From Container Gardens to Backyard Plots: A Beginner's Guide to Gardening (No Matter Where You Live!)

Whether you live in an apartment or a house with a big backyard, get inspired to start your own edible garden with practical -- and totally doable -- tips from first lady Michelle Obama and the White House Kitchen Garden team (17 Photos)

Rachel Gray on Aug 27, 2012 at 10:37AM

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From Container Gardens to Backyard Plots: A Beginner's Guide to Gardening (No Matter Where You Live!)

Staci Kennelly/Flickr Open/Getty Images

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Getting Started: Testing Your Soil

Rich soil is the foundation of a successful garden. Plants must root down to draw up the important nutrients that create large leaves, blossoms and eventual prized vegetables. If you’re growing in a container on your fire escape or rooftop you just need to grab a bag of good potting soil and doctor it up with some composting material. But if you have a plot of land to work with, it’s important to investigate the contents of the mystery soil beneath your feet before you plant.

Soil is generally a mixture of sand, clay and silt, as Jim Adams, National Park Service supervisory horticulturist in charge of the White House Garden, explains in American Grown. Too much sand won’t hold water or nutrients, and too much clay hangs on to much water. Adams says, “A loamy mix, equal parts sand, clay and silt, is the best environment for a vegetable garden.”

Wondering what you’re working with? An inexpensive soil testing kit can tell you a great deal and is available at your local hardware store. Try Lowe’s, where they suggest testing soil in late fall or early spring so you have plenty of time to make adjustments before planting.

And if you discover you need to doctor up your dirt, here are four steps to fabulous soil. The secret, as you’ll see, is organic matter, which comes from composting.

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