Entries Tagged 'Gardening Techniques' ↓

PH- what it is and how to change it.

The acidity or Alkalinity of soil is determined by its lime content and PH is a measure off how acid or alkaline your soil is. It is measured in units from 1 to 14. Neutral soil has a PH of 7; anything above that is alkaline and anything below is acid. Testing the Ph is very simply done with soil testing kit you can buy from any garden centre. You should test your soil in various parts of your garden as it can vary depending upon the conditions.

Soil Testing Kit

You need to know the Ph of your soil as some plants will only thrive in acid conditions whilst others need lime to live. It is easier to make an acid soil more alkaline by adding lime than the other way round. Lime has other advantages too. Adding Lime to clay soils, for example, will help to bind the particles together and help water to drain. However adding too much lime can chemically ‘lock up’ nutrients so that they are not available for plants to feed on them. This will result in nutrient deficiencies, and plants prone to disease and pest damage..

In the vegetable garden, most plants thrive on a PH of about 6.5 so you need to know what it is and take steps to change it should it be necessary. In the ornamental garden you will find that there are many plants which will thrive best in acid (or alkaline) soil, so it is best to grow these, rather than try to alter your soil.

If your vegetable patch has too much lime, then try growing on a deep bed system. This is  beds raised above the level of your normal soil and filled with a neutral compost. This is then kept neutral by adding lots of organic matter when digging (at least once a year) and regular mulches whenever necessary.  This sound like hard work, and the first year it will be but after that it will be quite easy. If you work a deep bed system, then you never walk on it, it does not become compacted, so is easy to dig.

All this may seem like a lot of fuss and work but in the long term it will pay dividends. There is nothing worse than buying and planting an expensive tree, like Magnolia for instance only to watch it slowly die over three years or so because the soil is too alkaline. Much better to know your soil and if you want to grow Magnolias (or any other plant not suited to your soil conditions, then grow them in pots or raised beds.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is a very useful and old method of growing vegetables to give the maximum use of nutrients in your soil and to prevent the build up of pests and diseases.

I use a three year scheme (pretty general) and this is how it works. First, all vegetables and divided into groups. The first group consists of Potatoes, carrots, beetroot, persnips, onions, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, courgettes, marrows, pumpkins, celery, Florence Fennel, aubergines, peppers, cucumbers, melons, celeriac, salsify and scorzonia. You can also include Hamberg parsley in this if you do not grow it among your herbs. With this bed you start by double digging incorporating manure in the upper and lower levels plus two handfuls of blood, fish and bonemeal. Then grow as many of this group in this patch  as you want.

Group two of vegetables are Peas, beans of all types, sweetcorn, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce, chicory, endive and globe articholes. I grow Runner beans on wigwams or in a double row in another part of the garden, leaving more room in this bed. To prepare this bed, single dig it and apply blood, fish and bonemeal three weeks before sowing the first crop of the season.

The third group of vegetables are brassicas – Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, calabrese, broccoli, kale, swedes, turnips, radishes and kohl-rabi. The bed is prepared with single digging but no extra nutrients. (This depends upon your soil – you may need to apply some lime to bring the PH level to 6.5 – 7.0. if your soil is acid)

At the beginning of the second year, you move all crops along one bed. So the Beetrot, parsnips etc get grown where the beans were and the beans are grown where the brassicas were, the brassicas being grown where the Beetroot etc were the previous year. The third year, move all crops along to the bed they have not yet been grown in and the fourth year you start again from the beginning.

There are some vegetables which are permanent crops and these require a bed of their own.  These are Globe Artichokes (Although these can equally be grown at the back of a flower bed), Jerusalem Artichokes (these could be grown as an annual hedge) seakale, asparagus (although most people grow this in its own bed) and herbs.

Even if you use a deep bed system, you should still try to use crop rotation. The digging will be much easier, in fact barely necessary in the third bed, but you will still need to add nutrients and move around to avoid pests and diseases in the soil.