With this dry patch of weather we’ve had it’s been easy to get out and do things in the garden which has been a treat keeping in mind it’s still only February; although a few people I’ve chatted to might be getting a little over enthusiastic about Spring namely the lady who asked if it was ok to sow her tomatoes… yes… but not recommended, you have to keep them going to at least the end of April before they can go outside and by then (if still alive) will be looking pale, leggy and generally unhealthy.
When it comes to growing plants there’s a few basics that keep them happy and like us if not “stressed” they tend to be healthy and more resilient to pests and disease. So they need the right amount of light, water, nutrients and good soil structure.
Now most people automatically remember the first three but often neglect soil structure which has a knock on effect – bad soil structure leads to weak root growth which in turn effects nutrient and water uptake. To get a good soil structure or at least improve it, first off – if the soil is waterlogged or frozen solid don’t do any digging etc., it can lead to compaction and chilling of the soil. Adding regular amounts of organic matter really helps, over time it makes the soil go lovely and crumbly, easier to work and helps to hold on to nutrients and moisture.
There’s several types of organic matter you can add such as well-rotted manure, spent mushroom compost, coir and garden compost. Now you’re missing a bit of a trick if you’re having to buy the organic matter when it’s straight forward to make good old garden compost and at the same time it gets rid of a lot of garden and kitchen waste plus a few other things that people don’t realise can be composted down. The position of a compost bin is quite key to how quickly everything breaks down, if the site is cold and shady it’ll take longer. If space allows have two bins (even three) so you can leave one composting while you start the next and it’s best to place them on soil / gravel rather than on slabs / concrete so liquids naturally drain away.
What goes into a compost bin falls into one of two groups, there’s what are called the “greens” which are things like grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable and fruit peelings, soft pruning’s and then the “browns” such as shredded hedge clippings, hay / straw, card board and shredded paper (a good way of getting rid of old bang statements etc.). Ideally you want a mixture of the two, the browns get air into the compost which helps the greens break down without going slimy. Try not to put thick layers of one type as it leads to uneven composting. And don’t put in cat / dog waste, foods like meat / fish /dairy, diseased plants or perennial weeds. You can however put in bedding from hamsters and guinea-pigs, along with the contents of the hoover. Garden compost is ready to use when it’s dark brown, crumbly and sweet-smelling and now is a great time to spread it as a mulch or lightly forked in and it really does make a huge difference to the soil structure.