Preparing The Soil
What could be simpler and more bucolic than turning your own soil with a spade? Modern farming simply screams out the necessity for aggrandizement in the form of massive tractors and ploughs, leaving the humble spade in the tool shed in the dark. But for a smaller more manageably scaled garden a decent spade, fork, hoe and rake are essential tools.
Nutrition in soil can be developed in a variety of ways. Modern monocultural farming gratuitously favours artificial fertilizers whereas the much simpler option is compost.
What can a garden claim without a compost heap? Soil, scraps, prunings, kitchen waste, leaves, ashes, grass-cuttings, cardboard, newspapers, straw and of course dung; practically anything can be composted provided it’s organic matter. The trick is to combine dry ingredients with wet ones, like leaves with grass cuttings or straw with dung and mix them up well, too much of the same waste won’t rot so well. Other than that it’s simple, you just throw some muck in a corner somewhere and next year you have the richest fertilizer for your garden. Or for a tidier garden a compost bin can be built for free by nailing old pallets together and covering. Black polythene or sheet vinyl make good covers which help to keep the heat in.
As well as solid old compost another method is liquid fertilizer. One method is to steep ‘comfrey’ in an old bin or drum for a number of months adding water and leaves until you have a concentrated liquid manure. Alternatively if you have available some dung, preferably cows you can brew that up in a hessian sack like a tea bag suspended in water to create a rich and nourishing tonic for any soil. If you live near the sea, seaweed can be broken down to make excellent fertilizer as it has a very high nitrogen content. Be sure to let it break down long enough though.
Autumn leaves are also a good source of useful organic matter. They can be broken down to make leafmould simply by filling bin bags with leaves and puncturing holes to let in air. Add a little water if the leaves are dry. It should take about one year for the mixture to be ready, though the process can be speeded up by mixing in fresh grass cuttings with the leaves.
If you want to get scientific you can test your soils constitution by taking a sample, just enough to half fill a jam jar. Cover it with water and shake vigorously, until completely dissolved. Leave the mixture to settle for at least twenty four hours. If the mixture is cloudy with lots of fine particles floating in the water the soil is high in clay content. The sediment that is light in colour and heavily settled at the bottom of the jar is sand and the sediment that is very dark in colour and settled in the middle of the jar (on top of any sand) is the humic content; this is what you’re after. If soil is very sandy or mostly clay you can increase the humic content with the composting techniques mentioned above.
As with anything the groundwork is essential, if you put more into your soil you will get much more out.