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Earthworms in the Garden / Earthworm Facts
Category: Gardening Articles | Posted: Wed Apr 26, 2006 8:06 pm
Notice the lowly earthworm, squirming away, going about its everyday business. Simple creatures you may think but they have quite a important use in the garden. Did you know the earthworms are nature's first gardeners? They don't exist just for kids to eat and fishermen to use as bait :)
Some Basic Earthworm FactsEarthworms are present in almost every type of soil but the healthier the soil the greater the numbers. A healthy soil permits lots of air and moisture, both of which are needed by the earthworm for a continued existence. Earthworms have no lungs like you or me but instead breathe through their skin. Their whole skin absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. They also need moisture to assist them in respiration but too much moisture is not good for them.
There are four types of earthworm that you may run into:
Nightcrawlers: 8 to 10 inches long and the fisherman's favourite.
Garden Worms: 5 to 7 inches long and found commonly in damp soils.
Manure Worms: 4 to 5 inches long and found in manure rich soils.
Red Worms: 3 to 4 inches long and the most commercially available.
Why Earthworms in the Garden?A garden without earthworms would miss out on all of the great benefits that they bring to it. Their first job is to till the soil by tunneling through it. Tunnels created allow air and moisture to pass easily through the soil, creating a healthy environment for plants. Tunnels retain water that the plants can take up and also hold air to help bacteria break down organic matter within the soil.
After digestion earthworms produce excrement about the size of a pin head. This excrement is called "castings" or "vermicompost" and is an excellent soil conditioning material. It improves properties of the soil such as porosity and moisture retention, aids plant growth and helps in the fight against pests and diseases.
Increasing Earthworm Population in the GardenHow does one go about increasing the number of earthworms in their garden soil? Well the best way to do so is to add more organic matter to the soil. Earthworms cannot get enough of the stuff.and will seek it out wherever they can find it.
Finally...The earthworm is just as important to the garden as the gardener that maintains it because they till the soil and add a soil conditioner in the form of castings. They are as much a gardener as you are. The next time you see one wiggling on the ground in front of you bend down and say "got any good gardening tips?" You never know it may answer :)
I will leave the final word to a one Charles Darwin who once had this to say about the earthworm:
"The plow is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man's inventions; but long before he existed, the land was in fact regularly plowed and still continues to be thus plowed by earthworms. It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures."
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Mulching Benefits / Organic and Inorganic Mulch Types
Category: Gardening Articles | Posted: Fri Dec 02, 2005 1:09 pm
Mulching is the practice of placing a loose surface onto the surface of soil in your flower or vegetable garden in order to protect, insulate and beautify the area. This loose covering is called a mulch and it can be either of an organic or inorganic variety. Examples of mulches include compost, stone and grass clippings. Every gardener should understand the many benefits of mulching the soil in their garden. This article will discuss the benefits of mulching, how to choose the correct mulch and have a quick look at some of the different types of organic and inorganic mulches available.
Benefits of MulchingLet us explore some benefits of mulching:
Prevents soil erosion - Soil erosion happens when winds or water slowly wear away the surface of soil and remove it. Mulching your soil will prevent this as there is now a protective, replaceable layer.that comes between the surface of the soil and the forces of nature above it.
Insulates the soil in winter - The harsh temperatures of winter can be unkind. Mulching the soil in winter will insulate the soil preventing it from repeated patterns of freezing and thawing and will insulate plant roots. It prevents heaving (buckling upward) of soil in spring. Mulch should be applied to the soil when it has frozen and removed in spring only when there is no danger of further frosts. Winter-mulched soil thaws out more quickly in the spring.
Cools down soil in summer - A layer of mulch in summer protects the soil beneath from the extreme heats of summer and reduces the need for constant watering i.e. water retention is improved.
Helps against soil compaction - The layer of mulch acts as a buffer or extra layer between entities that can cause compaction on the soil below e.g. people, equipment, heavy rains.
Improves appearance - A mulch applied to your bed can make it look more complete and attractive. This varies from mulch to mulch as some are more attractive and natural looking than others.
Prevents weed growth - One of the more useful benefits of mulching is in weed prevention. While the mulch itself will not stop weeds from germinating it serves to act as a barrier between the weeds and the outside world above. When a weed reaches the mulch layer it will not be able to break above it and it will eventually die back. Some mulches perform this weed prevention feature better than others. Depth of mulch is also a contributing factor. Care should be taken however when selecting mulches as some mulches like grass clippings and straw may actually contain weed seeds.
