World Soil Day, when we focus on the importance of healthy soil, so our sort of day! We asked Becky Searle, expert kitchen gardener and ecologist, to explain why our soil is so vital and how you can take care of it....
'As gardeners we are constantly being told to look after our soil, feed our soil and care for it like it’s a living organism. But very few of us actually understand what this means.
Then there are those who treat their soil like dirt; as though it is simply a convenient place to put our plants. Sometimes a bit too clayey for our liking, or perhaps too sandy, but rarely considered for what it really is.
The truth is that the soil is a diverse and teeming ecosystem. It’s absolutely full of tiny microscopic lives. In fact, there are more lives in one handful of healthy garden soil than people who have ever lived on the planet.
Healthy ecosystems exist in a form of balance known as dynamic equilibrium. Ecosystems are subject to many factors that could destabilise them such as weather events, change in temperature and new species arriving. But a healthy ecosystem is resilient and will possess all the tools needed to cope with this change, and stabilise itself once more.
All the organisms in an ecosystem interact with one another, fighting pests, feeding one another and maintaining their environment together. As they move about and feed they decompose organic matter, release nutrients from the bedrock and the sediments and aerate the soil. This means that if we have a healthy soil ecosystem we have soil that is rich in nutrients that doesn’t get flooded or dried out. This makes it the perfect environment for our plants’ roots that need to take in oxygen to respire just as much as they need to take in water. But also it is instantly hostile for those disease causing microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions.
In a garden ecosystem we tend to remove organic matter from the system either by clearing fallen leaves, pulling plants that have gone over or by harvesting from our vegetable gardens. Either way, we interrupt the cycle of returning carbon to the ground and feeding the organisms in the soil. It is therefore vital if we want to care for our soils and reap the benefits of having healthy soil that we add organic matter to our soils.
Compost is the perfect solution. Whilst it may look fully decomposed to us, it is in fact just at the beginning of the decomposition process with much farther to go. It therefore makes a perfect feast for our soil life. This and it doesn’t create any nice hiding places for things like slugs!
The life within the soil is programmed to come to the surface to feed, as this is where dead organic matter would fall in nature. Therefore it stands to reason that mulching, rather than digging in is the best way to feed the life in the soil.
It is important when choosing a compost mulch that we make sure it is not contaminated with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Sadly there have been many issues in recent years with compost contaminated by the aminopyralid herbicides and reducing a thriving garden to toxic wastelands.
Mulching with a good quality, peat-free compost such as Dalefoot provides a nutritious meal throughout the year for that all important soil life. And its status as certified organic reassures us growers that there are no nasty chemicals that will harm our plants and ecosystems.'
To find out more about Becky, check out her website https://sowmuchmore.co.uk, Youtube Sow Much More, Instagram @sow_much_more and Facebook Sow Much More