The Food Sustainability Project: Testing Your Soil with A Lab

HoopHouseIn late October of 2013, some  youth volunteers with the Southport Presbyterian church along with their ministers came to my home as part of an FHL Kindness Day and helped  me on this idea I had of getting more self-sufficient and less dependent on commercial food production.  Along with a compost bin from some free pallet wood, they built me a raised bed and hoop house so that I could expand my container garden, both in space and season through the winter.   Now that I had more room to grow, where was I going to get viable (and affordable) soil?

What kind of soil do you have to start with?

We filled it with  some compost I had started, leaves from trees that were cut to expose the area to more sun, and finally layered it with dirt and top soil from the surrounding forest ground to about a foot deep.  I’d had experience in previous years trying to grow with the soil there “as is” without much success.  Its one of the reasons I switched to container gardening and using store bought bags of top soil – some of which I had gotten at a discount as the bags had been torn open.  I knew that the problem with the soil I  had, had  a lot to do with the pH level.  And I was aware there were kits to test the pH. Beyond that, I thought it was going to be a huge cost to gets bags of top soil (or having a truck dump some in ) and bags of manure compost to “fix” the soil problem.  Needing to keep costs down, this time I was determined to find out what I could do to improve my chances of having a better growing season using the soil I already had.  What did I actually need to  put in the soil I already had to make it work?

What can a soil report tell you?

That’s when I decided to call our Purdue Extension agent which you can read about here and get some guidance on what to do.  From the fact sheet Julie provided, I decided to contact A&L Great Lakes Labs out of Fort Wayne, IN.  It only took a few days to get my soil tested and the report back.  Below is the detailed report (with my notes).


As you can see by the panels, the soil is analyzed for the components it already has in it both numerically and graphically to make it easier for lay persons to read.  The “what’s missing” panel is the Annual Nutrient Requirement panel given both in pounds per 100 sq ft and 1000 sq feet.  These labs do testing for both home gardeners and large scale farmers.   In the panel below that is what you “need to add” – the Suggested Fertilizer Application – your NPK ratio.  NPK stands for the three elements that make up most fertilizers: Nitrogen (Urea), Potash, and Sulfur.  All of these elements are graded or given 3 numbers to indicate the application amount needed.   For my soil, I needed a 46 -0-0 application of Nitrogen and a 0-0-60 application of Potash.   That didn’t sound so bad, but then I started reading the comments section below that.  It turned out that I also needed that third element in the NPK fertilizer trio: Sulfur.  Why?  Because my soil pH was high meaning that it was too alkaline for the type of garden I was going to plant.  Most vegetables love the ground to be slightly acid.  So a pH of 7.0 or less is going to be a very friendly environment for them.

Wanting to do this up right, I called our local Worm’s Way rep, Mike, who suggested I bring the report along so he could take a read and get exactly what I needed.  The total cost of getting what I needed was a bit more than I had anticipated (about $37) but it was explained to me that I could get numerous applications out of the purchase – my garden would only need cups instead of pounds of each.

Math (not included)

Once home, I was anxious to get going!  But after reading the bags more closely, I discovered the application rates were not quite the same – they were close enough though that all it would require was a little math.  Its always good to get another pair of eyes on these things so –  I called A&L labs back, this time getting Jamie (see note at top of report) who helped me calculate out precisely what I needed for my garden plot: 2 lbs of sulfur, 1/2 lb Nitrogen, and 1/4 lb of Potash – as you can see from my notes and the dimensions of the garden plot. Recall that I was told I wouldn’t need pounds but cups and that’s why there’s a pound to cup ratio on each bag.

So now our Food Sustainability Garden plot soil is prepared and the nutrients are working their way into and enriching the soil so that when planting season begins in the late spring it will be ready!

Next time we’ll cover how to train your flock to forage and come back to the coop so you can get some work done. Also, we’ll cover ducks and their care as well as finding ways to improve chicken housing with what you have on hand.

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A Neighborhood Prayer Walk

In front of Tree of Life Ministries.

In front of Tree of Life Ministries.

On Sat. April 12, 2014, neighborhood prayer walk revealed many things to a congregation located at the corner of 40th St. & Boulevard Place. This prayer walk was a part of the preparation for FHL Missional Food Pantry Planting. It started at  5:30p and ended at 7:30p.