Keeps fruit and vegetables clean - A layer of mulch reduces the chances of fruit and vegetables getting dirty from splashes from the soil below.
Choosing the Correct Mulch for Your GardenCareful thought should be given when choosing a mulch to apply to your garden as each is different and should fit in with your exact requirements. Here are some common factors that should be considered:
Soil pH suitability - Some mulches like bark mulch and pine needle mulch can affect the pH value of soil so they are best used on soils containing acid-loving plants.
Removal in spring - Certain mulches need to be removed in spring because they can smother emerging plants. Examples include stone mulch and bark chips.
Cost - Is cost a limiting factor in your choice of mulches? If so you can find your mulch for free if you choose certain types. If you keep a compost heap then you will have compost for mulching. Other free mulches (if you have the sources) are pine needles and grass clippings.
Appearance - Do you care about how the bed will look when the mulch is applied? Each mulch adds a different look and depending on the design of your garden you may want to choose a mulch that matches it in colour and texture.
Penetration by water and air - Some mulches are better at allowing water and air to pass through them than others. This may be important depending on a plant's watering requirements.
Addition of nutrients to the soil - Organic mulches add nutrients back into the soil when they decompose. The nutrient types and their amounts added back into the soil depend on the mulch and it varies quite a bit. Using compost as a mulch guarantees plenty of nutrients for your plants.
Some Types of Organic MulchThis type of mulch once used to be living material and as such will decompose over time. During their decomposition vital nutrients will be added back into your soil. However you may want to avoid using organic mulches if you have rodent problems. Some common organic mulches are:
Compost - Mulches and feeds the soils as it decomposes. This mulch is free if you have access to your own compost heap. Apply at a depth of 1 - 3 inches.
Pine Needles - Commonly used with acid soils. Cheap, looks great and allows water to pass through freely to the soil below. It decomposes quite slowly however. Apply to a depth of 1 - 1.5 inches
Straw - Provides great insulation, water penetration and weed control. Care should be taken that straw does not contain weed seeds itself. Apply to a depth of 6 - 8 inches.
Grass Clippings - Readily available and decomposes quite quickly adding nitrogen back into the soil. Try not to apply too fresh as it can heat up quite a bit and possibly cause damage to your plants. Apply to a depth of 1 inch.
Newspaper - Provides great weed control and is readily available. Apply another mulch on top to keep it in place. Apply in 2 layer sections.
Some Types of Inorganic MulchInorganic mulches are inert materials that have not originated from living material. Sometimes inorganic and organic mulches are used in conjunction with one another. For example a geotextile (inorganic mulch) may be covered and held in place by bark chips (organic mulch). Some common inorganic mulches are:
Stone - Looks great and provides great insulation. If removal in spring is a factor in your choice of mulch avoid using stone. Degrades very, very slowly. Apply to a depth of 2 - 4 inches.
Plastic - Does not decompose so it does not add anything into the soil. Acts as a great weed control and is easily laid. Must be perforated to allow water to pass through. Apply in a thickness of 1 - 6 mm.
Geotextile - Expensive blanket-like synthetic fiber that provides great weed control and allows for water penetration. Almost always used in conjunction with a cover mulch (e.g. bark chips). Apply in a single layer.
ConclusionIn this article we looked at the many benefits of mulching and the different types available. Maybe take the time today to decide which mulch to use in your garden if you have not mulched in the past. You may be surprised at how cheap the process can be if you use mulches such as compost from your compost heap, grass clippings from your lawn cuttings and/or the Sunday newspapers! Happy mulching.
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Soil Basics - Creating Fertile, Healthy Soil
Category: Gardening Articles | Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 1:06 pm
Have you ever looked at the soil in your garden and considered it as anything more than soil? If not you should because there is a lot more there than meets the eye. It performs many functions that you may not be aware of and having good quality soil in your garden is essential for your plants. In this article we will look at the functions of soil, what different types there are and finally some ways to make it healthier.
