There is no denying that to grow anything you need soil. Good soil gives us healthy plants. It is not just the dirt beneath our feet; soil is an active process and a living thing. I know a lot of you are itching to get out in your gardens this season. If you start with good soil practices, you will be well on your way to growing success.
There are three basic principles you should follow when encouraging cultured soil. The first, is to supply your soil with a good organic material source on a yearly basis. Experts vary on how much, but once or twice a year is definitely sufficient. We have a native acidic soil here in Squamish. There is much to be said about this condition, and we should remember that non-native soil smothers good fungus and materials that already exist in native conditions.
Try to incorporate native soils and materials that are found in your area. You can also try mulching your landscape with water-holding material like mulch, hemlock, fir, leaf mould (but not cedar).
Remember that all “composts” are not safe and natural. High nutrient content in our soil is not a natural phenomenon. Most of the “good stuff” advertised in packaged mixtures is water soluble, which leaches out of the soil and you are left with wet, organic muck.
Good materials to add to your soil are compost and rotted leaf mould. If you chose to buy a packaged product, look for Vancouver Island-produced Sea Soil.
If you follow the practice of planting the right plant in the right place, you can grow acid-loving plants in the most acidic areas of the garden (under or next to conifers and cedars), plants that love wet conditions in poorly drained areas, and plants that love sharp drainage in dry, rocky areas. Try to find the right plant for your challenging soil conditions.
Increase the diversity of the amendments you add to the soil. Don’t always add the same thing. Soil is a complex and multi-dimensional living thing and it needs many different sources to keep it healthy.
Lastly, try to protect soil habitat. Dig sideways when working in your garden to minimize compaction. Try a minimal fallow period. We don’t need to be constantly digging and churning up the soil. Resist the temptation to get into the garden too early, as tromping around on the wet soil compacts it badly and decreases oxygen pathways under your feet.
This probably goes without saying, but reduce the use of pesticides. They are bad for the environment and terrible for the structure of soil as they decrease good fungus that naturally lives in healthy soil.
One more thing: Ciscoe Morris, one of the Seattle area’s gardening gurus, is the featured speaker at a talk on Monday (March 4) hosted by the Squamish Gardeners. The talk begins at 7 p.m. at the Eagle Eye Theatre. Tickets are available at Billie’s Flower House, Anna’s Attic, Garibaldi Nurseries, On the Farm Country Market, the Adventure Centre or at the door.