Soil – as distinct from dirt – takes years to create. Building soil is the real job of the gardener, and is a task that goes on year after year while annual crops come and go. Building soil requires the cooperation of the cook, for much of the nutrients from kitchen scraps are recycled through compost bins or the chicken flock back to the soil. Buying in compost is a quicker route when soils are degraded or new areas are opened up, but once good soils are established, they must still be fed and developed in the background to growing fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Good soils smell warm and rich, are friable (crumbly) and soft, easily dug, full of worms, and dark with organic matter. These soils are not dug over, except for when rows are hoed for planting seedlings. Good soils are always protected from the sun and moisture loss by mulch – bare soils die, because the worms that upgrade the organic matter in soils to something acceptable and palatable to plants cannot work in hot hard dry soils.
It’s Day 56 after sowing seed, and the last of the seedlings – capsicums and eggplants – go into soil that has been a decade in the making. With the spring crops in, the summer round of re-sowing will recommence over the coming weeks, with rocket and lettuce seeds for salads, more celery and carrots to join the beetroot for juice, and early winter crops such as cauliflower that need to be sown in the warm months. These will go into the beds currently raising slow-growing garlic, onions and leeks that need six months to mature between the coldest and hottest parts of the year.
In the meantime though, its time to make more soil – the potatoes need ‘hilling up’. 85% of the new tubers grow above the original mother potato, and the green stems of maturing potatoes (from whence new tubers will come) are starting to fall over whenever the wind blows.This ‘hilling up’ puts soil around the potato stems, which will push out more roots, segments of which will swell to form the edible portion.
Digging for these potatoes is one of the few processes used in this garden to turn over soil and to break new ground; potatoes are often the first crop into beds that have been dormant for years. So creating new soil is a good way to add compost onto then into old patches, and potatoes are the ideal vehicle.
Making soil is simple enough, though it won’t be ‘real soil’ for some time to come. Clay (dug up during recent plumbing operations) and aged and air dried compost are both put through the shredder to break them down, then mixed in equal parts in the barrow before being shovelled around the potato stems after their mulch cover is pulled back.