Don't guess, soil test

You have to have good soil to raise good plants. Every experienced gardener knows this and yet not every experienced gardener takes the time to really manage their soil. Even I'm guilty of this.

Without performing a soil test every three years, there is no way to know our soil's deficiencies, texture, or excesses. We waste money annually purchasing fertilizer we may not even need. Last year I performed a soil test and found out my garden soil had an extreme excess of phosphorus and was significantly deficient in potassium. My nitrogen was only slightly deficient. By annually using a 10-10-10 fertilizer, I was not providing the nutrients in the correct amounts for my garden and was making the phosphorus excess worse.

According to Texas A&M, excessive soil phosphorus reduces the plant's ability to take up required micronutrients, particularly iron and zinc, even when soil tests show there are adequate amounts of those nutrients in the soil. No wonder my plants only performed marginally.

Soil testing also includes letting you know what your soil pH is. Most gardeners understand this indicates the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and that some plants such as blueberries, conifers, rhododendron, azalea, blue hydrangea and some clematis need an acidic soil to thrive. Scientifically speaking, soil pH determines which nutrients are available for plants; much like excessive phosphorus hinders the uptake of iron and zinc. For a list of plant pH requirements go to www.litchlab.tripod.com/pHRequirementsofPlants.pdf.

Most plants have bisexual flowers with functional male and female flowers. Some are self sterile, requiring pollination from another plant to produce seed. Dioecious plants have male (staminate) flowers on one plant, and female (pistillate) flowers on another plant. Some of these plants are polygamo-dioecious, with some male flowers on female plants and some female flowers on male plants. Ilex or hollies are dioecious, and a male plant should be planted with several female plants for good fruit production. Other dioecious plants include aspen, willow, ash, box elder, bittersweet, asparagus and spinach.

Monoecious plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Quercus or oaks are monoecious plants. Other monecious plants include fir, beech, chestnut, hazelnut, melons, squash, cucumbers and pumpkins. I frequently hear gardeners say, "my zucchini had lots of flowers, but I didn't get many zucchini." What they may not have realized is that half or more of the flowers on their zucchini plant were male, which are necessary to pollinate the female flowers, but will never become zucchinis. If your zucchini plant produces lots of male flowers, try picking and stuffing them.



Zucchini Blossoms

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 whole lemon (juiced and zested)

1/4 cup chopped basil

salt and pepper to taste

12 whole medium zucchini blossoms

1 1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 cup soda water

vegetable oil for frying

Lemon slices for serving

In a bowl mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, add basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Fill each of the zucchini blossoms with the ricotta mixture and make sure to squeeze the petals around the filling to secure it in place.

In another bowl mix together the flour and baking powder, then carefully whisk in the soda water. In a heavy bottom pot or pan, heat 2 inches of oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Dip the flowers in the flour mixture and turn them to coat completely. Fry in batches for 2 minutes per side until golden and crispy. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel and immediately season generously with salt. Serve with lemon slices.



Cydney Steeb, Advanced Master Gardener, can be contacted at Emmet Conservation District, 3434 M-119, Harbor Springs (231) 439-8977 or cydney.steeb@macd.org. Her Gardening Wit and Wisdom column runs every Wednesday.

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