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Gardening: The perfect soil

August 18, 2012


With major planting time coming up for plains and city dwellers throughout the country, it is time to get into gear by taking a good look at your soil and rebalancing it if needed.

Soil is pretty much the most neglected part of the majority of gardens and yet if the all essential soil is not in tip top condition then whatever you plant will struggle to grow. If it does manage to grow, it is unlikely to flourish and reward you with the quality and quantity of crops, edible or otherwise, which you dream of producing. It is astonishing just how many experienced gardeners have a tendency to overlook the indisputable fact that soil does need constant attention, not simply a quick dash of nourishment once in a while. Very recently, on visiting an expert’s garden I was stunned to see how poor the soil was —which was justified as being a seasonal problem when it was nothing of the sort.

Soil, like people, needs continuous nourishment in one form or another. This nourishment must be well balanced if the soil is to be healthy and productive. Plants, also like people, suffer from all sorts of problems if the soil lacks the essential nutrients that are required. Bluntly said, malnourished soil produces malnourished plants.

Some misinformed gardeners opt for a quick chemical fix under the dreadfully wrong impression that both soil and plants will reward them with a great big ‘thank you’ but this is certainly not the case. Chemical interventions of any kind, no matter what they claim to be are the fast track to ecological and environmental destruction and do no good for human health either. No chemical is free of harmful side effects, be these chemicals contained in artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides et al. Over time and with extended use, large amounts of toxins build up in the soil, plants and even in the air around the areas where such nasty things have been used.

The only sensible way to maintain vital soil structure and nutrients is through continuous topping up with purely natural, organic ingredients which are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. This is because almost every single ingredient of home composting is the residue of market purchased fruit and vegetables which are already chemically contaminated both inside and out. You can only be certain of making 100 per cent pure organic compost if every single ingredient is home-produced in a totally organic way. The same applies to animal and poultry manure as commercial farmed animals/birds are fed with chemically contaminated feed and pumped full of antibiotics which are all present in the manure. Much of nicely bagged ‘organic’ compost now being sold contains a high percentage of contaminated animal/poultry manure and is therefore not organic at all and as for fish meal… I leave it to your imagination.

Having explained how impossible it is to buy or even make organic compost, unless you have a large enough patch of good quality, virgin land on which to start your own organic production and composting; the only sensible way is to make the food your soil and plants need until you are in a position to grow guaranteed organic produce.

Basically it is just a matter of doing the best you can with what is on hand whilst taking extreme care to eliminate all and any possibly contaminated ingredients you can identify. If you have conjured up homemade compost from kitchen waste already then please use it but slowly and surely switch over to using only chemical free ingredients in the future. If you don’t have homemade compost then, until you do, purchase the best you can as even this is far better than applying outright chemical gunk. There is absolutely no need to damage soil structure by digging compost into the soil unless, that is, you are working with totally dead soil which is devoid of insect life and earthworms. Simply spread the compost, at least three inches thick on top of the soil, water it down to settle it and the insects/earthworms will methodically pull it down below the surface to exactly where it is needed.

This compost should be spread four to six weeks prior to seed sowing/planting which makes this the ideal time to do it so that there is enough time for it to take effect before you begin major planting towards the end of August or during September. This is not the end of the matter though; top up surface compost each and every month of the year so that maximum soil condition is maintained on a permanent basis. The soil, your plants and the localised environment will thank you for this tender love and care many, many times over.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. Answers to selected questions will appear shortly in a future issue of the magazine. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened. Please note: The writer’s garden is not open to the public.