Unearth some facts about soil
It can’t be under estimated , how important it is, to keep your soil in good condition, as it will determine how successfully your harvest of vegetable is going to be or how lush your garden will look. After all, it’s the medium where your crops and plants grow in and take nutrients
Let’s take a look beneath the surface, where hundreds and thousands of various sized specimen linger
Here is a whole eco system deeming with bacteria, viruses,fungi algae, nematodes and the more familiar and visible insects, worms , caterpillars, …..and much more. They all form a complex “soil food web” -as I learned from the experts at Laverstoke Park Laboratory- This complex soil-food-web performs important tasks like de composting organic materials, improving soil aggregation, building soil humus , preying on crop pests and much more. Some specimen consume others, and by doing so release nutrients ready available for the plants. It becomes a highly productive sustainable and natural ecosystem if not hindered and disrupted by us.
The 4 main groups are
Bacteria (single celled organism)1 billion in 1 teaspoon of soil More than 30.000 different species -consume single celled organism
Fungi (multi celled organism) consume complex carbon compounds Feeds plant nutrients in exchange for sugar
Protozoa (single celled animal) 3 different types , eat bacteria,important food source for others
Nematodes (microscopic worms 4 different types) Bacteria and funghi feeders. Also root feeders sucks sugars and nutrients from roots
Plants also play a vital role in that, as they not just absorb minerals and nutrients from the soil but also release energy (sugars and carbohydrates) into the soil through the root system. So plants and soil with all the living organism in it form a close relations ship and depend on each other’s well fare.
It is important, to get the balance between Bacteria and fungi right (more bact, more nitro)
The ratio of Calcium and Potash is also important as they are antagonists. Too much Ca and the potash becomes unavailable for the plants to absorb.Same applies for Ca and Magnesium.
By disturbing the soil through digging, erradicating some specimens or adding chemical fertilizers we have to be aware that we disturb the balance of the whole system.
Away from the Laboratory and back to some practical advice, you should find out what sort of soil you are dealing with. There are of course many different types of soil, in texture (heavy, sticky clay to light and sandy) as well as it’s chemistry (acid, alkaline or neutral).
To find out about the structure of your soil (sandy, clay, loam) you can make a simple test .
Take a handful of soil (best without stones,organic matter) – moisten it with some water -work in your hands like dough for a while
IF you can make a ball with it you don’t have sandy soil
IF you can apply pressure to the ball and flatten it you got clay and loam in your soil.
IF you can roll that into a “sausage shape” the content of clay is even higher
Basically the more you can shape your wet soil (roll into a sausage, bend the sausage into a horse shoe, bend it further into a ring.. without breaking it, the more clay and loam is present.
If you would look at your soil particles through a microscope, you realize that the sand corn is round hence there is lots of space (air) between the round sand corns, but it doesn’t keep moisture.
Sandy soil is light, doesn’t hold water and nutritions well
Clay soil is made of tiny flat platelets, which stick easily together . Therefore clay soil becomes sticky, easily compacted and waterlogged. On the positive side it holds more nutrients and moisture.
Advice and solutions
You can add organic matter as well as natural fertilizers (Seaweed, fish and bone meal, rock dust) to sandy soil to make it richer . Mulch is important to reduce water-loss
Add grit and sand to clay soil as well as organic matter to break it up and hopefully the worms will do some digging for you.Mulch to stop it from drying out during dry spells. Don’t work when wet and don’t compact. Takes longer to warm up (if clay soil dries out, it becomes very hard to work with)
To find out if your soil is acid, alkaline or neutral you need to measure the PH of you soil.
1-5 is very acid
6 acid (low in Potassium and Calcium)
6.5 slightly acid
7.5 slightly alkaline
8 alkaline (low in Phosphate and Sulphur)
9-14 very alkaline
Most soils are around neutral or slightly acid. Acid soils are low in calcium. You can make them more alkaline by adding lime (be very careful how much you apply, and what implications it might have) or add lime-rich material like mushroom compost.
For alkaline soils try to add leaf mould Pine bark or pine needles.
To test ph buy a simple kit in the garden center, but for more accurate testing and get a full picture about the mineral contest and much more I recommend the Laboratory at Laverstoke Park Farm Tel 01256 772815 (see link at home page)
e-mail :firstname.lastname@example.org The friendly and knowledgeable staff are happy to give you advice on how to take your samples and how to deal with your soil after testing.
Soil and Biodynamics
In Biodynamic farming/gardening the spray preparations are used to stimulate the plants above the ground (which also end up in the soil through the root system) and on the land to increas activity in the soil .
The compost preparations add various minerals (Dandelion- sulphur, Yarrow – Potassium, Nettle- Iron ,Chamomile -Calcium, Valerian- Phosphorus and Oak Bark also Calcium) ……..
A biodynamic farmer/gardener also tries to work with the land, rather than dominating it, so for example if you have very alkaline soil, don’t plant Rhododendrons or heather in your garden and grow blueberries and other acid loving plants in pots
I recommend less digging (see beginning of article about soil-food web) and more hoeing and aerating the soil. By hoeing around the plants you incorporate the lunar influence into the soil.
Hoe around salads, leeks and other plants belonging to the “Leaf” group on water days
Hoe around tomatoes, cucumber, peas, beans strawberries and other fruiting vegetables and plants on fruit days
Flowers and plants grown for their flowers ( like chamomile, calendula..) are best on flowerdays
hoe and weed between rows of potatoes or beet roots and garlic on root days!
For more info about Biodynamic preparations, how to use them and where to get them got to www.biodynamic.org.uk