Investing in the soil

Like a lot of Sheffield, this garden is both blessed and cursed with a heavy clay soil. Its been improved in parts but last year’s heatwave baked the ground brick hard and brought out huge cracks which took months to close. Digging the pond last year I hit thick bands of yellow grey clay a foot or so down with the consistency of plasticine – it had to be peeled off the spade, and deeper still were layers of shale with streaks of orange. While geologically interesting, it’s far from a perfect loam. 

Clay isn’t all bad news –nutrient rich, it retains water better than a sandy soil, and astrantia, roses, persicaria and geranium all thrive. But it compacts very easily and takes a long time to warm up in spring. To improve it you need to add lots of organic matter  -compost, manure, leaf mould. It’s less about improving fertility and more about improving the structure and ecosystem of the soil. 

The ‘Dalek’ compost bin only produces a small amount.  I’ve ordered a couple of bulk bags in from ‘Compost Direct’ over the years, which is good but pricey. This week I spoke to local farmer about a manure delivery.  Bang on time, Saturday morning, a truly immense pile of manure appeared on my drive – about three times as much as I thought we’d agreed on. The photo doesn’t do justice to the enormity of the muck pile. My green wheelie bin is just peeping over the top.

Its good stuff, full of worms and well rotted but also full of clods, lots of suspicious looking roots (eek – bindweed!), the occasional layer of fresh muck and the remains of most of a bramble plant.  So I have spent most of the day forking this over into something more manageable, picking out the roots and wheelbarrowing it around the garden.  The robin was with me most of the day, hopping back and forth, delighted by the all-you-can-eat buffet that had magically appeared on his patch.  I’m still not finished and it could be a week of evenings ahead to shift it all, but have decided to class it as ‘a nice problem to have’. 

I’ll be mulching round perennials and over the cut flower beds with a good thick layer. By summer I will either have beautiful soil teeming with worms and microorganisms, or I will have inoculated my garden with bindweed and couch grass and will be cursing my ‘bargain’ for years to come.

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