Soil is a complex animal, there is an awful lot going on at anyone time in soil. Soil is not just a 'thing' its a complex mix of living organisms, particles and nutrients that will either give you success or failure as a gardener...Here we try to explain some factors which will help and hinder growth in your garden...and ways you can improve the quality of the soil in your garden, using natural methods.... You cannot buy good soil, you create it.
Water. Too much and the plants will drown and too little and the plants will die. To help retain the correct levels of moisture in your soil its imporant to regulate the soil structure, and we do this by incoporating bulky organic matter whenever possible, this can be in the form of garden compost, well rotted farmyard manure, seasweed...anythign on that lines. Garden compost is far better than shop bought compost for your garden as it contains far more earth worms, humus and beneficial bacteria than what you get in any shop bought compost.
The soil structure is what determines how fast or slow a soil with warm up, drain and generally controls how easy it is for your plants root to penetrate into the soil. If the soil structure is too tight (think of a wet clumpy soil) the plants roots may find it difficult to penetrate down and the soil may dry and crack int he summer time, and it the soil structure is too loose (think of a very sandy soil) then the water will drain too quickly through the soil, taking all the goodness with it. So by working in lots of organic matter we help to regulate the soil structure, allowing for better use of minerals and water by the soil.
soil pH. The ph of the soil can have a wide ranging effect on the soil, many minerals become 'available' or 'unavailable' depending on the soil pH. For example if you wish to grow cabbages and the likes then you will require a soil pH which is alkaline (higher than neutral pH7), in a higher pH nutrients such as Calcium become 'available' to the plants. However if you wish to grow a garden shrub such as a Rhododendron then you will require a pH lower than 7 as nutrients such as iron and copper become 'available' at this range. The pH of the soil can be directly increased by the addition of Lime to the soil, and can be reduced by the addition of Sulphur chips, conifer tree needles and peat moss. The pH of the soil will be gradually lowered through the use of fertilisers, we can increase the 'buffering' of the soil by incporating the bulky organis matter, this leaves the soil less reactive to soil pH shift.
Heat. the many complex bacteria within the soil like to be warm, too cold and they stop working....so its best to keep the soil covered in the winter months, or indeed pre-warm soil prior to planting by placing over sheets of perspex or black plastic over areas, this will ensure the soil is ready to go when you start planting.
Fertilisers. the use of too much fertiliser can have a detremental effrect on your soil, overfeeding will reduce your soil pH, is wasteful and can damage the surrounding environment. you are best to feed a slow release organis fertiliser, such as Fish, Blood and Bone Meal or Chicken Manure Pellets. Apply these to the soil 2 weeks before they are 'needed' (organic fertilisers last longer than synthetic fertilisers but they take longer to activate), a garden fed with chicken manure pellets will be kept nourished for longer compared with synthetic fertilisers. The bulky organic matter contains very little fertiliser, this helps to imrpove the structure of the soil, allowign the fertilisers to be better used by the soil itself.
Comfrey. The hole-grail of the organic gardeners world. Use this for making the most amazing liquid fertiliser and garden mulch. See here for details on gathering and using
Autumn sowings of green manure on bare ground will help to prevent soil compaction, nutrient leaching and provide habitats for beneficial insects such as ground beetles . Also mulching with Leaf Mould is a great way of adding beneficial micro-nutrients to the soil.
We've just started this week our new City & Guilds Level 2 Gardening Certificate, this is an intense course, running over 9 weeks in the summer. Participants ahve a lot of work to do and a lot to over in only a short period of time, but participants have taken to it with gusto, a level 2 is a series step-up from a level 1, with a lot more theory and science to cover, but still with a practical focus.
After only 3 days everyones folders is starting to fill up with handouts and course info....lots of night time reading for everyone lol
Gardening on Radio Foyle
A summary of each weeks gardening on Mark Patterson Show and beyond