We have a problem in the area we now refer to as the field, our dig for victory did damage our soil as we followed strictly the guidance laid out by the Ministry. We never turned to chemicals as the flash promos often suggested but we found that yields that burst through the ceiling in the first year had become a shadow of themselves by the third. It all came down to soil and our soil is acidic. It's not that surprising that the soil in more inclined to be on the acid side of the fence, we're on the moors and this is Yorkshire. Yorkshire has never been known to be neutral. Yorkshire hills are also notorious for driving winds and rain. Lots of rain. The kind of rain that doesn't drizzle but more puts the boot in and grinds its heel down. We have real rain. Yorkshire rain. Acidic.
We said at the end of our dig for victory that we would never dig again but the soil is in such poor condition that we have been finding ourselves not just mulching with manure but having to dig it in to loosen up the sub soil. Rain does two things, (1) it feeds flora, and; (b) compacts and erodes soil. Consider how many tons of rain water hits your exposed beds during winter, or even in summer and now imagine that came all at once. Drop by drop we are losing our soil in the UK due to poor soil management, and yes, digging is part of that but the irony is that for us to start again, we have to get to grips with the compaction. This does mean we can have a good old weed, whinge and get rid of all the old brick paths to create one large growing area. The downside is bringing manure on to the plot, Andrew isn't supposed to carry due to his spinal damage. That means either we get friends in, and that's not much of an enticement to come around or we do it bag by weary half bag. You forget that their are muscles in the human arm that are untapped by people who do not garden. That there are joints in the legs worn to a nub by gardeners who dig. That at the end of the day, there is a creak in our gait, a wobble of the legs and a distinct sloping of the shoulders. We know it will take years to get our soil to neutral and that we will have to up our application of humus. However, a plus side of digging up the paths has been the robin in our garden, swooping in to get the grubs in the soil. Andrew even placed one in his hand and the robin took it.
We have dug just over a quarter of the plot and have a further 100+ feet to go but while the sun shines there is a chance we can keep on top of it.
What have we learnt about soil?
1) Exposed soil is not a good thing as winter weather can compact it. Best to cover it with green manures or black plastic. The latter will help warm up the soil earlier.
2) That the pH of soil has to be worked with and by adding humus from animals and compost heaps you can improve growing conditions.
3) That you should dig your plot at least once in it's lifetime but it is better to concentrate on mulches.
4) A compacted sub soil is bad news, it effects drainage, release of minerals to plant roots and damages the entire soil structure. Break it up, add humus.
5) Digging damages you as well the soil. It has been linked to lower back pain.
6) What does humus do? It can improve the pH of your soil over time but more importantly it opens up heavy soil, retains moisture in sandy soil, and improves bacteria and bug life in your soil. It encourages worms and retains warmth compared to heavy wet soils.