Your Soil

It is important when beginning gardening to understand the different properties which together make up garden soil. Basically it is a mixture of clay, sand, chalk and decayed plant and animal remains which is called “HUMUS”. The relative quantities of these are rarely found in the right proportions to make perfect growing conditions. There are of course many ways in which one can adjust the proportions and these will be described under each heading for various types of soil.


This type of soil is easily recognised and is usually wet in winter and heavy to deal with. In summer it becomes hard and in prolonged dry spells often cracks across the surface. The best way to deal with this problem is to well dig the ground over in the autumn. Ridging is the best type of digging to use as this tends to expose as much of the clay as possible to the weather. The heavy winter frosts do much to break down this heavy soil. Along with this treatment give a good dressing of garden lime, approximately ¾ lb. Per square yard. This can be sprinkled evenly on the top after digging as the first shower of rain will begin to disperse it below the ground. Liming the soil should not however be carried out following the addition of manure or compost until several months have passed, and following liming, do not add the manure for a good four weeks. This will help to retain the maximum amount of plant food in the soil.

In some cases the clay soil will be found below the surface but covered with a good layer of top-soil, causing bad soil drainage. Care should be taken not to bury this valuable top-soil under the clay, and it would be wisest in this case to “double-dig” the ground. A small plot at a time should be dug out to the depth of the spade’s blade. This will be about 9” to 11” and is called a “spit”. The soil should be removed from the plot and placed in a heap nearby while the soil below ground is broken up with a fork, at the same time forking in some manure or well rotted compost, and some bone meal. When this has been done the heap of top-soil can be replaced.


If the soil has a very high sand content it will be necessary to enrich it with as much moisture retaining humus as possible. Due to the rapid drainage on sandy soil the food content also diminishes quickly and leaves the soil weak and undernourished. It would be a good plan to get a compost heap going as quickly as possible, which, when well rotted, can be used for lightly digging into the top-soil.


Almost the same problems of fast drainage are encountered with soils high in chalk content as are found with very sandy soil. The same methods of moisture retaining should be employed and if possible a quantity of peat lightly forked in.

Single and double digging Having removed a trench 10 inches wide and 10 inches deep, continue down the plot turning over each successive trench into the last. Fill last trench with soil from first.

Remove 2 ft. wide trench, fork over next 10 inches below adding compost, then turn over the next 2 ft. wide trench to fill up first. Fill last trench with soil from first.


Remove a trench 2 ft. wide and ten inches deep. Mark out the next 2 ft. wide trench and turn this over in three spades full so that the third is piled on to the previous two and above ground level. Add compost to open trench. This method allows the weather a chance to break up heavy soil.

Building a compost heap

A compost heap as can be seen from the notes on soil correction is a most useful addition to a garden, supplying a large quantity of valuable material for enriching the soil and at the same time a convenient place for disposing of a lot of the waste garden material such as grass cuttings, old vegetable roots, hedge clippings and annual weeds which have been removed from the flower borders or the vegetable garden. Any peelings or generally unusable vegetable matter, tea-leaves or old flower stems being removed from the house can be used to make up the heap. Before starting to build up a compost heap it should be understood that it is bacteria that cause the necessary decomposition and that building the heap in the following way will ensure that they get enough moisture, air and nitrogen to go about their job of reducing the garden waste to compost.

Firstly, remove the top-soil from a small plot, say 3 ft. by 4 ft. in a suitable part of the garden preferably away from the house. The top-soil should be kept aside as this will be useful later. Next, half fill the hole with some of the coarser material (twigs and cabbage stumps are ideal). These will allow the excess moisture to drain away from the heap and help air to circulate underneath. A handful of Sulphate of Ammonia, rich in nitrogen, scattered over this layer will help with the acceleration of the decomposition. On this put about an inch layer of the retained top-soil. From this point building the heap simply consists of a layer of assorted waste, then a handful of Sulphate of Ammonia and an inch or so of top-soil. Continue these layers until the heap grows to something like 3 ft. and finish with a slightly thicker layer of top-soil. Be careful when adding each layer that various types of waste are mixed in so that matter like dense grass cuttings is aerated by other more bulky substances. If any part of the heap becomes dry several holes should be made in the top with a stick and water poured into the heap.

This, then, is all that is necessary to build a compost heap which should be left for 2/3 months to rot slowly but surely. When this time has elapsed the complete heap will consist of highly nourishing compost for use as and when required.

Making a compost heap

1. Cut out top soil from plot 3’ x 4’ and stack lop soil for use during building.

2. Fill up to ground level with coarse material such as twigs etc. to help drainage.

3. Build up in layers. First waste, then a thin layer of Sulphate of Ammonia and finally a layer of soil.

4. In three months the well rotted compost may be used for soil feeding.

Preparing a seed bed

A useful addition to both small and large gardens is a well prepared seed bed where a large amount of small seedlings can be started in a relatively small space, and kept there until the right time arrives for them to be transplanted into their positions in the main garden.

The place chosen for your seed bed should be away from any possible strong winds, sheltered perhaps by a fence but nevertheless where good light and warm surroundings will help the small seedlings to grow into healthy strong plants.

Having chosen the position of the seed bed, carefully dig the ground with a fork, and when this is completed lightly tread over the ground to break up the largest lumps of soil. This cannot be done satisfactorily when the soil is too wet and under these conditions this work would be best postponed until the soil becomes dryer. Lastly a thorough raking backwards and forwards will remove the unwanted stones from the bed and leave very fine soil (known as “tilth”) ready for the seeds to be sown.

Lettuces, cabbages, brussells sprouts and in fact most of the green vegetable plants can be started off in this way together with a lot of bedding plants for the eventual addition to the flower border.

Preparing a seed

1. Choose a bed where there is some shelter and fork the soil over well.

2. Tread over the bed to break down the lumps.

3. Finally rake in all directions to make soil fine.

Using your seed bed

Seeds should be sown in shallow drills which can be taken out with a corner of the draw hoe, or with the back of the rake. Having1 lightly sprinkled the seeds along the drill they should be covered gently by raking the soil back into the drill. Care should be taken here to mark each end of the row with a small stick and to write the name of the plants in each row clearly on a small label, preferably in waterproof ink. This will obviate any confusion later as young seedlings have a nasty habit of looking quite unrecognisable to anyone but an expert.

1. Sprinkle the seeds evenly along the prepared drills.

2. Rake the soil gently over to cover.

3. Mark rows clearly.

23. August 2013 by admin
Categories: Tips and Advice | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Your Soil


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