The prayer walk was participated by 12 members of The Tree of Life Ministries. While walking they sang hymns, prayed and gave friendly smiles to everyone. They covered 2 blocks around their church site. The Lord revealed to the members of the congregation that the neighborhood is multi-cultural, people are friendly and they are interested in having a food pantry nearby. They met with homeowners and told them that a food pantry will be launching on May 10th. This is very similar to Numbers 13:17-20 when Moses sent 12 people to the land of Canaan.

The prayer walkers were excited to learn that they can do more prayer walking, they can be more involved in the community and discovered things that they can serve the neighborhood.

The congregation is planning to have Intercessory prayer in their church on Sat. April 19th starting at 2pm. Anyone interested in this prayer can contact Pastor Ralph Pettus at 317-488-9693.

It is amazing that a simple prayer walk can reveal things in the physical and in the spiritual realm; it can energize a congregation which can lead to more revelation from the Lord.


God bless you!

Merlin Gonzales

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The Food Sustainability Project : Raising Chickens For Eggs and Meat


Today’s post is going to be a short and sweet introduction to starting with chickens as a protein source along with your vegetable garden.  These are the main components to food sustainability.  I started out with chickens because I wanted to see how I would do with a small but traditional barnyard animal. They were affordable at $2-$3 a chick.  Chickens are the easiest animal to start with mainly because their care is straightforward and their housing can be anything as simple as a an old tub for a nursury.  This makes it a good candidate animal for those with limited budgets and who may also have limited mobility.  The three main concerns with starting to raise chickens are: 1) what breed will supply your needs, 2) how many should you get, and 3) what kind of coop can you afford to build or purchase.

What kind of breed will be best?

Breeds: there are laying breeds and meat producing breeds as well as dual- purpose.  To start, I recommend the dual purpose: Rhode Island Reds.  They are good layers and you can eat them when their laying cycle ends. You can purchase this breed at most Farm supply stores.  Another dual-purpose breed are the New Hampshire breeds which you can mail order online.  I also recommend an FHL Food Pantry and Resource Partner: Naptown Chickens as a resource.  Generally, chicks are available in the fall and the spring from stores.  If you know a farmer, you may be able to get younger hens, but buyer beware as they may not be good layers or have disease.  Make sure you know the farmer and they are reliable.  And there are plenty good ones out there!  Chicks that are sold at a Farm supply or online are sexed so that you know you are getting a layer.  Try to avoid buying the “straight run” these are not sexed and so you may have roosters or layers.  Hens do not need a rooster to lay eggs.  When I started, I chose to begin with Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas.  The RIR’s have been exceptional layers and the Ameraucanas were a delight to have because they produced the most beautiful blue eggs!  That’s why they call them the “Easter Eggers”!

How Many Should I Get?

That depends.  You’ll need to have room in the coop for the number you intend to support healthfully and comfortably. You’ll need to take into account whether you have to deal with predators where you live.  Accidents do happen. Dogs and raccoons are generally the kind of animals to protect your birds from.  So get a couple extra to account for flock loss. One last thing: make sure you check your city ordinances if you live in city as to the amount of hens/and or roosters you can have on your property. Indianapolis is pretty lenient.  Backyard chickens is a good source for ordinance information as well as other questions.  You’ll find a great deal of shared information there from fellow homesteaders and chicken owners.

What kind of coop should I build?

That also depends where you live.  Movable chicken tractors provide predator protection as well as forage opportunity.  Here’s an example from my chicken coop board on Pinterest. If you live on some land and intend on watching your flock forage in the wild, then a more stationary coop might suit you like mine here .  Farm supply stores carry them and they can also be purchased online.  They generally run starting at $250 and on up.  But most owners like to find a good example online and build their own to suit their particular needs. The main thing to consider is cleaning the coop – how hard will the design of the coop make it, because you’ll want to clean it enough to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy, especially in the spring and summer.  In the winter, you’ll use the deep litter method and I’ll talk more about that in a future post. Word of Caution: DO NOT USE CHICKEN WIRE.  It is not safe enough against predators. USE HARD WARE CLOTH.  It’s sold in most farm supply and hardware stores.  Most new coops use hardware cloth, but if you are unfamiliar with what it looks like, ASK!




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Shiloh Missional Food Pantry

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