How GOOD is your Soil

SOIL, which provides nourishment for plant life and anchorage for the plant’s roots, varies considerably in different districts, even within an area of an acre or so. It is composed of disintegrated rocks, stones and water. Bacteria and worms play their part in keeping the soil fertile. There is heavy, stiff soil known as clay, rich fibrous soil -loam – which is most desirable, soil containing much sand and stone which we know as gravel and whitish soil, very sticky when wet, known as chalk.

In some areas, particularly near the coast, the soil may be very sandy. Peat, which consists of partially decomposed vegetable matter, is to be found in low lands and in marshy uplands. This is most useful for mixing with light soils to help retain moisture and is obtainable commercially as granulated garden peat. Its value as a manure is negligible. Where drainage is poor it may be improved by digging in sharp sand, ashes from the household grates which have been allowed to weather in the open for a month or two, dust or other gritty material. To obtain the best results the gardener must improve the tilth of the soil, that is dig the ground thoroughly before planting or sowing.

LIGHT and SANDY

Rub the sample. Roughly speaking, light, sandy soil feels gritty. A ball of it squeezed in the hand will not hold together when released.

CLAY

While a clay soil will feel smooth, and polish when rubbed. If a ball of it is squeezed and released it will hold together even when dropped.

GOOD LOAM

A good soil will contain both sand and clay particles, you can feel some grit in it on rubbing. But when squeezed into a ball it will hold together until dropped and should then break into crumbs. <

SOIL STRUCTURE

Double digging

Digging to twice the depth of the spade blade – first dig one spade blade deep (a) and then break up the ground below with a fork (b). Mark out second trench with line and spade (c).

Does Your SOIL need LIME

LIME is a plant food, but it is also important in the garden because it can be used to counteract excessively acid soil conditions. Soils vary greatly, some are neutral, some acid, and some alkaline to a greater or lesser degree. If the soil is too acid or too alkaline many plants will not flourish, so corrective steps have to be taken. Alkaline soils are made less so by the incorporation of manure, peat, garden compost, well rotted leaves, and by the application of acid fertilizers such as sulphate of ammonia, which can be bought in packs or bags.

Acid soils are improved by liming. Lime also breaks down heavy clay soils into finer particles making them easier to cultivate.

The degree of acidity or alkalinity of a soil is expressed in pH figures I.e., pH 7-2 is neutral, a lower figure denotes acidity, a higher figure means the soil is alkaline. Most plants grown in gardens, like the soil to be between pH 55 and pH 6-5, but many plants, such as rhododendrons and other woodland plants and many heathers, will not grow unless the soil is acid. Other plants revel in alkaline soils.

Before applying lime to the garden it is essential to know whether the soil really needs it, and of course how much to put on. The local county horticultural officer whose address may be obtained from the town hall or district office will often make a lime test free of charge. But for a few shillings a simple lime-testing kit can be bought which will indicate how acid or alkaline a soil is. The instructions show how much lime is needed if the soil is too acid – or how much sulphate of ammonia if it is too alkaline. Suitable forms of liming material, such as finely ground limestone, can be bought in packs or sacks.

The Secrets of Effective Digging

DRIGGING is the most usual form of soil cultivation and consists of turning over the top ‘spit’, that is to the depth of a spade, which is about 11 inches. The soil must be in the right condition, not so wet that it sticks to the spade badly and not frozen clayey soil which will remain as hard lumps when turned in. The first thing to do, to dig a piece of ground properly, is to make a trench about 15 inches wide and the depth of the spade. To make the trench straight use a line – a length of cord or string between two sticks placed in the ground where the trench is to run. Having thrown the soil forward out of this trench, the process is repeated, turning the next six or eight inches of soil into the first trench. If manure, garden compost or leaves are being dug in they should be scattered with a fork along the bottom of the trench before each row of soil is turned 1 in. On heavy soil it is wise to make a cut with the spade at right angles also, which will give a compact spadeful, when the soil is raised and turned over. This may sound like making extra work, but in fact it makes the job easier and more tidy.

Where it is advisable to cultivate the soil to a greater depth, as where drainage is poor, then double-digging is. Carried out. The procedure is the same as just described but the bottom of the trench is broken up with a fork and this soil is not brought to the surface. This method improves the drainage and in practice double digging is carried out by good gardeners every third year. When digging, annual weeds may be turned into the bottom of the trench, but perennial weeds, such as docks, couch grass, bindweed and the like should be picked out and burned.

Plant roots require moisture and air, and when the ground has been properly dug and manured they will then have every opportunity of rooting readily in a fertile soil.

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