At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up. Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so! My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL. They are definitely not all the same!
For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean? That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!
What we plant in, is SOIL! But, there really are different types of soil. As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.
We could start by calling it a “planting medium”. The reason for that is that there are so many soil types. Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service. After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic. No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts. I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.
We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use. Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all. All the garden beds have ample soil right now. Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment). If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category. So, here goes!
TOP SOIL is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment! Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found. The top soil on a mountain top will be very different from that on a river flood plain. So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden. But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil. It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost. It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less. Here is a link about soil basics that you might find interesting.
MULCH is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants. It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes. Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below. This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall. Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product. And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil. It will break down and become compost in the soil. It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber. We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)
COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”! It is naturally broken down organic materials. These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down. A process that takes about a year. Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST. For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost. We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil. It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!
Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost. I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide. The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots. When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.
So there you have it. I hope that helps. I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.