When moving house or taking on a new plot, often the soil is in poor condition – depleted nutrients and lack of humus creating a poor growing environment. What to do to improve things and reinvigorate the soil.
The first thing to do in a new garden is check how it copes in heavy rain. If there are lingering puddles it indicates either poor drainage, compacted soil or a hardpan under the surface.
Poor drainage can be difficult and may need some thought as to the general design of the garden or the construction of a soakaway to drain the excess water away. Compacted soil isn’t a major problem, digging or rotavating will open it up or even just forking to open it up in a similar way to spiking a lawn. Hardpans under the surface can be sorted the same way but being deeper means they’re harder work to break up.
The next task is to check the acidity level with a pH test kit. They’re cheaply available from garden centres, DIY stores etc. There’s a couple of articles on lime on the site. Some plants prefer a quite acid soil but most vegetables and grass do best on soils near neutral as this makes the nutrients more available. Lime also helps to break up a heavy clay soil – as does gypsum
Manure and Compost
The best additives to bring a soil back to life and get it in good heart are compost and aged manure. Both of these will add the major nutrients to the soil but more importantly they will add humus and micro-nutrients. Far better than throwing handfuls of fertiliser about!
One clear indicator of exhausted soil is a lack of worms, within months of adding compost or manure you’ll notice a big improvement in worm numbers. They’ll be busily improving the soil sustainably for you and the more the merrier.
Adding aged manure or compost will not harm any plants although meadow wild flowers do prefer a poor soil, the condition they’ve evolved to grow in. Adding fresh manure however can cause problems as it’s too strong. If you have a choice, always get the oldest manure you can. Otherwise, put it in a pile and let nature do it’s work for a few months.
How much manure / compost to add?
There’s an easy answer to this, as much as you can. If supplies are limited, and they usually are, do a section of the plot each year. Aim for a minimum of a layer a couple of inches (50mm) thick at least, preferably double that initially.
How to add the manure?
Much depends on the existing state of the soil. With a light, fairly friable soil just laying the manure on the surface may be enough. The worms will mix it into the soil below given time. Personally, I’d fork it into the top six inches though even with a light soil.
With a compacted heavy soil, usually clay, I’m afraid it’s some hard work ahead. An initial double dig, adding the available manure into the trenches as you go will be the best method to quickly produce a good, deep growing medium
A Warning about Manure
Sometimes farmers use a selective herbicide on their pasture which has a nasty ability to linger in the dung and poison your plot. I’ve written about this many times over the years since the problem reared its ugly head. Please check out these articles before obtaining your manure. Aminopyralid.
There’s a number of articles on the site about fertilisers, manures, green manures, compost and composting. See Composts & Fertilisers