January 26th, 2010
All gardeners know that the success of our garden depends largely upon the health of its soil. It is essential to understand the soil you have and to provide it with anything it lacks. Soil is a living community and contains a zoo-full of micro-organisms and animals that rely for their nutrition upon the organic matter in or on the surface of the soil. Soil mineral particles are held together by hyphae (fine strands of fungus) and by secretions produced by countless micro-organisms. So, organic matter is the magic ingredient for improving soil structure and its ability to hold moisture and take up nutrients.
I don’t think gardeners need to carry out tests on their soil to determine what type of soil they have. It becomes ovious as you work it and water it. Clay is made up of very fine particles and is the base of my own garden soil. Clay is the most naturally fertile, even though it may be slow to drain and heavy and difficult to work until you take to it with gypsum, aged manure (thank you ducks) andthick layers of mulch, which break down and contribute to the soil’s structure. Sandy soil will also thank you for manures, mulch, and – the best antidote of all – compost. I try to apply these very regularly and have watched my soil improve over the years.
A vast variety of activities is taking place beneath the soil in your garden. A wide array of living organisms – from earthworms ( the gardeners best friend) to woodlice, slugs and beetles – all these little creatures are busy breaking down large pieces of waste matter, whether compost, mulch or leaf litter. I never use any chemicals on my garden, out of consideration for the birds and insects, let alone the soil organisms. All parts of the soil are interdependent and the processes taking place in the topsoil and subsoil are integrated. By destroying one small element, you upset the complex natural balance and jeopardise the health of your soil.
One excellent fertiliser is poultry manure, I use my duckhouse straw which the ducks have enriched for me, but you can buy chook manure and it does the same thing. I spread this thickly over my vege patch before the major planting of the spring, then I top this with a very thick layer of lucerne as a mulch. This also helps suppress weeds and conserve water. Sometimes I put the poultry manure into my compost heap too.
Another really great fertiliser is Blood and Bone. This is an organic all-purpose fertiliser that you can either throw over the garden – and then water in – or apply in liquid form. The plants just love it! It does smell a bit though, makes you think you are on a farm.
Of course, your very own sweet-scented, dark and crumbly compost is the best and cheapest of all soil conditioners and fertilisers – it adds to the structure and porosity of your soil and releases essential nutrients as it breaks down. Making compost is not just kind to your garden and wallet; it is also kind to the environment. By composting gardeners avoid increasing landfill.
By working at improving your soil you will be working with your garden and your plants will thank you for it. Happy gardening!