problem. If you haven’t, send for seed catalogs (paper version). Every gardener should order these free catalogs, and if possible order something. The Terrirorial catalog for example is over 160 pages with lots of color pictures. Try, and for starters. Lots of seeds, lots of planting info, and another place to put some of those Post-Its to good use. Catalogs are a wealth of knowledge!

    If anyone wants to try some exotic stuff, check out
    I bought my giant Suhaurao cactus seeds there. They have a section on medicinal herbs, fruits, trees, how to make natural bug sprays and medicinal teas. If you can find their seeds elsewhere you may be able to get more seeds for the money, but if you’re looking for something different they’re worth a look. I don’t believe they have a paper catalog, but their website is chock full of good stuff. I just save interesting pages
    with the ‘save page as’ and ‘webpage complete’ to capture the pictures with text so I can look at them offline.

    Just checked my Territorial seed catalog for strawberries. Paraphrasing: 2 major types, June bearing (1 large crop over 2-3 weeks early summer) and everbearing (produce late spring thru fall). Likes well drained fertile soil, lots of sun with good air circulation. Plant 12 inches apart (mine are much closer). No mention of PH. The catalog mentions drip irrigation so they like to be kept moist which confirms my observations. BTW, if you are going to buy plants, leave the ‘crowns’ above soil level, not flush or below. I believe the podcast mentions that.

  2. Ralph ⋅

    Is anyone out there growing anything unusual?
    I just transplanted some wormwood out of an egg carton (I am not only an egg carton suggester, I am an egg carton user). How did I forget about my wormwood?? It’s a medicinal herb, used for a couple thousand years dating back to ancient Egypt. BEWARE- if used in excess this herb can be toxic. Do your research before attempting to use it. Wormwood is a main ingredient in Absynthe which is legal to buy again in the EU and USA. Absynthe’s contents are regulated so the amount of wormwood’s chemicals are at safe levels. In the garden, wormwood repels bugs. It is extremely bitter so nothing much will eat it. It does emit a chemical from it’s roots that tends to keep other plants from growing too close to it. I have a few small plants growing in containers that I started from seed- nothing in the ground yet. I hope they get large enough that I can see how bugs react to it in the garden.

    I ordered a bamboo plant a couple months ago. The one I picked is good down to -20 degrees. I figured if it got too big to take inside for winter it would have a fighting chance outside. One new shoot grew and it’s now taller than the original plant. Has anyone found bamboo plants locally? I ordered mine online and it wasn’t cheap- but I really wanted one. Maybe next year I’ll try to split the roots and try to make a second batch. Has anyone tried to split a bamboo into multiple plants? I watch the progress of it growing on a regular basis. For some reason I always liked bamboo, and now I have one 🙂 I just read bamboo also absorbs more CO2 than any other plant.

    Cactus- I have 6 surviving giant Suhaurao cacti I started from seeds I bought from The description starts off:
    “If you want a cacti that will outlive you and may reach a height of 30 ft. or more, then this one is for you.” How could I pass that one up? I always liked cacti for some reason. I already informed my niece she will be inheriting them. On the internet I found a site that used decorated mason jars (or something similar), put soil and a cactus in it and gave them away as gifts. An inexpensive gift idea any gardener would appreciate.

    Is anybody growing something unusual? I would like to know. It’s interesting to try new things out.

  3. Ralph ⋅

    Maybe take a look at Borage. An edible herb I use in salads- something of a cucumber taste. Small leaves are best since they are ‘hairy’ and it gets more like thin bristles on large leaves. They make small blue flowers which the bees seem to love- the reason I got it. They produce lots of seeds about 1/16 inch long so they’re easy to collect, or just let them fall as they may. Last year mine got about 2 feet tall, and they seem to grow pretty fast from seeds.

    Check out red clover too. Another medicinal herb and it’s great for building up your soil. I put these in salad too and have it growing in the ‘wilds’ of my yard. While researching it a while back Sloan Kettering came up on Google. After accepting their disclaimer they had a section on herbs. Red clover was there and it said there is some evidence of it’s fighting cancer, but more research is needed. Gee, that’s one of the things herbalists use it for. What a coincidence.

    I downloaded a free PDF of a 600+ page book out of copyright that’s about using various herbs medicinally. It’s from the 1880s if I recall. I wouldn’t use it (or anything else) without confirming what it says, but it is full of information on identifying and preparing herbs. If anyone is interested I’ll try to find a link to it.

    How is everyone starting their plants? I use almost exclusively seeds, my niece has great luck buying small plants. What’s your preference, why?

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