Soil – it’s not much to look at but when it comes to growing healthy fruits and vegetables, there’s nothing more important. Soil that’s in top-notch condition is the secret behind successful harvests, and now’s the time to prime your soil for the coming growing season.
Read on our watch our video to find out how to supercharge your soil for spring.
Add Organic Matter
Organic matter is the gardener’s cure-all, no matter what your soil type. It will make heavy clay soils lighter and improve drainage, and it will help retain both moisture and nutrients in sandy soils. Simply put, organic matter of any kind is great news for your soil – and the plants you grow in it!
Organic matter is simply decomposed plant or animal matter – for instance, garden compost, animal manure or leafmould. When added to your soil, organic matter will improve its structure and feed the essential microbial life within it. Compost and animal manure are also naturally packed full of nutrients that will increase the fertility of your soil.
To incorporate organic matter into your soil, first lay it on the soil surface. Be as generous as you can – really pile it on! Spread it out evenly before forking it in to the top six to 12 inches (15-30cm) of your soil. Within a few weeks you’ll notice a boom in your soil’s earthworm population – a surefire sign that all that goodness is getting to work.
Lay Organic Mulch
If your soil currently has crops growing in it, you can spread organic matter as a thick mulch two to three inches (5-7cm) deep in-between plants. The worms will ‘dig in’ the mulch for you, improving the soil for the vegetables to follow.
An organic mulch is the best way to improve fertility and soil structure around perennial plants such as strawberries and fruit trees, bushes and canes, because you don’t want to risk damaging their roots by digging. These robust plants can cope with lumpier or less refined organic matter, including bark chips and shredded prunings. It will also ‘lock in’ moisture, helping you conserve water and making your plants resilient to hot dry weather.
Consider No-Dig Growing
Many gardeners swear by the no-dig method of growing. Leaving the soil undisturbed encourages a thriving soil ecosystem, which can enhance growth. No-dig growing suits narrow beds, such as raised beds, where all the cultivation is completed from the sides. This way there’s never any need to step on the soil and risk compacting it. If you don’t compact the soil, you don’t need to dig it!
If you’d like to try no-dig growing this season, begin by smothering any weeds with a layer of cardboard before spreading a thick layer of organic matter over the top. This should be at least four to six inches (10-15cm) thick. The secret to an established no-dig system is regular additions of organic weed-free mulches, which will be incorporated by the thriving worm population.
Go Easy on the Weeds in Winter
By winter it’s too late to sow a cover crop or green manure. However, many overwintering annual weeds will, just like a cover crop, help to protect the soil from erosion and heavy rain. Weeds such as chickweed and bittercress, plus self-sown salads like winter purslane (claytonia or miner’s lettuce) and corn salad will create a mat of foliage. Leave these in place until the spring, when they should be hoed off before they get a chance to set seed and spread. The foliage can then be dug into the soil or removed to the compost heap.
Plant a Comfrey Patch
Get ready for the growing season by planting a clump of comfrey. Comfrey is a leafy plant with long roots that draw up minerals from deep in the ground. The leaves are full of plant-nourishing nutrients, which can be cut and used for feeding your soil and plants. Look out for the variety ‘Bocking 14’, which won’t spread like other varieties, and plant it into prepared ground, usually on its own or next to your compost heap.
Once established, you can simply lay the cut leaves around hungry plants such as tomatoes as a mulch, or dig leaves into the soil to break down over time. A clump of comfrey is also great for making your own liquid fertiliser, which can be diluted with water and used to feed fruiting crops such as peppers, tomatoes and squashes.
Supercharging your soil for spring is all about incorporating plenty of organic matter so the plants you grow in it have the very best chance of success. If you have a sworn-by method of improving your soil we haven’t mentioned, please don’t keep it to yourself – share it below.