Last time we started to touch our soil and let it get under our finger nails. We did that so we could find out what sort of soil we had and to learn a little about it’s characteristics. It’s not just the brown stuff that we use to sow our seeds or plant our plants. It’s far more important than that and it influences what we can and can’t grow, and how we need to treat it so that what we do sow or plant can flourish rather than wither.
The type of soil is where we need to start. There’s something to be said about having clay in your soil – it helps if your plants need a soil that holds water and nutrients. There’s something to be said too if your soil is sandy – if what you want to grow needs soil that is dry and arid. There’s also something to be said if your soil is of poor quality and stony – if you want to grow Mediterranean plants for example.
But too much of any one type of soil can have limitations.
There are several ways of improving your soil.
A good way of improving the structure of the soil is to dig it. This reduces soil compaction and improves aeration. This means that it is easier for plant roots to penetrate into the soil.
Once the soil has been dug you can then level out any dips or peaks by lightly raking it. This will also help remove any weeds or stones that might remain, and further break the soil down. This is particularly important if you are planning to sow seeds.
Well-rotted organic matter can then be added to further improve your soil – it’ll help breakdown a clay soil or bind a sandy soil. That means that the particles will either allow more space between them for the root system to develop or it will enable water and nutrients to be held within the soil rather than simply wash through.
How about using manure?
The sort of thing we add to our soil typically includes locally sourced horse or poultry manure. Both take some time to rot down and it’s important not to rush things. Doing so means that the ammonia that both release as they rot down can harm – and sometimes kill – your plants. We leave our manure to rot down for at least 6 months - you can tell when they’re ready when the worms start to appear.
If available you can also use leaf mould, composted bark, mushroom compost or simply make your own garden compost.
In cases where your soil is particularly heavy it can also be a good idea to add washed horticultural grit. This helps breakdown the structure of the soil and again allows gaps to form between the clay particles. Both organic matter and the grit can be dug into the soil, or simply left to allow the weather and worms to work their magic and pull both down beneath the surface.
With the structure of the soil improved we can turn our attention to feeding our plants. The addition of nutrients is vital to ensure your plants remain healthy and grow. Different plants require different types of nutrients – fertilisers – to succeed.
Adding the wrong sort sometimes can do more harm than good. Some plants – like cabbages – need a fertiliser that promotes healthy leaf growth. Some plants – like tomatoes and fruit – need a fertiliser that promotes flowers. Adding a high nitrogen-based fertiliser to your tomato plants may mean that you have a plant with great looking leaves but very little fruit!
More on feeding your plants and the different types of fertilisers next time.
Do get in touch if you would like to know more, either through my facebook page, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07734 365028.