Monday, 19 March 2007


Photo: Companion planting saves on the use of chemicals in the garden.

(Click on the title for a link to the Organic Centre in Rossinver.)

I carpeted my new shed this week, much to amusement of the family. I think the bright purple colour really brightens up the floor. I was going to put down lino but I felt that the wood underneath wouldn’t be able to breath and would go rotten. Now though the carpet is probably going to get wet and rot both the carpet and the wooden floor. Maybe I should have just left it bare……. Anyway if anyone comes to visit my new workspace they have to wipe their feet before they can come in. If only the roof was higher I could put in a nice chandelier…


I was having one of those philosophical conversations with a child about gardening recently. I was asked a question that was so basic but stopped me in my tracks. I was asked what soil was. It made me realise just how complicated an answer could be to such a simple question. I did my best, so if any young member of your family asks the question, here is what I believe soil is. It might give them something to think about for a while!

What is soil?

Soil holds plants in place. It holds nutrition to feed the plant roots. In turn the plants also hold the soil in place, making a happy balance. Soil consists of a mixture of ingredients, which include: sand, silt, grit and bulky materials made up of rotted leaves, plants and animals. Good soil is a living balanced mixture of all of these ingredients. Look out for worms in the soil; this will indicate that the soil is healthy.

Good soil is all important in a garden, especially if you want to grow healthy plants and vegetables. When you look at an established border, all you see is topsoil. Topsoil is the part of the ground that holds the most nutrition for the plants. Dig down 30cm to 60cm (1ft to 2ft) in an established garden and things change. You’ll see a clear boundary between the topsoil and subsoil. Subsoil is denser, clay like substance that plants won’t grow in. In some new gardens, especially on estates built on heavy soils, that clay subsoil (from foundations) etc, has been spread over the natural topsoil and then covered with a few inches of indifferent topsoil. This can cause the soil to be too wet and lacking nutrition for the plants and grass. Whether the soil in your garden is new or old it will benefit from the addition of compost, both for food for the plants and to help drain water. Bulky organic matter from the compost bin could be dug or worked lightly into the soil. You could also get well-rotted manure from the horse stables or mushroom farm. Some traditional gardeners like to dig the compost well into the ground with something called the double digging method. This requires a big fork and a lot of backbreaking work. I like to take the more relaxed method of putting the material onto the surface of the soil, forking in lightly and letting the worms do the hard work of pulling the goodness into the ground. This is what is called mulching. You decide which seems the best for yourself. All of these materials will help loosen the soil to make planting easier.


Nettles are a very good indicator of healthy soil. The plant makes a very nutritious plant food and is full of vitamins. The plant can be a real pest in a formal garden, as it knows no boundaries. Not everyone thinks that the plant is a nuisance though. Blythe Valley UK residents who are members of the Cone group which work in harmony with wildlife are holding their seventh National Be Nice to Nettles Week this year. This hardy bunch of horticulturalists is inviting everyone to have a patch of nettles in their garden to attract wildlife. You might not agree with their ideas too much but in honour of such a hardy band of diehards. The plant has loads of positive factors though. It attracts loads of insects and makes a wonderful spring soup.


The Organic Centre in Rossinver has released their new seed catalogue. You can pick up a free copy in the libraries. Failing that phone 071 9854338 or e-mail for a copy. This edition is mainly vegetables but it does have a page on flowers that would be good for companion planting.


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