A thriving garden starts with good soil. Here we tell you about the key things you must know in order to grow things fruitfully year after year.
What is soil?
While soil comes in many shapes and colours, it is normally made from 25% water, 25% air, 45% minerals (clay, sand, silt) and 5% organic matter. The size and proportions of the minerals is what will give soil its different qualities. Sandy soils drain well, are easy to dig, and warm up fast in spring, while clay soils are good at holding plant nutrients. Bacteria, insects, worms and roots all help to improve the quality and structure of the soil. A PH of 6-6.5 is by and large good for most vegetables and plants, you’d need a PH tester and then add lime if it is too acid or lots of organic matter if it’s too alkali.
Caring for the soil
Yes you need to weed, however in order to improve the soil there are many things you will need to do. Adding organic matter, such as compost, bark chippings, leaves and plant remains will dramatically improve the soil’s quality. Remember you need it to be damp but never water logged, so if it’s too clay based you can add some sand also. Double digging, which is digging to a depth of two spades, is probably the fastest way to improve soil structure as it allows you to add organic matter deep down, but make sure to mix it in well. Try not to walk over wet soil too much as this can compact it, also appreciate a good frost as this can break up the soil for you – effort free.
Mulching, covering the soil with organic matter such as compost, manure, straw or leaf mould has numerous benefits. It encourages worms, provides insulation, reduces the evaporation of water, reduces weeds, and prevents the surface being eroded and compacted by rain. You may find your soil becomes depleted of various important elements such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium if you are growing veg. While there are many organic fertilizers, such as calcified sea weed, fish blood/bone, Comfrey is a fast growing herb that contains lots of the above and can simply be dug into the soil or turned into a liquid by steeping it in water. Stinging nettles are also great to make a liquid fertilizer with – leave them in water for around 3 to 4 weeks – it should be so strong that you can dilute with water when using 1 part nettle to 8 parts water.
While there are many more things you can do and higher levels of sophistication to reach, doing these basics should give you good results for most vegetables and plants. Depending on your climate, soil type and what you grow will obviously depend on when you will do various jobs in the garden. However, you probably want to add organic fertilizer every 2-3 years, double digging it at least once a year normally early spring or late autumn, add your home made compost once a year and add mulches when necessary for a great garden soil.
Good luck and let me know how you get on, or if you have any questions or suggestions leave a comment at the bottom of this article, however you should find the soil can improve year on year with these simple tips.
Chris attended one of the leading edge environmental colleges in the US. He can be found out back with the veg - a simple chap who loves sport, music and good food.