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How to get the best out of your soil to live sustainably
|Date Added: August 02, 2010 03:21:22 PM|
|Author: Heather Sutton|
|Category: Services: Soil Testing|
To be able to live sustainably off your own land is an ambition for most gardeners, but one of the most crucial aspects to growing and living sustainably is making sure that the soil you are growing on will give you the best possible results. Sustainable living is about getting the most out of your land and the best way to do this is to ensure a good foundation for your crops. Adjusting your soil conditions needn’t be an industrial operation; companies such as MSL Analysis offer full ranges of soil analysis and with those results simple improvements can be made, so you can get the best possible results out of your plants.
Some common and easily solved problems with soil include texture (the mix of sand, clay and silt), pH and levels of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium; the three major nutrients needed for healthy plant growth).
The texture of soil affects how well the land drains, how effectively soil holds nutrients and minerals and how readily it can be cultivated.
The three main components that make up soil are sand, clay and silt and the most productive soils are those which contain a roughly equal mix of all three as this gives an ideal mix of chemical and physical properties for cultivation and crop growth. There are crude measures that can be used to assess the make-up of your soil, however, professional analysis is by far the best way to ensure your soil stays productive and healthy for as long as possible.
Soils dominated by any one of these components bring with it a large range problems:
Each of these problems can be individually rectified but by far the easiest and most sustainable route to more productive soil is the addition of organic material. This can take many forms which everyone can have access to. Manure from animals is ideal for improving soil texture and nutrient content however people without access to animals need not panic; grass cuttings left on the soil will mulch down and add a very productive top layer to the soil; kitchen and garden waste can be used to start a compost heap which again
will add a beneficial layer of nutrients and make the soil more manageable. Even encouraging worms in to your soil will help. However, it is best to know the exact composition of your soil in order to get the most out of it; for example, it is no good simply adding liquid slurry to soil if it has a high sand content. Find out exactly what you are working with in order to make it work for you.
The pH of soil is vital to how well it holds minerals, too acidic and the minerals will react and be leached out by rainwater before the plants have a chance to use them. High soil acidity can also cause aluminium toxicity which affects plant metabolism and their ability to take up water and nutrients (in particular, nitrogen) and is a major cause of low plant yields. Highly alkaline soils are associated with mineral deficiencies in plants due to low solubility of minerals in alkaline conditions. Ideally for growing, neutral or slightly alkaline soils are preferred but while acidic soils can quite easily have their pH raised to increase yields, very little can be done to reduce the pH of alkaline soils and it is best to work with alkaline tolerant plants such as wheat should this be the case.
Adding lime (CaCO3) to the soil is the most common method used for increasing pH and is available at most garden centres. However other simple and sustainable solutions are available; keeping poultry on the land will help as their droppings will increase and maintain the pH at a suitable level over a period of time; for a slight increase in pH, simply adding organic matter such as grass cuttings or compost may help as this will reduce the concentration of aluminium in the soil and thus lessen its effects on the crop yields. Sometimes however, it may be best to work with your land as it is and there are also many acid-tolerant crops such as potato and rye which can be grown on acidic land. The first step however is to have the soil pH properly analysed and while testing kits are available from
garden centres, they are rarely reliable and can often lead you to making the wrong adjustments to your soil. Professional pH analysis is the best way to get the most from your soil from the start.
Both organic and inorganic nutrients are essential to plant health and growth and maintaining the right balance of all of them can be difficult, however the 3 most heavily required and therefore the ones which require replacing/topping up most frequently are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The levels of these nutrients can be controlled with the use of fertilisers however this is not ideal when the eventual goal is self-sufficiency.
The route to sustainability and self-sufficiency can be made far easier by ensuring that you start off with and maintain a fertile and produce piece of land. At MSL Analysis we offer a range of soil analysis from pH and textural investigation to analysing the presence of base elements and nutrients essential for healthy and efficient plant growth, as well as advice on how to get the most out of your soil whether it be what crops would best suit your soil as it is or adjustments you can make to get optimal growing conditions for certain plants.