Soil is the foundation of any vegetable garden, if it is treated well it will reward you. Year by year soil needs to conditioned and improved to accommodate the demands of cultivation and the weather. Here are some supplements that will boost the health of your garden.
Manure. Farmyard manure from cattle, chickens, sheep or horses, with a high nutrient and trace element content, is ideal for improving and conditioning the soil. It will help the structure of the soil, boost the nutrient content and then continue to release nutrients slowly into the bed over the growing season. Only well rotted manure, that has been left to break down for six months to reduce the excessively high nitrogen content, should be used directly on the soil.
Garden Compost. A readily available resource that requires little effort to produce. Kitchen and garden waste are allowed to decompose naturally with the aid of micro-organisms to form a light, friable material to nourish the soil. Ideally, a well balanced compost with a mixture of carbon and nitrogen based materials will contain all the essential nutrients for replenishing a vegetable bed.
Seaweed. Seaweed has traditionally been used as a soil improver in coastal regions because of its high nutrient content and easy availability. It contains significant quantities of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium; all the essentials for healthy plant growth. The fresh seaweed can be added like manure or placed on the bed as mulch. It is also available as an extract in liquid or powdered form.
Leaf Mould. Made from fallen leaves, this organic matter is a useful component for conditioning soil. Leaves are collected in autumn, formed into a sheltered heap in the garden, or stored in sealed plastic bags and left to rot for up to two years. The crumbly mixture is relatively low in nutrients but can be mixed with compost for seed-sowing. The best leaf varieties to use are oak, beech, alder and hornbeam.
Mushroom Compost. Due to its high content of organic matter, the left over material from mushroom farming is used as a mulch and to maintain soil composition. It has an alkaline pH, unsuitable for acid loving plants but ideal for brassicas.
Blood, Fish and Bone. This organic, general purpose slow-release fertilizer is a healthy addition to your garden, promoting strong plant growth. The plant will take up the nourishment as and when it is required, preventing overfeeding or leaf ‘burn’.
Bark. Normally a waste product from the timber industry, wood bark is ideal for mulch or for clay soils needing improved aeration and drainage. It has little nutrients but a high carbon content that may be beneficial in balancing excess nitrogen in the soil.
Grit or Sand. Heavy, clay soils will often need ample addition of aggregates to improve drainage and release their naturally high nutrient content. Be careful when adding sand to a clay soil however, less than 50% sand will actually make matters worse!
Ericaceous Compost. This soil conditioner is lime-free making it suitably acidic for blueberries, azaleas, camelias and rhododendrons.
Green Manure. These plants are generally sown in the bed after the main crop has been harvested with their roots maintaining soil structure and foliage acting as a weed barrier. The plant is dug into the bed while still green, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. Mustard, alfalfa and some clover varieties are commonly used this way.