healthy soil is the first essential step to growing healthy
Healthy soils are full of organic matter and humus, teeming
with beneficial microbial activity, earthworms and an
abundance of natures wonderful little helpers. Plants
growing in rich, healthy soil are vibrant, full of vitality
and health, having few or rare problems with pest attack,
diseases or nutrient deficiencies. On the other hand,
plants grown in soils with little organic matter and poor
microbial activity are much more likely to suffer those
problems. Such plants are not as healthy and generally
have less brilliant blooms; in the case of fruit and vegetables,
quality and quantity is poorer.
So the key to growing healthy plants is first to build
up a healthy garden soil!
SO, HOW DO WE BUILD A HEALTHY GARDEN SOIL?
Very simply, with compost (a good, mature compost), animal
manures, organic fertilisers and more compost. Then mulch
the garden well and continue to do so. Nature does this.
Take a look at some soil in a forest or bushland and observe
that the soft, crumbly topsoil is full of organic matter.
All the leaves and plant material fall onto the soil,
forming a layer of natural mulch. This natural mulch is
constantly breaking down into rich humus as more and more
organic matter falls on top, constantly replenishing the
soil and forming part of a natural cycle.
WHAT IS HUMUS AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Humus is the end product of broken down (decayed) organic
matter. Humus is an essential component of healthy soils
that has many great benefits. Below is detailed just some
of the great benefits of humus and why it is so important
to be constantly building humus levels in our garden soils.
Humus dramatically improves soil structure
Humus has exceptionally high water-holding capacity
Humus supplies a very rich source of plant nutrients
Humus has an incredibly high nutrient storage capacity
Humus has excellent insulating properties against
both heat and cold
Humus helps to buffer soil pH to an optimum range
Humus allows more oxygen to enter the soil, increasing
Humus increases water penetration into the soil
Humus increases plant root ability to grow deep
into the soil, developing a stronger and more rigid root
and plant structure
Overall, the development of humus in the soil will greatly
increase gardening success, reduce watering needs to a
minimum, grow much more healthy, vibrant and lush plants
that are less stressed than plants grown in soils lacking
organic matter and humus.
SO HOW DO WE BUILD UP HUMUS IN THE SOIL?
All we need to do is add plenty of compost, animal manures,
organic fertilisers and mulch. Then let Nature do the
work of building humus from these. Good matured compost
will already contain humus.
Every few months or after a crop of plants has finished,
add some more compost and mulch again. Mulches that break
down are excellent. As they break down, they are also
feeding the soil. By constantly adding a little at a time,
you are helping to create a natural cycle within the garden.
Your garden will use much less water and the soil will
hold more moisture. The end result will be improved plant
growth and health, with all the organic matter and humus
in the soil.
HUMUS AND SOIL pH
The major importance of soil pH* is in relation to nutrient
availability. The optimum range of soil pH is generally
accepted to be between 6 - 7 for most plants. As pH increases
above 7.5 or below 5.5, certain nutrients begin to lock
up in the soil, becoming less available to the plant.
Sometimes there is a lot of concern over soil pH, but
it is an easy problem to overcome.
As we add compost and organic matter to the soil, this
builds up humus. Humus has the amazing ability of storing
nutrients readily available to the plant, as the plant
needs them. Interestingly enough, as the soil builds more
and more humus, the pH tends to naturally balance itself.
This is a natural phenomonen. Even if organic matter has
a high or low pH to start with, once it has been in the
soil for a some time, it usually tends to balance itself.
Keep on adding compost, organic fertilisers, animal manures
and mulch and let Nature do her wonders.
the pH of your soil is causing immediate problems, there
are numerous products available which will help to correct
the problem. Normally, if the pH is acidic, Dolomite or
Lime is added to raise the pH. On the other hand, if the
soil pH is alkaline (above 7), then applications of sulphur
powder will quickly lower the pH. Full details of quantities
to use and how to apply are detailed on the bags and packaging.
If you have a specific problem with a plant or plants,
ask your local garden centre or nursery for the best advice
suited to your area and specific problem.
PLANTS STRESS FREE
Healthy plants very rarely have problems from pests and
diseases. When plants are stressed in some way, such as
lack of water or nutrients, they become much more susceptible
to pests and diseases. But healthy, well-mulched soils
with plenty of humus hold much more water, supply an abundance
of nutrients as the plant requires them, allow plenty
of oxygen to circulate around plant roots and contain
healthy populations of beneficial micro-organisms and
The end result - healthier plants, healthy growth, more
flowers, better fruit and vegies and - very importantly
- fewer pests and diseases.
