Although you may be lucky and have good soil in which any vegetable feels at home in, most of us need to nurture a vegetable bed to maturity and maximum fertility. Martyn Loach emphasizes that before creating a vegetable bed, you need to know your soil. What type it is and the pH.
So your first purchase should be a pH kit to find out whether you have a acid or alkaline soil. Then see what type of soil you have. The different types and how they can be improved are:-
The main problem with clay is drainage, as a result it should be nutrient rich but hard to work. Dig over in the autumn, introducing organic matter, and let the weather do its work. Lime will improve drainage, but you must balance the amount you use with what you want to grow. If it’s very heavy, work in course grit, you can also use raise beds to help the soil both dry out and warm up.
Easy to work, but any nutrients are easily drained, so large amounts of organic matter can increase its water retentiveness and additional fertilizer can be used to replace nutrient deficiency. Try to mulch as much as you can and cover the soil with lots of vegetation all year round to minimize nutrient loss. If you are growing vegetables, sow green manure, when this is dug in it will add nutrients and improve the soil structure.
With a structure similar to clay, the biggest problem is drainage. It’s unwise to to walk on this type of earth when it is wet as you will only compact it even more. Dig it over in the autumn so that frost can help to break it down, introduce coarse grit and organic matter and use raised beds to warm up and dry out the soil.
This, similar to sand, is a free draining soil from which nutrients can easily be leached. It’s also very alkaline. Digging in the autumn is not really necessary, leave that to the spring before you sow anything, and as there’s probably not a lot of top soil, don’t dig too deep. Add organic matter to increase acidity and aid drainage. Make sure that the ground has a good covering of vegetation throughout the year, including green manure in the winter and mulch with peat, grass cuttings and manure.
This type of soil has a tendency to be acid so use lime to balance the pH especially for vegetables and fruit. Peat is made up of decomposed vegetation so there is no need to dig or add any organic matter, but you may have to use an organic fertilizer to combat any nutrient deficiency.
When creating a vegetable bed you will realise that organic matter, whether it’s compost or manure, has a big part to play in improving soil. Return it to the earth by digging in over the autumn and using it as a spring mulch. As well as feeding the soil with nutrients, it will improve drainage in heavy soils and increase the water holding capacity of light soil.
Alternative soil conditioners can be used such as mushroom compost, wool shoddy, seaweed, composted pine bark, spent hops and peat. What you use and how much will depend on your soil’s analysis and the plants you wish to grow. For example mushroom compost is slightly alkaline so will be good for acid soil, pine bark has no nutrients so is best used as a mulch, while seaweed is particularly rich in trace elements.
Soil matures over a number of years, don’t expect a quick fix. Organic matter and conditioners used conjunction with good management, such as crop rotation, do increase productivity, particularly If you take the time to analyse exactly what type of soil you have and therefore what it needs.
Creating a vegetable bed is key to growing your own vegetables. How you nurture it has a great effect on how successful your vegetable growing becomes.
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