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!

If There’s a Summer Reading List

On rainy days like this week, I like to think about when the slugs have slithered or been salted away, when my garden will be all lush and beautiful, full of flowers in bloom and meticulously cultivated organic juicy red tomatoes whisper, “eat me, eat me,” (yours say that too, right?).  Yes, these soggy days I drift in my mind to when I will finally feel the tickle of perfect, pesticide-free, native grasses beneath my feet, and I will lord over my bounty, a steamy cup of morning joe in hand, gently brewed from individually selected, hand-picked, shade grown, fairly traded, equally exchanged, peacefully planted coffee beans lovingly smuggled from some distant corner of the globe, when bounty bursts forth from each bud in each hand-painted, Gaudi-inspired mosaic-print pot.  Well, maybe not all that.  But I do get through these days without a trowel thinking about what, other than gardening, I will be doing with my long summer days (besides pecking away at my desktop under flourescent glowlights, day in, day out, thinking about what I could be doing with those long summer days).  And that, naturally, turns to reading.  

Assuming those weird Canadians (thanks for the link, Bronwen – see Armagarden post comments below) are wrong, and no one will be whisked needlessly away into the unfeeling blue yonder by an unloving god, I think it’s time we talk summer reading list.  Top of mine is “What Would Google Do,” by Jeff Jarvis.  I’m only twenty pages in but I’m hooked.  I think it’ll be a perfect subway read (being realistic, for those of us not fortunate enough to have a home in the Hamptons or anywhere but our concrete slab of this city, it’s just more practical to think in terms of a subway read rather than beach books).  More on this later but the skinny is it’s about Google, the first “post-media company,” what it’s doing right, and what other companies can learn from it.  Although it’s early to tell, I’m pretty sure he’s also sending out a warning signal to all the rest of the companies who think they can keep doing business as used-to-be: we’re in a new era, folks.  And the old ways just aren’t cutting it.  But, it may take many a more company to flounder and sputter about before that message gets through.  I’m also putting on my list Just Kids, the Patti Smith memoir, just ‘cuz, and maybe…not sure what else.  How about you?

QUESTION: what’s on your list?  What will you be reading this summer?  What’s the last book you read?  Are you glad you did?  Was it on a  Nook, Kindle or in your good, old-fashioned hands?  What are you reading now?  Any suggestions for a good gardening book (tall order, I know, but one worth filling). 

(I just picked up How to Grow Practically Everything by Zia Allaway and Lia Leendertz, DK Publishing 2010, which is a great book to have on hand, easy to peruse & good how-to photos, and also am flipping through, courtesy of my most very cool neighbor, Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich regarding how to give the earth a break and grow above ground, like on newspapers and clippings – inneresting but not sure it’s for me.  I like to dig in the dirt, what can I say?  We’ll see. )

LINKS: http://www.buzzmachine.com/,/ (Jeff Jarvis’s blog)