How to Build and Improve Your Soil
Featured article by Tanya Visser in association with ECOBUZ.
The science of soil
By understanding how soil works, we can see the benefits of understanding that soil is an ecosystem that needs as much attention as the plants planted in it.
What healthy soil does:
Think of soil as the ocean. You can’t see much on the surface, but once you go below, as you would in an aquarium, you see all sorts of life teaming beneath the waves. A healthy soil is alive with billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes as well as macrobial organisms like earthworms and insects. All play an important role in enriching and aerating the soil, processing organic matter and feeding the plants.
- Anchors plants and promotes strong root growth;
- Holds water and makes it accessible to plant roots;
- Holds air so that roots and soil microbes can breathe;
- Holds nutrients and makes these available to the roots.
Tests to find out your soil type Before planting up a new bed, garden or veggie patch, make time to get to ‘know’ your soil. There are many different soil types, and there may be great variation between different areas of your garden. Soil is broadly classified into loam, clay and sandy soils. There are two simple tests that can be done to help you determine what is what:
1. The sausage test
Wet an area of soil, then collect a handful and roll it into a sausage shape and gently bend.
- If it is very crumbly and breaks before bending it means your soil is sandy.
- If it holds its shape and then breaks slightly when bending then it’s loamy soil (ideal).
- If it bends and holds its shape (without breaking), it means your soil is clay.
2. The ball test
Wet an area of soil, collect a handful and roll it into a ball.
- If the soil particles won’t bind together, the soil is sandy.
- If the soil moulds to a loose ball but breaks easily then its loamy soil (ideal).
- If the soil retains its shape after moulding, it’s a clay soil.
Working with your soil type
Once you have established what soil type you have, you will be able to implement a suitable plan of action for its improvement or sustainable management. Even loamy soil needs continuous enhancement and nutrition to support optimal root and plant growth. The EcoBuz range offers a holistic, balanced approach to soil health.
This soil consists of a combination of clay and sand particles that results in:
- A workable soil with good colour that holds its shape.
- A balance of large and small soil particles, with mixed pore spaces.
- Good water-holding capacity.
- Medium porosity – allowing water and nutrients to be absorbed while the excess can drain away.
- Good aeration – allowing oxygen to penetrate into the soil to sustain life.
- A soil that can hold onto nutrients for use by plants and keep the soil pH balanced.
Sandy soil has the following characteristics:
- Coarse and gritty to touch.
- Has large particle sizes with large pore spaces.
- Has a low water-holding capacity.
- Drains easily.
- Poor in nutrients.
Start building the soil to negate the problematic characteristics as discussed above. By adding compost, you promote soil aggregation and improve water-holding capacity, while also adding nutrients. Other good practices like mulching, planting cover crops that can be used as green manures, and adding plenty of organic material into the soil will eventually turn the soil around and give you and your plants the benefits of a healthier soil.
Clay soils are not ideal for gardening, as the small clay particles prevent the free flow of water, oxygen and nutrients. These soils are prone to water-logging and crusting, and are easily compacted.
Clay soil has the following characteristics:
- Soft and powdery to touch.
- Very fine particle size with minimal pore spaces.
- High water-holding capacity.
- Poor drainage.
- Poor aeration.
- Nutrient content is usually pretty high, but unavailable for uptake.
Start building the soil as with sandy soil. Adding compost to clay soil makes it easier to work, and over time compost improves soil aggregation, aeration and enhances nutrient uptake. Compost builds and contributes to soil structure. A healthy soil is the key to a healthy garden. The journey to garden wellness starts with healthy soil and HumiGro, a carbon-based soil conditioner with a complex list of nutritional elements that form the basis of soil fertility. Think of it as a highly concentrated form of compost. Adding HumiGro:
- Feeds beneficial microorganisms;
- Promotes soil structure;
- Buffers against any harmful substances;
- Releases nutrients for plant growth.
(Images taken from the Tanya Visser blog)