PRAC­TI­CAL AD­VICE

Eight sim­ple ways to im­prove your soil

Go Gardening - - Editorial -

Soil health

Healthy soil means healthy plants and a beau­ti­ful thriv­ing gar­den. A healthy soil con­tain­ing am­ple or­ganic mat­ter con­tains bil­lions of ac­tive micro­organ­isms which build soil struc­ture, make nu­tri­ents avail­able for plants and can even re­duce pest and dis­ease prob­lems.

But what can a gar­dener do when faced with a soil that’s less than ideal? Whether you have poor sandy soil, heavy clay or a life­less patch of com­pacted over-cul­ti­vated ground, there is plenty you can do to im­prove it over time.

1 Add com­post

– Com­post be­comes hu­mus, that mag­i­cal black spongy stuff that all good soils con­tain. Hu­mus im­proves wa­ter and nu­tri­ent re­ten­tion in sandy soils. In heavy soils hu­mus par­ti­cles latch on to fine clay par­ti­cles to form nu­tri­ent rich soil ‘crumbs’ that hold wa­ter in their mi­cro­p­ores while let­ting ex­cess wa­ter drain away, leav­ing the all im­por­tant air spa­ces be­hind.

2 Cover bare soil

Don’t leave your soil ex­posed to the rav­ages of rain, wind, and sun. A layer of or­ganic mulch in the form of straw, wood chip, bark, com­post or any­thing else that breaks down into hu­mus acts like the for­est floor. Mulching blocks weeds and pre­vents mois­ture loss by evap­o­ra­tion, but most im­por­tantly it will add value to your soil in the form of hu­mus.

3 Ap­ply gyp­sum

Gyp­sum is a time hon­oured prod­uct used to re­duce the den­sity of heavy soils, im­prov­ing wa­ter move­ment and nu­tri­ent up­take. The cal­cium com­po­nent of gyp­sum en­cour­ages the soil clay par­ti­cles to group to­gether, thereby im­prov­ing soil struc­ture.

4 Use or­ganic fer­tilis­ers

Some fer­tilis­ers are use­ful as a fast tonic, but they pro­vide nu­tri­ents with­out adding to the long term health of the soil. Bulky or­ganic fer­tilis­ers pro­vide both nu­tri­ents and hu­mus. They re­lease their nu­tri­ents slowly so there is less risk of ni­tro­gen leach­ing into ground wa­ter.

5 Dig less

Dig­ging is what gar­den­ers do but some of us dig more than we need to. For the sake of the soil, if

you don’t need to dig, don’t. Ev­ery time we dig we risk dam­ag­ing some of the soil’s struc­ture and dis­rupt­ing the pre­cious ecosys­tem of mi­cro or­gan­isms work­ing to build soil struc­ture and sup­ply plant roots with nu­tri­ents. Es­pe­cially avoid dig­ging straight after rainy weather when the soil is heavy and wet.

6 Grow your own ma­nure

A green ma­nure or cover crop is sown in au­tumn or early win­ter and then chopped down and in­cor­po­rated into the soil in spring, restor­ing or­ganic mat­ter, earth­worms and ben­e­fi­cial mi­cro or­gan­isms. As well as pro­vid­ing bulk ni­tro­gen, it will help bring deep min­er­als to the sur­face. Over win­ter, a cover crop pro­tects the soil from heavy weather. As the roots grow they keep the soil aer­ated and re­duce com­paction. Cover crops, like mus­tard, can also help break dis­ease cy­cles. Ef­fec­tive cover crops in­clude lupin (good for ni­tro­gen fix­ing), mus­tard, wheat, bar­ley and oats. All pro­vide dif­fer­ent plant ben­e­fits and a mix­ture is of­ten sown.

7 Start a worm farm

Even if you have a com­post heap, a worm farm is a worth­while ad­di­tion to your re­cy­cling sys­tem. It is a great way to re­cy­cle kitchen scraps and pro­duces a ready sup­ply of liq­uid fer­tiliser plus worm cast­ings which are a valu­able source of nu­tri­ents and soil hu­mus.

8 Add hu­mates

Hu­mates oc­cur nat­u­rally in the hu­mus we add to our gar­dens via com­post­ing, mulching or adding or­ganic ma­nures. And these days you can buy hu­mates in a bag. In­creas­ingly used by farm­ers, hu­mates as­sist the up­take of nu­tri­ents, pre­vent soil crack­ing, im­prove mois­ture re­ten­tion and help pre­vent ero­sion.

A pur­pose built com­post bin de­signed for easy ac­cess and with gaps for good air cir­cu­la­tion.

Save those leaves! They’re sec­ond to none for com­post­ing and mulch.

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