Good healthy soil is the key to successful planting and a successful garden. It is not a difficult job and with careful and regular maintenance a healthy and productive garden can result.
Soils can be of many types loam; is the ideal but chalk, sand, peat and clay types are all found dependent on the underlying rock type beneath the soil.
A good soil should be dark and crumbly, neither acid of alkaline, be highly fertile and able to be worked at any time of the year. It will hold moisture and will drain easily with organic matter used to improve its structure.
Compost is used to improve soil condition. There are two basic compost types.
Home compost - this can take as little as eight weeks to make and helps to reduce landfill and meet local recycling targets at the same time. It is used as a soil conditioner and mulch to replenish depleted elements, lost through plant growth, adding nutrients and aiding moisture retention. A mulch is any material organic or inorganic which is used to seal in moisture and deter weeds. Examples are gravel, bark and cocoa shells. How to make home compost will be outlined later in this guide.
Potting and planting compost - is traditionally bought from garden centres and retail stores specifically as a growing media product to enable gardeners to produce the best growing conditions for plants. This type of compost provides the ideal environment for plants to grow and is weed and pathogen free to ensure healthy plant growth. Specific composts have now been developed for varying plant types and growing stage.
General garden compost - this is a multipurpose compost and will cater for all gardening projects. It can be used for sowing, growing, potting and containers. However it should not be used for acid loving plants.
Container compost - is formulated to provide for the demanding conditions containers plants dictate. Restricted by the container itself this compost has to provide everything the plant needs for successful growth and maintenance. This compost tends to contain water retaining gel to hold water in the compost. It is high in nutrients and drains freely.
Propogation compost - is designed for delicate seeds. It is recommended for any gardener growing plants from seed and those either germinating or propogating rare or specialist plants. It contains specialist nutrients to aid young plants resulting in strong and robust young plants. Composts are available to support young plants right through their early growth stages.
Borders compost - as its name suggest this type of compost is best for planting trees, shrubs and roses in borders and provides the nutrient s required for establishment and growth.
Ericaceous compost - this is ideal for acid loving plants which need special care. Plants such as rhododendron, azalea and camelias will need this type of compost to thrive.
Fruit and vegetable compost - salads, root crops such a, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and other fruiting plants can all be grown successfully in this compost, usually packaged in a grow bag ready for planting. Used as a border or for strawberries and herbs this instant garden is also ideal for children to develop their interest in gardening especially where space is limited.
Specialist plant compost - for specific plants needing careful treatment a range of composts have been developed. These include bonsai, orchids, citrus, cacti, indoor and aquatic plants. Bulbs also have specific needs and a bulb compost will ensure good growth whether in a container or in a bed improving nutrient availability, moisture levels and drainage.
Making home compost results in a material which is high in organic material that encourages the activity of beneficial soil dwelling organisms including worms, improving its structure. This organic material will absorb and hold water providing essential air pockets for drainage and for the plants roots to breathe.
Compost heap - this can simply be a pile of garden and kitchen waste in the corner of a garden. It can work well but may encroach on other areas of the garden. A compost heap tends to work slowly but can encourage habitats for toads, newts and hedgehogs. A compost heap can be difficult to manage with the rotted material underneath and new added material on top. Being open to the soil at its base soil organisms such as worms and microbes can move through the compost easily.
Compost bin - this is the most popular way of producing compost with many local councils offering incentives for purchasing bins. These can be made of timber, resin or more commonly plastic. The bin and its contents need to be big enough for the composting material to fuel a large amount of microbes, otherwise it will take too long to work. An area around the size of a traditional dustbin is about right and ideally three bins are needed. One for actively filling, one bin is already full and composting and the third bin is full of composted waste ready to use on the garden.
Wormery - worms play a vital role in garden composting systems and a wormery may be the ideal composting choice if insufficient waste material is available to utilize a compost heap or bin. The worms deal with the small amounts of kitchen and garden waste converting them into a fertile compost and are ideal for small gardens.
For the best home compost a hot system is best. As the microbes feed on the waste material in the compost system they multiply rapidly and the feasting and general natural processes actually generate heat. To achieve a hot heap you need ideally to fill the whole bin with a well balanced mixture of suitable material and add a viable activator. A hot heap is much quicker to produce quality home compost and can take as little as eight weeks. A hot heap will usually rise to sufficient temperatures to kill most weed seeds and garden pathogens.
Slow heaps are more suited when only small or infrequent amounts of waste are available. You do not use an activator and it can take up to a year to compost. High enough temperatures are not achieved to kill off weed seeds and other potential garden problems.
As a general guide anything that will rot down naturally will compost. However there are a few guidelines that will help the composting process.