Back in school we all learnt about these things called “xylem” and “phloem“. These are the transport mechanisms in a plant that allow water and nutrients to be circulated through the plant. Before you start growing a herb/ vegetable garden you need to ensure that the base (soil) is full of all the right nutrients. If you do not have good soil the plant cannot get the nutrients it needs to grow
There are three main components of soil – Sand, Silt and Clay.
The sand allows the water to flow through quickly, while the silt and clay hold the water in the soil longer. The right combination of all three allows the water and air to flow through the soil, appropriately trapping and releasing water and nutrients to the plant.(1) Thus if you have poor soil the plants may die due to lack of water (too much sand) or drowning (too much clay).
If you have a garden there is an easy way to test this… (If you do not have a garden – go buy yourself a bag of potting soil from the nursery to fill your pots with)
* First dig a hole where you want to plant your vegetables – it needs to be between 1 and 2 feet deep (this is quite deep, however you need to ensure that it is deep enough – do NOT take the top layer of soil, take the soil at the bottom of your hole)
* Secondly fill a glass bottle with enough soil to fill it up to half way
* Thirdly top up the jar with water and securely place the lid on the bottle and SHAKE (rattle and roll)
* Shake until all the large particles have broken down.
* Let the bottle sit in on the windowsill for 24 hours. (Don’t check before hand – it really needs a long time to ensure that the layers separate properly – I checked with my Geotechnical Engineer who confirmed it when I wanted to be impatient and analyse it after 2 hours)
After 24 Hours – Take a permanent marker and draw three lines
- First line to mark the sand layer (the bottom layer)
2. Second line to mark the silt layer
3. Third line to mark the start of the clay layer
This is what my soil looks like – I would quantify it as Sandy Loam (it looks a lot better than I thought). When I water my garden the water drains quickly off the surface, however it still allows for great growth.
*With sandy soil if you try add compost to the soil it will wash away fairly quickly (along with its nutrients) when you water the garden. If you can find some clay you can mix a small amount in.
*With clay soil add some river sand (available from the nurseries) and some compost – you may struggle however to dig this in and incorporate it due to the nature of clay. You may want to do this over time – bit by bit.
Add the compost on top and let it build up over time allowing the nutrients and silt to slowly blend in with the soil. Another great tip is to mulch the garden bed (I will be discussing this next week)