Managing Your Soil

Managing Your Soil

Managing Your Soil Knowing all about your soil enables you to manage it properly, to provide ideal conditions for soil life and plant roots. This may mean improving drainage or adjusting the acidity of the soil. You will also need to add organic matter, but what type and how? When do you cultivate and how much? Techniques like mulching and crop rotation are also part of good soil management.


Clay soil

pH

Check; add lime if necessary. The calcium in limestone can also help aggregate clay particles, hence improving the soil structure. (On alkaline soils, it is possible to add gypsum for the same effect.)

Drainage

The drainage of the topsoil is likely to be poor: improve soil structure by adding organic matter. Avoid walking on the soil, particularly when it is wet. Use a bed system. If the subsoil is clay, you may need a drainage system.

Watering

Clay soil retains moisture well; mulch to help prevent drying and cracking in summer.

Cultivation

It is particularly important only to cultivate when the soil is just moist, not too wet or too dry. Fork seedbeds in autumn and leave the frost to break up the clods until the structure improves.

Organic matter

This is needed to make the soil more workable and improve drainage. Use as a mulch orfork into thetop 15cm (6in) of soil. You do not need nutrient-rich organic matter: leafmould is valuable. Do not bury organic matter unless it is very well rotted as there is little air to help decomposition.

Green manures

These are useful to break up the soil.

Nutrients

Clay soils are usually rich in nutrients, but a good structure is necessary to allow roots to exploit them.


Silty soils

pH

Check; add lime if needed.

Drainage

As for clay.

Watering

As for clay.

Cultivation

This is necessary to remove initial compaction, but avoid over-cultivating as it will destroy the weak structure. Use mulches to protect the surface and to prevent a hard “cap” from forming.

Organic matter

This is needed to build up structure and help drainage as for clays, as well as to provide nutrients.

Green manures

Use to protect the surface of the soil and build up structure.

Nutrients

Silty soils are not as fertile as clays. Check for deficiencies and correct if necessary.


Sandy soils

pH

Check every year as lime is easily washed out of a sandy soil. Correct if necessary.

Drainage

Sandy soils are free-draining and the presence of water may mean that a hard pan needs breaking or a drainage system is necessary.

Watering

Add plenty of organic matter to retain moisture and apply a mulch.

Cultivation

Avoid turning over the soil if possible as this speeds up the loss of water and organic matter. Mulch the soil to prevent the surface from drying out because it will not re-wet easily.

Organic matter

This is needed to hold water and provide plant foods and prevent them being washed out. Use some nutrient-rich manures and compost.

Green manures

Use bulky green manures to add organic matter, stop nutrients washing out and prevent erosion.

Nutrients

Sandy soils may lack nutrients, which are easily washed out. Check new soils and add fertilizers if necessary.


TYPES

ADVANTAGES

DISADVANTAGES

Clay Usually contains a rich supply of plant foods because clay particles have the ability to retain nutrient elements until they are released to plant roots. Sticky when wet and hard when dry, so difficult and heavy to cultivate. Slow to drain, so prone to waterlogging and slow to warm up in spring.
Silt Typically alluvial in origin, deep, fertile and with good water-holding capacity. Silt soil packs down easily, so becomes airless. Sticky and cold when wet and dusty when dry.
Sand Does not retain moisture. Can be naturally deficient in nutrients as many are easily washed out. Does not retain moisture. Can be naturally deficient in nutrients as many are easily washed out.

28. January 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Organic Gardening, Soil Cultivation | Tags: | Comments Off on Managing Your Soil

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