WHAT IS SOIL WITHOUT IT?
The natural soil at our place is extremely sandy which makes it hard to grow things in without the addition of organic matter.
The photo of the Canna Lilies clearly demonstrates this.
These are part of our general landscaping we are currently undertaking around our property.
The ‘before’ plants were planted a couple of weeks prior to the photo being taken and the ‘after’ plants a couple of months prior.
But they all arrived at our place the same size to start with.
Clearly, they like where they live, and in this case, it is because of the addition of chicken manure to the soil.
Fortunately, we got a bulk load that was already a little bit aged and had the time to allow it to compost more before blending with the soil, saving issues with plant burning.
We did have to make sure our pile was sufficiently far from the neighbours (and our house) to avoid the odour, though, especially when it first arrived!
So, what does composted chicken manure give us?
A certain amount of nutrient and a lot of organic matter.
Organic matter is good.
Amongst other things it raises the soils CEC (cation exchange capacity) which is basically a soils ability to hang on to nutrients. Our natural soil CEC at home is so low that high rainfall causes nutrient to move down through the soil profile away from plant roots like a sieve.
And as it breaks down over time, organic matter helps with a whole bunch of other stuff.
- It enriches the soil with nutrients that are released gradually over time as well as playing a part in maintaining correct soil pH.
- It promotes better soil structure, which means better water retention on sandy soils and better drainage on clay soils
- It improves soil microbial activity. On our natural soil you would be hard pressed to find much of anything microbial happening. Good luck, for instance, finding a single worm! Fundamentally, microbial activity equals productive soil.
Of course, organic matter will deplete over time, which means that from time to time it will need to be replenished.
With the Aloe-Aloe hybrid aloes we have planted in our own garden and also, perhaps especially, the Giant Tree Aloe, we find an annual dressing of organic matter around the plants is highly beneficial.
But more than these specifically, we have had good results with all our plants this way.
So, when to do this?
Microbial activity is driven, amongst other things, by soil temperature and soil moisture.
As the ground gets colder over winter microbial activity lessens, so we prefer to do this in the springtime as the soil temperature is warming up.
But because you can’t incorporate the compost into the soil because of the plant roots already being established, a top dressing around the plant is required.
So, what are your commercial options here in South-East Queensland for well composted organic matter (humus)?
If you only have a small garden, you are probably best off buying one of the compost products from reputable companies available at your local hardware or perhaps your local produce store.
Many of these, such as Rocky Point Active8, have additional elements added to enhance their effectiveness.
If you have a big garden area, you might need something in bulk.
In this case you are better off going direct to your local landscape supply yard.
Wherever you get it from, always be conscious of following safety instructions and wear gloves and a face mask when using and remember, there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing, so always follow the specific instructions for the product.
This is especially so as some plants like their soil to be richer than others.
Canna Lilies are one of those who do, however, like rich, organic soil.
The bottom line is that a lack of organic matter in your soil might not leave your soil sterile, but it will definitely reduce its productivity.