Healthy soil pro­duces healthy plants which in turn pro­duces healthy peo­ple, writes Kitty Scully

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - PROPERTY -

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 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 ( 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.

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