"good soil" --- poison free gardening Victoria BC
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Good Soil


a bed of tomatoes basking in the sun
The simple truth is that one cannot grow much, and then only with great trouble and expense, in poor soil. And we certainly don't want that. The other simple truth is that one can grow almost anything, with very little effort and expense, in beautiful, rich and fertile loam. All one basically needs to do is seed or plant things, water occasionally, and then stand back and let them grow. And that's far more like it, right? Well, that's exactly what we are going to do here. Really.

Obviously, and since good soil determines 99% of your success, we'll start with this, and January is a good time as any hereabouts to get things going in that direction. And although rich and fertile soil is a highly and intricately complex thing, we don't have to worry about that at all. Mother Nature has fine tuned these things it to a "T" hundreds of millions of years ago, and all we have to do is to provide the basic conditions, and good ole' Nature will do the rest, and with enthusiastic zest.

All we need is good soil, good drainage, all the 72+ trace elements, and to balance the soil. We also need to keep the poisons out of the intricate womb of the Earth under our feet, because good soil - what is commonly called "black gold", and rightly so - includes a whole teeming and intricately complex fabric of soil biota, from vitally important fungi (mycorrhyzal fungi), to vast armies of equally vitaly important bacteria (all the various nitrogen fixers), and hordes of those tireless and hard working soil improvers, the dew worms.

But all of this will happen quite by itself, and with great enthusiasm, when the conditions are right. So, the very best and most important thing we can do is to get the soil mix right. Fortunately, this a one-time thing, and it'll only get better once we have that right. And all the other things are really easy to do.

Good rich loam consists of about 40% mineral (clay, silt, sand, gravel), 25% water, 25% air, and 10% organic content. Water and air take care of themselves when the mineral and organic contents are in the right proportions, so we don't have to worry about that either. That leaves the mineral and organic content. And these are rarely ideal, otherwise there would be good rich loam everywhere.

Most soils hereabouts are either too clayey, or too sandy, and all of them average only around 3% organic content. If your soil is too clayey, it needs a dose of fine sand to break up the clay, to let the air in, and to let the water soak through it all.

If your soil is too sandy, it needs a dose of clay to trap water. Clay is very important, because of its rich mineral composition, and because its particles are very fine and lens-shaped. The latter is what makes clay stick together so well - like two sheets of wet glass - but the lens-shape also provides a large surface for water to adhere to, and for chemical reactions to go forward on, when the clay is finely broken up and well distributed in the soil.

How much sand, to break up the clay - or how much clay to leaven the sand you need depends entirely on how much of each is in your soil. A 50/50 mix of sand or silt, and of clay would be really nice, but close to that is good enough. Most soils hereabouts need only an adjustment of these components; but if your soil should be rather hopeless in this regard, consider trucking in a truckload of topsoil as the easiest solution

That leaves the all important organic content, for this is what holds and stores water - like a sponge - holds and stores nutrients, and is the world and living room in which all the soil biota live and work. And the organic content needs to be beefed up to 10% in almost all instances. But this is rather easy. Just add as many leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, compost, manures, seaweed (excellent, for its 72+ trace elements), shredded newspapers, duff (the surface litter on forest floors - excellent) - anything that comes from a once living source - to your soil as you can get your hands on. (It's all about increasing the complexity of the soil, as the universe wants to do all the time, and in total contrast to our chemical agriculture which reduces the complexity of the soil). If you can get hold of a lot of leaves - it's a snap in fall - spread them out thickly on a flat surface, and run the lawn mower over them to chop them up fine. Soil with a 10% organic content will feel slightly but noticeably 'springy' when walked upon.

Good loam should be deep brown in colour, and when squeezed in your hand, should crumble readily and nicely. It should not - stay in one hard lump (too much dry clay); squeeze through your fingers like putty (too much wet clay); run through your fingers (too much sand or silt); stay in one lump and drip water (too much organic content, which is rare, and only if your garden was once a bog). And for highly productive gardens, we should have at least an 18" inch deep layer of such loam.

Given the average soil conditions hereabouts, getting the soil into good shape is undoubtedly the most intensive aspect of it all - but it is well worth the effort because of the low cost, no-trouble, and no-hassle ease of gardening, and the healthy and bountiful harvests which follow therefrom. And it needs to be done only once, and things get better steadily from then on. Really. You'll see.

Meanwhile, get some duff (the soft stuff that covers forest floor), and some seaweed, put it together - half and half is good - in a carefully punctured (for aeration) black plastic garbage bag, and let it decay, open at the top, in a sunny place outdoors. We'll need this to make some beautiful propagation soil for starting seedlings around the end of February. Both seaweed and duff contain the complete natural range of the 72+ trace elements, and your seedlings won't get "Damp Off" disease. And you won't have to drench your propagating soil with "No Damp" fungicides - and still loose a lot of seedlings. Next, we'll tackle good drainage.



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