Terreau à la façon de la maison - Home-made soil conditioner

(Ricky Myles) #1

This morning’s task is to get some cabbage and cauliflower planted out. Over the past couple of years since moving to Pays de la Loire, we’ve had mixed success with brassicas.

In our area there is a very heavy clay soil and our potager had not been cultivated for perhaps 30 years. As a result the soil is sticky and highly compacted. The lack of oxygen due to compaction gives worms and other organisms little chance. Last year, even with the addition of a fair amount of organic material, cabbages and cauliflowers made little headway.

This year, I’ve decided to try a different approach by planting out the young plants in a trench bottomed out by compost then gradually filling up the trench with more compost as the plants grow.

Buying in multi-purpose compost these days has become something of a luxury, quite apart from possible adverse effects on the environment. Whilst I won’t pretend I’m a saint and still buy the occasional bag for sheer handiness when potting up, over the past two years we’ve tried to build up our own resources by way of two compost heaps – one a plastic composter for domestic waste and the other a heap for rougher stuff.

One of our other main resources for compost as a soil conditioner is the vast amount of leaves which collect in the garden each autumn. Rather than let them decompose where they fall these are blown into various piles and left in corners and shady spots around the garden.

We’ve not been at it long enough yet to have a stock of leaf mould and so far, I’ve had to use the best of the previous autumn’s fall around planting time. It’s a good, cheap way of providing a regular supply of organic
material to open up our clay soil. So, this morning, I went to one of our heaps to ‘mine’ some compost.

The picture shows the results. In the barrow are perhaps 50 litres of material absolutely free. Quite apart from helping to fill out the cabbage and cauliflower trenches, it will improve the soil structure in future years.

As the leaves had not been left to rot for as long as I would have liked, piles have been chopped up using the spade before riddling the finer material into the barrow. At the same time, any odd roots and larger bits of wood have been taken out. Any residue has been put to one side in another pile to continue composting for later use.

Turning the leaves in this way accelerates decomposition and, if faster decomposition is needed, a sprinkling of garden lime can be added to the piles of leaves.

Assuming you have leaf fall, it’s a free and sometimes forgotten resource. It benefits the organisms essential to good soil structure – feed the worms and they’ll feed your garden. It’ll also give you the satisfaction of saving the cost of trips to garden centres and brownie points for helping to preserve bio-diversity in other habitats which might otherwise be affected as a result of peat depletion.

Apart from all that, it’s great exercise to help make room for that extra croissant.