I’m going to put this out there: I’ve been single for an age! I’m pretty sure there are glaciers that have moved miles since my last date, mountains have been formed and cliffs slightly eroded, the world has spun on its own axis approximately 800 times. I’ve eaten about 700 potatoes since I last felt the warm embrace of romance. I’ve owned at least four new pairs of wellies. Sown thousands of seeds. Filled countless watering cans. In short, I’m really just looking for someone to talk dirty to me.
Tinder has become a bit of a casual hobby for me lately, but all that swiping is not so good for the gardening guru. I’ve seen too many tiger photos, six-pack-in-the-mirror shots, cross-fit fanatics, selfies with Conor McGregor and “I love to travel” bios (saying you love to travel is kind of inconsequential, it’s like saying “I breathe in, then I breathe out, then I repeat the process ad infinitum until I die”).
In light of the desire to just meet a bloke who has a normal job, drinks beer with the lads and perhaps likes to garden, I’ve had a brainwave. We need a tinder for gardeners. A place to weed out the undateables. I shall call it Digger. Instead of swiping right, you’d be able to “dig” someone, instead of swiping left you could throw them on the compost heap and instead of super-likes, you could request that someone talk dirty to you. I’m a genius.
Now, before you all start sending me wildly inappropriate messages, I just want to talk about muck. Dirt. Soil. Earth. It’s been a very long time since I had a filthy conversation over dinner about soil structure and nutrient content. So, since I don’t have a fella to annoy with these things, I turn to my readers.
Soil is something I obsess about a lot so it’s surprising I haven’t really written too much about it on the blog. I love muck. I love getting my hands dirty, they haven’t been clean for years. I suppose, it’s not the most glamorous thing in the world to write about. It’s literally dirt, and the last thing any writer wants to do is churn out muck, but soil really is the single most important factor to consider when gardening, especially in a food garden, where the soil can literally make or break you. So, I’ve decided to write about soil structure, nutrients, pH, and if you’d like to talk dirty back to me, just leave a comment or get in touch, you never know, it could be the filthiest conversation of your life.
Clay soil (which is what I have in my garden) is fine particle soil that clings together. Clay soil is nutrient rich but difficult to work with as clay soils tend to bake and crack in the summer and turn to an absolute waterlogged mush in Autumn. It compacts easily when wet and is slow to drain. Basically, clay soil is an absolute nightmare to dig, rake and work with but it’s given me very toned muscles and healthy vegetables so I don’t complain.
Sandy soil is easier to work than clay soil but it has fewer nutrients and doesn’t retain moisture as well. Sandy soil heats up far quicker than clay in spring but it really dries up easily as the water runs right out of it, often dragging the nutrients with it.
Loam soil is a mix of clay and sand and is considered to be the best soil for gardening as it’s fertile, drains well and is easy to work.
The structure of your soil is very important when growing food. If, like me, your soil is heavy and clay based, this is the one thing you will spend the majority of your time doing battle with in your garden. My soil structure has caused me so much heartache you wouldn’t believe. Muck: my second worst love affair to date.
Soil particles need to be pretty small in order to allow seeds to germinate. My soil requires a serious amount of raking to get it to a fine tilth (for the record, tilth is one of my favourite words). It’s pretty redundant to sow seeds in soil that’s packed tightly together with no space for the seedlings to grow so you need to get the soil to a fine, crumbly consistency for planting. This is one of the many advantages to raised bed gardening. It is easier to control the soil structure in a raised bed than directly in the ground. A raised bed is easier to dig, easier to rake and easier to maintain.
If you don’t have good soil structure, your plants simply won’t thrive, they won’t have room to expand, their roots will have nowhere to go and they’ll be stunted.
Not just the subject of a very addictive video game and one of the best cartoons of my childhood (he was just a dirt eating, chewing length of worm); worms are one of the most important creatures in a garden. Worms break down organic matter and expel a natural fertiliser. Worms also aerate the soil and improve water retention. You can literally buy boxes of worms to add to your soil if you don’t have any in your garden and you can also create a wormery to break down your food waste into compost for your garden. They really are such groovy guys.
