Thursday, March 1, 2012

Building up the soil

Well hello fellow Gardeners.I like most people have been busy in the garden ,keeping up with the watering is a big job here in my garden. And trying to establish order in the Pitya area (dragon fruit) slowly winning although they do bite and the red ants love me.But i like the fruit so i let them win now and again the plants i mean not the ants.

Anyway enough of my gardening antics , this blog i sort of want to continue with what i was refering in the last blog on vegetables as in having good soil.Gardens and plants need good soil ,i know pretty obvious statement. But how many of us have it me included? We generally get what we are given ,unless we are in a position to have the knowledge and money to aquire the ideal growing soil for our plants.

So we move into a new house or an old one and we have what has been left behind normally by the builder or the last occupier. In the case of a new building that could be and usually is building rubble and all topsoil taken away , leaving behind a hard base of not that good soil structure. The last occupier of a property may have been kinder to our soil and started to improve it if they were gardeners and you are likely to have something reasonable to work with. With both scenarios all is not lost and if we have a plan of attack ,with a goal in mind that good soil structure we wish for can be had.

Having said that lets try and steer you in the right direction. First we need to know what type of soil we have .

Is it a clay based soil ,this is important as it affects drainage ,water holding capacity of soil,micro-organisms in the soil ,nutrient availability,and can be a airless soil environment making our soil sour.How do we find out ? Go and dig up a bit of soil moisten it and play with it see if you can form a plasticene type of shape with it as in rolling it out etc. Is it cold and feel silky to touch ,if it can form a shape well and when droppped hold that shape then most likely be a clay based soil.No matter we can still work with it in fact i personally prefer a soil of this nature as some  plants we love actually do well in these type of soil with a bit of help in the drainage department. Roses love these soils as long as no wet feet. Also can get a good cation exchange of nutrients from clay soils.I know we all curse a clay based soil but it,s a good base to work with . Yes its hard work and it does take some time to amend its properties .The best way to fix over a period of time is organic matter,ie compost and lots of it . Can also add a coarse sand initially for a one season solution again would need lots , and you can incorparate about two cupfuls of Gypsum per sqare metre/yard for some benefits as well.If you  do any soil amendment i would do for the whole garden bed and not just where you are digging a hole for a plant ,because once that plant gets to the hard clay 1 dead plant.As i commented  in veggie post slightly damp soil is the way to work with clay soils especially.And clay soils are usually akaline Ph of 9 is not uncommon and the addition of organic matter and limil can sweeten that. I will cover Ph range in another post.

 Now we have the other extreme sandy soils.Gutless water hungry ,very free draining and very low in nutrients Also wettability of a sandy soil can be very frustrating.Which would call on using wetting agents to retain moisture ie dishwashing liquids,low in phosphate though. Technically called surfactants i believe and orginally idea came from Western Australia. Whom have pretty much  sandy soils to contend with. And Ph range of 7to 8.5 is most common although can be more .I have experience with these type of soils and they are a real pain. Can be remedied but like our clay soils require  lots of organic matter and manures even clay pellets can be added to these soils .Of course they do have a couple of good points easy to work with as in being a light soil and if you are doing organic enrichment of these types they respond very quickly to improvemenet as its a warmer soil to get those micro - orgasims working for you.

Now we arrive at what we want in a soil structure  Sandy loam an ideal soil for us gardeners hard to find in most developed areas. In rural situations can be a bit easier to come across .especially on river flats .bottom of hillsides and i am generalising here. But if you think about it logically its where its most likely to occur. With the seasons that nature provides topsoil is washed of the hillsides and ends up on lower valleys etc.
So if you are on those wide open plains under some mountains or hills you more than likely have some good soil to play with. This soil is rich with organic matter and alive with micro-organisms ideal plant growing environment. This type has a healthy Ph range normally can be exceptions depending on what rock is underlying it,but generally in the range of 5.5 to 7.5 and readily amends to soil improvements.

So there you have it some hints on soil types ,things to maybe consider when purchase your next property or as a guide to what you have already got. My next post i will cover Ph what is ideal and what to do if not.

Any questions or comments love to hear from you Steve Barratt web based gardener