Healthy soil produces healthy plants which in turn produces healthy people, writes Kitty Scully
Taking care of your soil should be one of your main focuses
EED the soil not the plant is at the core of organic growing and it encompasses a holistic approach to soil cultivation, underlined by the knowledge that a healthy soil produces healthy plants which in turn produces healthy people. However for most home growers, obtaining sufficient organic matter to feed the soil is often the most difficult aspect of organic gardening but some potential soil food (soil amendments) include:
GARDEN COMPOST: Homemade compost is one of the best soil amendments as it recycles the nutrients from our kitchen and garden and returns them back to the earth. Composting is an essential life skill for urban and rural dwellers and there are some great initiatives around the country such as Lifetime Lab in Cork that provide composting demonstration areas. As there are many different types of composting systems (eg Tumblers, Piles, Worms, Green Cone, Pallet Bin, etc), it can be difficult to figure out which one is best for you and how to use it properly. The Lifetime Lab composting demonstration area, developed as a partnership between the EPA Stop Food Waste Programme and Cork City Council, aims to show people how different composting systems work. For further information on reducing food waste and composting see www.stopfoodwaste.ie. That said, no matter how successful your compost heap is, it can be difficult to have enough compost to supply all your soils needs. Thankfully there are now a number of waste-recycling companies around the country, including Local Authority initiatives, that shred, compost and bag garden waste and sell it as a soil conditioner at a better price than bagged compost alternatives. Check out CRÉ, The Composting Association of Ireland (www.cre.ie) to locate the waste-recycling site most convenient to you.
FFARM YARD MANURE: Traditionally, families in Ireland lived on small-holdings with a mixed range of stock supplying food supplies for the kitchen and a valuable mix of manure for field fertility. Times have changed and now well-rotted manure is like gold dust and for urban and stock-free gardeners, it pays to make friends with
Composting is an essential life skill for urban and rural dwellers and there are some great
instruction initiatives around the country such as Lifetime Lab in Cork
a local farmer. Manure should be composted for at least three months before incorporation into the soil. Be warned, it can be difficult to work in by hand over a large area with lots of extra wellie required to break up clods.
OTHER SOIL AMENDMENTS: There are a range of other organic materials that will also feed your soil and potential alternatives to compost and farm yard manure include:
Seaweed has been used to enrich Irish soils for centuries. You should only use washed-up seaweed and apply it as mulch or add it to compost heaps. There is many a debate as to whether seaweed should be washed before applying to beds to prevent salt build up in soil. Chances are the Irish rain gods will have the job done on the beach before you get the hose out. My plants have never suffered any ill effects from directly applied seaweed. You can also buy seaweed dust and seaweed meal in good garden centres.
Green manures refer to the many plants that can be grown and dug back into soil to protect soil structure and to increase its fertility and humus content.
Grass cuttings are rich in nutrients and can be used as mulch, mixed with compost or forked into the top layer of soil.
Straw and old hay is ideal for mulching and will slowly decompose into the soil containing a balance of nutrients.
Leaf mould made from composted fallen leaves in the autumn is an excellent soil conditioner.
Comfrey leaves can be cut and applied as mulch when wilted. Along with making liquid feeds, comfrey is well worth growing for this purpose.
Did you know that every small handful of soil contains millions of living micro-organisms which forms the skin of topsoil that covers the earth and without this topsoil, life as we know it could not exist? If for no other reason, that is a good incentive to protect soil, enhance it and most of all remember to feed your soil.
FEEDING TIME: Sourcing good compost is often the most difficult aspect of organic gardening.