Under the Soil – The World Beneath Our World
By Suzi Franks
I think it is useful if you know a little bit about what goes on under your soil, after all, the main stay of organic gardening is feeding the soil to nourish, the plants and vegetables you intend to grow.
And, if you are not aware of the micro-life that has to exist in the dark depths of your soil to achieve this, then to put it bluntly, it would be like when you were a kid, and your parents used to say ‘If Dylan jumped off a cliff, would you follow?’
Referring to doing something, just because you thought it was the right thing to do, or doing it, because you were told to, without any thought to why you were doing it.
Understanding how things work in the garden world, is half the battle, if you know why something is happening then you can take steps to improve, add something or take something away, to correct a problem or just make things better in the first place.
I am also a great believer in, if I am going to do something, I may as well do it right the first time, because in the end, if you cut corners, nine times out of ten, you have to go back to the beginning and do it the right way after all!!
So What DOES Happen Under the Soil?
We all know about the earthworms that live in the soil and if we have lots of these then the soil is deemed healthy. But, it is not as simple as that, there are lots of pieces to the puzzle, that have to be put into place before your soil is really healthy. And in organic soil, it is the presence of microflora that makes it different to non-organic soils.
Microscopic organisms, which are single celled bacteria, and slightly larger fungi and algae all go into making up microflora. To encourage the small organisms that make microflora you will need to use good quality compost and manures, the more the better and top it off with a good layer of mulch to retain moisture in the soil.
Have you thought how a plant roots actually grow? Did you know that weeds have such long, deep roots that they are actually ‘good’ for your soil?
As these long roots are able to bring up all the nutrients that lie deep down in the soil making the available to other plants and vegetables. So, have a look next time you are pulling out a few weeds, see how their roots are formed, were they difficult to pull out, if they were, your will find a good strong root system is to blame.
Until I had thought about this, I would diligently pull up every ‘weed’ in sight, I believed that because others thought weeds were ‘bad’ for the growing area, I had to get rid of them. Now, I understand their ‘job’ in the scheme of things, I keep the weeds and as long as they don’t take over and strangle things I would like to grow, I leave them be. If I have to remove them, I leave them on top of the soil beds for a couple of days, they can return the nutrients back to the soil before I compost them.
But as usual I digress, where were we? Oh,yes roots…
We do tend to take a plants root system for granted, we care about the plant above ground, but for some reason when our crops fail we hardly ever think of it being because the root system failed. A plants root system is the engine room for the plant, it is where all the nutrients and moisture comes in from the surrounding soil. And it is the tiny almost invisible hairs at the very tips of the roots that do all the hard work. The very ends of the roots are the fingers, if you like, that stretch out to seek out moisture and food from the surrounding soil. Leaving the anchoring of the plant into the ground to the larger aspects of the root system.
Just as our bodies need nutrients, so do our flowers, plants, trees, vegetables, weeds and soil for anything to survive. The lack of nutrients in your soil can happen for several reasons, the obvious one is that you have used chemicals in the past, and will need to repair the damage they have caused.
But, have you considered your neighbour/s using chemicals, which can equally affect your land, just being in the near vicinity. Just because you don’t use chemicals doesn’t mean your land is safe. Think about the water channels under the soil, culverts, streams, and the water table itself. If chemicals are regularly getting into these systems, and they run across your land, then you are fighting a losing battle. Because what ever you do is going to be counteracted by what your neighbour/s do with their chemicals. If you are on good terms with them, perhaps you could ask them to dam and cover any culverts before they spray and avoid getting too close to them while they spray. A meter or more away should reduce the effect. And of course there is nutrient deficiency in the surrounding soil when you have just harvested a crop, you will have to replace this with organic fertilisers and organic matter in preparation for the next crop.
Of course crop rotation helps protect the soil from an over leeching of certain nutrients, as certain crops have different nutrient requirement s than others. Crop rotation also helps reduce the instance of pests and diseases, because the soil has all the nutrients the plants need building a good foundation for a balances life cycle.
So, I hope you can see, there is definitely more to under the soil than we first realized, and how this understanding can help you create your own well balanced garden of Eden.