Get the most out of your soil!

Soil Preparation for Tip-Top Shape Soil

soil preparation

A Variety of Plant Labels – Natural and Recycled

It’s not always necessary to go out and buy ready-made labels for your garden. Here are a few up-cycling options:

● Plastic cool-drink bottles and yoghurt containers make good plant labels. Cut them up with a sharp pair of scissors and make a sharp point at one end to stick into the ground. Alternatively, cut rectangles or squares, poke holes through the top and bottom in the middle, and thread an old sosatie stick through it. Write on the label with a permanent marker. Remember that these labels can be used over and over again.
● Yoghurt lids glued or nailed onto pieces of wood.
● Plastic teaspoons and forks or ice cream sticks.
● Painted stones.

Two Simple Methods of Drip Irrigation

Did you know that only two out of 100 drops of water actually reach the roots of a plant?

Yes, 98% is wasted through run-off and evaporation by the sun and wind. Here are some simple ideas to ensure that not one drop of water is wasted during the hot, dry, windy months. It’s also worth remembering that watering the leaves of the plants, especially at night, can increase the incidence of plant disease. Bacteria and fungi love wet leaves.

● Make four tiny holes in the lid of a plastic cool-drink bottle using a hot needle. Fill the bottle with water and loosely replace the cap. Lay the bottle on the ground at the base of the plant and let the water drip out slowly. This is a very simple way of getting water to the actual roots of the plant.

● The following is a very simple bucket-drip irrigation method that can be set up, covered in mulch and left in place. All you need is a 16 – 20-litre bucket or plastic drum, raised about 1m above the ground on bricks or a wooden pole. Attach hosepipe fittings to the bottom of the bucket, and attach a line of plastic tubing or hosepipe to them. Close off the end of the pipe where it meets the edge of the bed.

Place the bucket close to the bed and lay the drip pipe down the middle of the bed. With a sharp nail, make holes through the tube at intervals of about 20cm and thread 1m or so of natural twine or small strips of cotton sheeting through each hole, to draw the water out. Tie a knot at each end of the twine and lay it across the bed, running next to each planting line. Cover it with mulch.

Plant vegetables in rows along each drip line, at the correct spacing for the chosen crop. Fill the bucket with water (not from your garden tap) once a day, after checking the soil with your finger to see whether you actually need to water.

The Significance of Legumes in the Garden and in one’s Diet

Nitrogen-fixing legumes are ‘soil-builders’, tiny fertiliser factories that contain thousands of bacteria that are able to fix the nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into nitrates that are soluble and easily taken up and used to build plant proteins. They have nodules scattered throughout their root systems, the more nodules the better.

Nitrogen is the ‘leaf-maker’ – as a component of chlorophyll it gives leaves their green colour and is responsible for the growth of new shoots and leaves. A deficiency of nitrogen in the soil results in poor growth and pest problems. Plant plenty of legumes in your garden throughout the year.

You can be quite sure the legumes you grow yourself will taste much better and be more nutritious than the ones you buy in the shop. They will provide you and your family with a good, cheap source of protein, vitamins (especially the Bs), minerals (iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium) and lots of fibre. 

Save your Wood Ash

Wood ash (from real wood, not charcoal or coal) makes a very good amendment to your garden as it is full of potassium, which is excellent for flowering and fruiting crops. Sprinkle it around the base dripline of the plant, but never use too much ash as it may make the soil very alkaline. The majority of vegetables do best in soils with a pH between 5 and 7.5 – slightly acidic to neutral.

Preparing Vegetable Beds for Planting – Including Watering Devices. Water Deep. Mulch Heavily.

What do plants need for healthy growth? All living things, including green plants, have the same basic needs. These are:

● Food. The soil is the basis of all life and the nutrients necessary to sustain life come from the soil. Plants use the sun’s energy to change water and air, together with the minerals from the soil, into food for themselves, and ultimately for animals and other life forms.
● Water
● Air
● Some form of protection against the elements – extreme temperatures, gale-force winds, heavy rain.

Without any one of these, life is not possible. For survival and healthy growth and development, all these needs must be met. And we can add one more necessity for your food garden: Your attention and loving care. These will make all the difference to how your garden thrives, or doesn’t.

In return, the plant world gives us an abundance of food, the oxygen we need for energy-releasing activities in our bodies, the materials to build shelters and furnish our homes, timber for fuel, natural medicines to heal our bodies, and the beauty that nurtures our souls.

It is, therefore, of considerable importance to build and care for the soil – it is ‘life’. If you work the soil, you get super-foods for free. The very first principle of organic gardening is to nurture and encourage the subterranean life so that it can support a much larger plant population than Nature ever intended.

Soil Preparation (the most important part of gardening)

There are many different methods for preparing the soil for planting. Single digging is most commonly used. It means that the soil is loosened or turned to the depth of one spade-head (30cm). If your soil is deep and fertile, is not compacted and you have plenty of water, this method is a good one.

However, most soils are poor and compacted and, in South Africa, there is a shortage of water. It is therefore better to use one of the following methods for the best results: Double digging is a good method for heavy clay soils where drainage is a problem. The soil is loosened to a depth of two spade-heads (60cm). Having first marked out your bed, dig out all the soil to a depth of 30cm (topsoil) and put it to one side.

Using a fork, loosen and turn the soil at the bottom of the bed (subsoil) to a depth of 30cm. Then add a 10cm layer of compost, well-rotted manure or any other organic matter in the bottom of the trench. Cover this with the topsoil.

Trenching gives by far the best results, especially in very dry areas and where there is little water and poor soil. It is hard work at first, but your efforts are well rewarded with bumper crops. It is particularly good in sandy and loamy soils. The soil is simply dug to a depth of 50cm – the topsoil is placed at the one side of the bed (about the depth of one spade head) and the sub-soil is removed and kept separately.

Once the trench is dug it is filled with layers of different types of organic waste – wet, green matter and brown, dry matter, which are layered with the subsoil. Once the trench is full, all of the topsoil is added, which provides you with a raised bed ready for planting. The organic waste slowly breaks down, creating a bed that is full of humus and food for all the little critters that abound in well-fed, healthy soil! This healthy soil will provide the plants with food, the creatures with food and super-foods for you, full of essential nutrients.

And That’s not All…

Mulch is the buzzword in gardening circles, but why is so important? Mulch slowly breaks down or decomposes and feeds the soil with organic matter and improves its structure; it prevents garden beds from drying out and it keeps the soil cool in summer (so that plant roots don’t get burnt), and slows down or prevents weed growth.

You will not have to work so hard! Mulch also encourages earthworms to your garden. These little guys are your best friends when it comes to fertilising the soil, bringing air to the roots and improving drainage. And not only that, mulch provides a home for useful creatures – frogs, lizards and snakes, which eat the pests that come to your vegetables. Mulch, mulch and mulch some more.

The Gardener