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Amending the soil in your raised beds

It’s no secret to you guys that I get a bit down in winter when the garden is at it’s least productive and coincidentally least green. But sometimes you need to take the hit, because then you have the chance to make sure the garden has everything it needs, to be productive again. So that’s the outlook I’m taking this week. We’ve just harvested the very last of the beetroot, which Kate has turned into a big pot of her lovely beetroot soup and that means the bed is empty and I can start amending and refreshing the soil so that next year, this bed is just as productive.

Now as I typed that last sentence and went off looking for the picture Kate took of me with my basket of harvested goodies, I knew a storm was brewing. Believe it or not, right at this minute while you are reading this post, someone else is reading it who thinks, very strongly, that how you look after your soil is wrong. And… someone else thinks that how they look after theirs is equally wrong. No joke. This is proper passionate stuff in the gardening community.

So in proper Eli and Kate fashion, I’m about to really muddy the waters here and annoy all camps, cause I do it wrong – ha ha ha

OK, so I am a raised bed and container gardener, which means in generally I follow (don’t really follow it’s more out of space) a no-dig approach to my beds and soil. Meaning I am not out there with a spade all the time digging or tilling the ground to break it up and aerate it. However, I actually did this week and I’m admitting to it here on tinternet – trouble maker.

So if you aren’t familiar with the no-dig method, it is essentially that. Instead of digging compost and fertiliser etc into your soil, you just add it to the top, in a layer. The theory is that all the little animals in the soil will do the job or breaking things up and mixing the layers. Now don’t get me wrong, in general, I think this is a good approach for the type of gardening I do, but what I am doing this week is a bit more heavy-duty and I’m using the unfiltered compost straight from my bin, which is a bit rough and ready. So I’m digging it into the bed. It’s purely aesthetic.

So if you haven’t done this type of thing before, you might be wondering why I’m doing this. Well quite simply, think of it like this. When you grow stuff in your raised beds or pots or beds in the ground, basically in any soil. That plant you are growing uses up nutrients from the soil. So if you keep growing in that bed, eventually it will become really depleted and stuff won’t grow as well. So to prevent this and make sure we always get great harvests and healthy plants, we try to replace all the nutrients, minerals and organic matter that might get used up. So here is the thing, the reason I add compost to the soil is because it enriches it. Soil and compost are not the same thing. Soil has a mixture of things, including rotted organic matter (compost), inorganic particles, like rock, minerals, salts, nutrients and lots and lots of tiny life forms. All of this is essential for your plants. We can add compost to this and incorporate it into the soil to help make the soil richer, more free draining, change its texture and compost adds back a little of the nutrition that is lost when we grow plants.

It also helps to bind particles together than helps to hold moisture and makes it easier for the plants to take up nutrients from the soil. Now, this next statement will put the cat amongst the pigeons (or the cabbage whites amongst the brassicas). You want to add both compost and fertiliser to your soil. There I said it and now I wait on my email inbox filling with comments from the angries telling me that they have never added fertiliser because the compost gives their plants everything they need. In fact, none of their plants have died.

Yeah yeah…. no seriously, this is all in jest, but honestly, you want to add both. Compost does have some nutritional benefit and it is essential to your soil health and so your plant health, but the range of nutrition etc your plants need is wide and compost doesn’t off all of it. So think of it this way, your garden might tumble along fine with just compost, but imagine how much better it could be.

At this time of year, I just add a little basic fertiliser, usually, I use fish, blood and bone. But I also use fertiliser throughout the year if necessary depending on what I’m growing. For instance, if I’m growing tomatoes of soft fruit, I will use a feed that is higher in potassium which is good for flower and fruit growth. For root veg like beetroot I tend to go with something more balanced, but leafy greens like kale or chard I will use something with a higher nitrogen count as that helps encourage leafy growth. So as you can see, I pay a little bit of attention to the fertility of the soil depending on what I am growing. Basically, your plants will tell you what they need.

OK so the hard work is done and the cold is setting in, it’s time for a cuppa in the warmth of the indoors, so I’m off… there might be a biscuit to replace my nutrients too 🙂

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