Good soil is packed full of nutrients which are vital for plant growth. Plants need a surprising amount of nutrients in order to thrive. I think there are something like 18 nutrients important for plant growth and the majority of these come from soil (the rest come from the air and water but I’ll get to that in another science lesson). The three main nutrients in soil are nitrogen (N), Potassium (P) and Phosphorous (K) and this trio of nutrients is known as NPK. These are the nutrients that farmers pack into their soil as they are absolutely vital when it comes to growing vegetables. But soil is also full of other nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron which are all vital for plant development. Over time, when soil is used to cultivate crops, the nutrient value of that soil decreases. This is due to watering and of course the plants themselves using up the nutrients. Which is why we add organic matter to the soil. which leads me to….
Compost is the single most important thing in my garden. I just couldn’t garden without it. Compost is nutrient rich, decomposed organic matter that results in a dark, gorgeous soil, teeming with nutrients for your plants. Now, you can of course buy compost and I would urge you to use compost if you are growing in containers, do not go out and put a load of clay from your garden into a pot and expect your plants to thrive. Compost is vital. Where possible, use organic compost.There are many different types of compost available to buy and it can actually be a little overwhelming at first. Seed compost, potting compost, multi purpose compost, peat composts, soil enrichers, manures, sand, grit, mulch, etc. I won’t get into every single one of these but I will say this: avoid peat based composts, always use seed compost for germinating seeds and don’t use manure in a bed where you intend to grow carrots. Trust me.
Compost isn’t just vital for growing in containers however, compost is used in the garden to add nutrients back in to your soil. Most productive gardeners will have a compost heap for their waste. The idea is to add all your organic matter to the compost heap. This is all the foliage from plants you don’t use, twigs, grass clippings etc. Food waste is also added (vegetable and fruit waste, tea bags, egg shells, just avoid meat, fish and dairy), and cardboard and non-dyed paper. For good compost, you need to add a balance of green and brown material. Green materials are nitrogen rich matter such as grass clippings and brown materials are carbon rich matter like dead leaves and twigs. In the garden, there will naturally be a good balance of green and brown matter being added to the compost heap all the time. Try to make the stuff going into your compost small, tear up the leaves and twigs as they’ll break down far quicker. Compost needs air and moisture to decompose. You’ll need to turn your compost every few weeks to move the air around the heap. You can buy plastic or wooden compost bins or you can make them yourself out of pallets but I suggest if you are gardening and don’t have one, give yourself a telling off and get to it immediately. Compost is gold dust.
Leaf mould is another brilliant way to use garden waste to add nutrients to your soil. Leaf mould is created by collecting fallen leaves in Autumn and allowing them to decompose to add as a mulch to your soil. Most people make a leaf mould cage using wire or netting and leave (pun intended) it to decompose, it can take years to fully decompose so it helps to shred the leaves.
Used coffee grounds are a brilliant way to add nutrients back into your soil, especially when growing in small containers. Container soil loses its nutrient value far quicker as regular watering washes the nutrients out. Most coffee shops will be happy to give you coffee grounds for free. They’re packed full of nitrogen and are a great way to recycle something that would otherwise be thrown away. Worms love them, slugs hate them, they’re an excuse to drink more coffee, everybody wins
I don’t want to get too technical by harping on about soil pH levels but this can have an effect on your plants. Acidic soil is great for growing rhubarb, blueberries and gooseberries and alkaline soil is perfect for asparagus. Most veggies prefer pH neutral soil but it’s better to have soil that errs on the alkaline side than acidic. You can buy soil testing kits in most garden centres and it can’t hurt to be aware of your soil pH. Sandy soils in particular tend to be acidic. I add a pine needle mulch from christmas trees to my blueberries and rhubarb every year as it helps lower the pH a little and make the soil more acidic for these plants.
I spent six hours today just working on the soil in my raised beds. I’m tired, I’m dirty, my legs are killing me for some reason but my soil, it’s beautiful, rich and fertile.
I believe you need to be in touch with the soil to know what it needs. So, take off the gardening gloves and plunge your hands into the soil. Smell it, rub it in between your palms, waterfall it between your fingers. Recent studies have found that soil contains micro particles that act as a natural anti-depressant, which is probably why I’m happiest when I’m working the soil on my plot. If you know your soil, you’ll know how to treat it and that is the key to growing good food.
Currently searching for web developer to help with creating my dating app, Digger. Preferably male, preferably sound and preferably someone who can really talk dirty to me.