Worldwide scientific research has shown time after time
that compost can be very effective at preventing and suppressing
plant diseases. Good, mature composts have been shown
to contain qualities which help to suppress plant diseases
in the soil, thus protecting them. Research trials indicate
that plants growing in soils which have added compost
suffered up to 60 - 70% less disease than the same plants
grown in soils with no added compost.
SO WHAT IS THE BEST METHOD OF APPLYING COMPOST
TO THE SOIL?
Well, we have found the best results from digging
Searles® Real Compost and 5 IN 1® Organic Plant Food into the top
5- 10 cm of soil or garden bed before planting. Not only
does the compost provide an abundance of nutrients essential
for healthy plant growth but it also greatly improves
the structure of the soil with the ability to absorb water
easily, hold more moisture for longer periods of time
and allow essential aeration for good root growth and
development. All this plus the addition of essential organic
matter and humus to the soil already mentioned.
If you are starting a new garden, add plenty of Searles®
Real Compost or 5 IN 1®, about a 5 - 10 cm, thick
layer over the soil and work down about 10cm with a fork
or hoe. Remember not to work the soil too much if it is
very wet; not only is this hard work, but it also may
damage the soil structure. Also, if the soil is very dry,
moisten it a little first. Moist soil is just right.
If you are growing annuals or vegies, add some Searles®
Real Compost or 5 IN 1® after each crop. There
is no set amount to add; the more you add, the better
the end result will be. After each application, or season,
you may notice that the soil is constantly improving and
becoming easier to work. Weeds will be much easier to
pull out as compost-rich soil tends not to set hard. Also
plant growth and plant health will constantly improve
after each crop and you will need to add less compost
each time for the same or better results. This is the
beauty of compost. Compost is an excellent soil conditioner
as well as fertiliser.
HOW DO I ADD SEARLES COMPOST OR SEARLES 5 IN 1
TO ESTABLISHED AND PERMANENT GARDENS?
With established gardens, it is very difficult to dig
compost into the soil close to plants without the risk
of damaging their roots, but this is easy to overcome.
We have found great success in topdressing compost on
to the garden bed using a no-dig method.
Moisten the garden bed first if it is very dry. Then spread
Searles® Real Compost or 5 IN 1® over the surface
approximately 1 - 2 inches deep. Then cover the entire
garden with a good, thick mulch using a material that
will allow water to penetrate and which will eventually
decompose itself, thus also adding organic matter to the
Premium Garden Mulch is a terrific mulch
for this purpose. Sometimes, the soil may be very compacted
and hard, and is not easy to wet. In this case, it would
be beneficial to gently fork into the soil, not turning
it but just gently loosening a little by rocking the fork
back and forth. This avoids possible plant root damage
from too vigorous digging. It also helps crack the soil
open, allowing both water and air to penetrate. Then apply
the compost and mulch as mentioned above. You may be able
to chip the compost into the top few centimetres of soil
away from plants, being careful not to damage any roots.
let Nature do the work. Earthworms are usually prevalent
in most soils, even though they may not be seen. They
have an amazing habit of just turning up when the conditions
are right. And moist soil with plenty of compost and
mulch provides excellent conditions for earthworms.
These are wonderful helpers who do most of the work
for us. They consume the organic matter and compost,
carrying it down deeper in to the soil and depositing
it as excreta in the form of worm castings (vermicast).
Thus they enrich, condition and renew the soil, and
create minute tunnels for air and water to penetrate
deep down to plant roots.
By adding compost to our garden beds we are actually
feeding the soil and allowing Nature to do the work.
Through feeding, the soil becomes rich and healthy.
Healthy soils grow nutritous and healthy plants full
of vitamins and minerals. Try not to think so much of
feeding the plant but instead think more in terms of
feeding the soil and letting the soil feed the plants.
* The acidity or alkalinity of soil is measured
on a pH scale of 1 - 14, with acid soils
at the lower end of the scale (less than 7) and alkaline
soils at the higher end (greater than 7). A soil pH
of 7 is considered neautral, neither acidic or alkaline.
Happy Gardening with Searles from the Searle family.
© Copyright 2002 JC &
AT Searle Pty Ltd
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