A Gardener's Notebook

Gardening: It’s all about the soil

Special to The CambrianApril 18, 2013 

Since retiring from work 15 years ago, I’ve been able to dig deeply (literally) into the subject of gardening. While gardening has been a weekend hobby most of my life, I’d not had time to experiment or learn about the basics. After studying and becoming a Master Gardener, I’ve come to the conclusion that “It’s all about the soil.”

Reading some in-depth material on soil while recuperating from my broken hip, I’ve learned even more about soil. Soil is made up of particles of weathered rock, organic matter, air, water and living microorganisms. Soil that is rich in minerals and organic matter is what we call “good soil.” Cambria is not known for “good soil” but, fear not, it can be improved.

Adding humus to soil is the best way to improve it. Humus is largely made up of vegetative and animal matter that decomposes in the ground. Without humus, plants cannot utilize minerals, sandy soils will not retain moisture and water will run off in non-porous clay soil.

Humus is usually sparse in regions where rainfall is low. In natural areas, the debris from overhead vegetation falls to the ground, is moistened by rainfall and slowly decomposes and seeps into the ground, adding minerals and improving the structure of the soil. In our gardens, we can mimic nature by adding 4 inches of humus to the top of soil, rake it, and let nature do her work. This is especially effective when done in the fall.

Mulching is another easy way to add humus to the soil. Organic amendments can be purchased at any nursery or garden center. Ground bark, wood chips, hay, straw, leaf mold, pine needles and your own compost from your compost bin are all excellent materials to add humus to soil.

Do you have access to raw manure? Turn fresh manure into aged manure by piling it in a shady place, cover and let age from three to six months. Can you get wood shavings from a neighbor that works with wood? Raw sawdust will rob nitrogen from the soil as it rots. To compensate, add one pound of ammonium sulfate to 100 square feet of 1-inch thick unrotted shavings before digging it into the ground.

There are many other fun things to know about garden soil, like pH value, its degree of acidity or alkalinity. I’ll be writing about this in future columns as I dig even deeper into the science of gardening and what makes the difference between an adequate garden and one that truly flourishes, has deep and rich colors, and produces healthful and good-tasting produce.

 

 


Tip of the month . . .

 

Many gardens in Cambria are blazing with the purple spikes on Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum). As blossoms begin to look unsightly, they need to be cut down to the plant’s gray foliage. New growth will sprout further down on the stock. If you’d like to grow more of these beautiful plants, cut the withered blossoms off and shake to release seeds. Next year, you’ll have new, younger plants.

 

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at cambriagardener@charter.net; read her blog at central coastgardening.com.

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