One of the most important considerations when designing and planning gardens or outdoor spaces is your soil type and underlying geology. Hmmmm…. yes I know, exciting stuff. I can hear you all reaching for your mouse, see the cursor heading to the little cross of blog post death, but wait, don’t do it, not yet. Maybe, just maybe I can make it a little bit fun, slightly interesting, or at the very worst you might just learn something. Come on, give the dirt a chance.
So, now I’ve convinced you not to click off, I have to make this dirt interesting…. here goes….
Boring bits first. Soil structure is important for both plants and any garden structure and earthworks. Different soils react differently and plants either like things wet and heavy or light and dry, or anywhere in between. There are basically 3 different soil structures that are made up of the base material (eroded rock) and organic material (the yummy stuff).
Clay soils – Come from shale, are really heavy, become waterlogged and don’t have a lot of the yum stuff.
Sandy soils – Well, just think of the beach. Sandy soils have a large particle size, drain easily and also don’t have a lot of the yum stuff
Loam soils – Goldilocks would love this stuff, not too heavy, not too dry, just right. Loams have the perfect mix of clay, sand and organic matter , and if you have a perfect loamy soil you are set.
But how do you know what you have, and how to get goldilocks to love it? Well, have a dig, get your hands dirty, make some mud pies. I had a lecturer at uni who used to make us test soil on our teeth (yum!). The theory was similar to the pearl test, in that when you rubbed the dirt across your teeth they could detect the difference between the fine clay and more course sand particles. Personally I think she just got a laugh watching 30 unsuspecting undergrads eating dirt – I know I would!
Much better is the mud pie test. Grab a couple of handfuls of dirt, add a little bit of water and make some pies. If your pie holds together so well you’re thinking about sculpting it into an award winning cake decoration, you probably have clay. If it makes a nice round pile of mud that holds together well, but won’t handle more detail, then you’ve got the lucky loam, and if your mud pie just can’t hold itself together, and is a lot more like a sandcastle, then sand is what you have.
The good news is that any soil can be made better and create a happy home for any plant, providing all the other things like sun and water are there. If you have clay then add sand and compost, sand needs compost and mulch, and loam, well everyone loves a little bit of the yummy compost stuff every now and again. The even better news is that compost can be free if you’ve thought ahead, but more about that in the future, ’cause I’ve been weighing up whether to have worms or a heap.
Moral to the story is if you love your mud and give it some yum stuff, it will love you back and give you bountiful harvests.
If I’ve actually got you thinking about mud, check out the 14th annual Boryeong Mud Festival at Daecheon beach, 190 kilometers southwest of Seoul, Korea. The festival encourages the use of mud for its benifits for skin-care and to promote tourism in the region. The festival runs until from July16-24. But really it just seems like an excuse for college kids to get really really dirty!