“Soil – whatever you do, don’t call it dirt!”
To a chemical free gardener, soil is incredibly precious.
“Feed the soil, not the plant” is a common mantra amongst those who grow food without chemical inputs. It means that first we must look after our soil and then the soil will support the plants that we want to grow.
Rich, healthy soil allows us to grow strong healthy plants which will become delicious and nutritious food.
But what is soil, and what do we mean when we talk about ‘Soil Health’?
Soil might seem obvious, we see it everywhere and it is easy to take for granted.
Sometimes soil is described as loam, sandy or heavy clay.
We might also talk about nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
These are all ways to describe the mineral composition of the soil and indicate how it might feel or behave. At the Heart of BS13 garden we have heavy clay soil which is rich in nutrients, and is common across the Dundry slopes.
However, soil is much more complicated than just the constituent minerals.
A lump of clay is not soil, and nor is a handful of sand.
Soil is actually a complex living ecosystem. Healthy soil is alive.
In fact, it is often said that a single teaspoon of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on earth!
What makes soil so special is the web of organisms that live in the ground, they are the unsung heroes that support all the life in the garden.
There are many types of organism that live in soil, most of which can’t be seen with the naked eye. From singled celled bacteria and archaea and micro-organisms like fungi, to the bigger creatures such as worms, arthropods and more, they all have their role in the soil ecosystem.
Believe it or not, even burrowing slugs are good for the garden because they break down decaying organic matter and help cycle the nutrients back into the soil.
Only when the natural balance is disrupted do slugs get out of hand, and this is also true for many other pests and plant diseases.
Maintaining the balance and diversity of life is key to chemical-free gardening.
When synthetic fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides are applied, much of the life in the soil is damaged or killed and the natural cycles are disrupted.
At the Heart of BS13 garden we do not use any synthetic fertilisers or apply any non-organic pesticides and herbicides. We work with natural cycles to develop a healthy environment with a diversity of life from the soil up. Our ‘no-dig’ beds mean that we disturb the soil as little as possible, which allows the network of life to develop below. Our homemade compost is rich with good bacteria, fungi and worms and when we apply it to our beds as a mulch it protects the bare soil whilst feeding the life within.
Because the interactions in the soil are so complex and hard to measure, scientists are discovering new and fascinating things all the time.
The more we learn, the more we understand how important it is to nurture and care for.
Not only is it amazing but it is incredibly precious too, as it can take over 100 years for just 1 inch of topsoil to form.
Hopefully we have convinced you that soil is interesting, precious and full of life. So whatever you do, don’t call it dirt!