Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
THE importance of soil cannot be overstated, as the vast majority of land based living plants and animals, including humans, depend on having adequate soil. This is something that we are becoming less aware of as our lifestyles head more away from the natural world and into living and working in boxes.
There is nothing good about the recent recession or the current coronavirus but if anything positive could be salvaged from these events it would be that people went back to their roots and jumped into growing food crops. There were mixed results from last summer’s experience but the mental benefits to all those who immersed themselves with nature in this way was huge and, in some cases, it brought together different generations who all enjoyed this newly discovered hobby.
You can grow any plant in one of the readily available composts for about one season and then it has to be renewed the following year. That is the basic method used for growing summer flowers and vegetables and it is a quick and easy way to operate. The discarded compost can be reused in the garden when planting out bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs. For longer term growing you will need soil.
The makeup of soil varies but, it is usually a mixture of mineral particles (made from worn down rock), organic matter (decayed plants) and a proportion of air and water. Waterlogged soil and bone dry sand are the two extremes and unsuitable for growing many plants but all soil can be improved.
Farm Yard Manures (FYM) in any form can be added as a good source of feed and to create the rich dark brown soil that plants love. Alternative or additional materials for your soil can include
foliage, leaves, vegetables or any plant, including a small proportion of lawn clippings, bark, seaweed, straw etc and, finally, if needed, an amount of sand, grit and gravel can all help keep the air in the soil. If in doubt any horticulturist can indicate what soil you have and tell you what to do to improve it for your growing needs.
If you are undertaking something permanent such as hedges, trees and shrubs then all you have to do is prepare the ground prior to planting and thereafter they will usually look after themselves and any additional feeding will come from composting fallen leaves.
If you are undertaking something temporary such as vegetable growing or summer flowering plants then when you remove the plants either as edible crops, flowers or discarded plants you are also removing nutrients from the soil. It is in these situations that you have to replenish this often, the exact time span depending on the plants you are growing. Replacing nutrients can be from the suggestions mentioned under soil above and in addition nutrients can be added in the form of pellets from chicken manure, seaweed or a combination of a number of sources.
Worms are good for the soil as they drag down decaying vegetation into the soil and their activity also aerates the soil. You can do the same and help speed up the worm’s process by digging in manures and other materials as mentioned elsewhere on this page.
TIP OF THE WEEK
I should advise anyone who wishes to grow vegetables and potatoes to obtain seed supplies between now and the middle of February as this year there is only a limited amount available and many UK seed companies who sold mail order into Ireland have discontinued because of Brexit and, potatoes have been banned from being imported from the UK since January 1.
The recent cold weather will kill off some insects but do keep warm by digging your vegetable plots, chopping wood or clearing ivy or brambles if you have any.