Functions of SoilThe most immediately apparent function of soil is a medium to support plant life. It provides support both physically and biologically. Physical support is provided by allowing the plant to grow its roots through the soil to hold itself in place. Biological support is provided by its ability to hold nutrients and water that the plant needs. It also supports other types of life as well. Microorganisms and insects live in the soil and they in turn aid plant life by helping to decay organic material and adding structure to the soil. Soil allows the growth of food crops which are consumed by humans and also plants used in the creation of medicines. Microorganisms like fungi and bacteria that live in soil and are used to produce antibiotics. All life on earth is dependant on it either directly and indirectly. This includes the plant life in your garden.
What is Soil Made of?The four major components of soil are mineral matter, organic matter (humus), water and air. Mineral matter refers to the inorganic elements in the soil e.g. stones, gravel and makes up to 40%-60% of its volume. This part of the soil usually originates from the bedrock that lies beneath the soil. Organic matter (humus) is the decayed remains and waste products of plants and animals and has a great effect on the chemical properties of the soil e.g. availability of nutrients. Almost 40%-60% of a soil's volume can be space and this is occupied by water and air.
Different Types of Soil TextureSoil texture is defined as the size distribution of different mineral particles. These mineral particles are at their most basic level the following: sand, silt and clay. Sand particles are 2 to 0.05 mm diameter, silt particles are 0.05 to 0.002 mm diameter and clay particles are <0.002 mm diameter. Combination of these particles exhibit different properties in soil and some combinations favour plant life better than others. The following are the most common classes of soil texture:
Contains a high percentage of clay particles and feels lumpy to the touch. The small size of the clay particles means that they clump together quite readily and there is less room for air spaces. Consequently clay soils have poor drainage and do not hold nutrients very well. This is a heavy soil and is sticky when wet making it hard to work with. As much as possible you should take steps to improve the drainage of this type of soil. You will learn how later on in this article.
Contains a high percentage of silt particles and feels smooth to the touch. This soil is a well drained soil due to the size of the particles allowing space for water to permeate. This soil holds nutrients more readily than clay soil due to the spaces. It is easy to cultivate but can be compacted quite easily.
Contains a high percentage of sand particles and feels gritty to the touch, Allows for quite a lot of space in between particles and as a result is very free draining. This has its disadvantages however as it does not hold water and essential nutrients can get washed away.
This is the best type of soil texture you can have in your garden. This is soil whose properties are controlled equally by the percentages of clay, silt and sand particles. It is well drained but does not loose water too easily as is the case with sandy and sometimes silty soils. The fact that it retains water means it also retains nutrients for your plants to use. It has a great structure and is easy to cultivate.
What Makes a Soil Healthy?Healthy soil must be fertile and have a good structure.
For a soil to be fertile it must have nutrients readily available and a pH value at a recommended level for the plants that will reside in it. Nutrients that should be available are the essential nutrients nitrogen (leaf growth), phosphorous (root growth) and phosphorous (overall health). As well as the essential nutrients there should also be trace elements like calcium and magnesium. The pH level of the soil refers to its acidity or alkalinity and each plant has its own preferred value range. Plants placed into fertile soil will grow up to be very strong and healthy specimens (that is if other conditions like light levels and climate are favourable as well).
The other determiner of a healthy soil is its texture. We learned about different types of soil texture earlier in this article. Soil having a loamy texture is the healthiest and it should be strived for if at all possible. In general a soil that retain nutrients and allow water and air to permeate it will be beneficial for the life of your plants.
How to Create Healthy SoilNo matter what type of soil you have the addition of organic matter will work wonders for its health. Organic matter is plant and animal residues in varying forms of decomposition. It will replenish the nutrients in your soil and improve its texture. You may have heard countless times about adding your leftovers and glass clippings to a compost heap. This is a great idea as your compost is the best form of organic matter. Compost in an advanced stage of decomposition (dark and without smell) is magic for your soil. It encourages microorganism activity causing soil particles to clump together and form aggregates. The aggregates allows for spaces in the soil therefore increasing its drainage. This is especially beneficial for clay soils, which have poor drainage. Other forms of organic matter are animal manure and peat moss.
If your soil is lacking in nutrients and you don't have access to a compost heap you have a choice of using inorganic or organic fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers (inorganic salts, manufactured chemically) can be purchased at your local garden and are applied in a dry form that is raked lightly at the base of a plant or in a liquid form. While inorganic fertilizers will work fine they have a number of disadvantages: they release their nutrients too quickly and there is some evidence to show that plants develop a resistance to inorganic fertilizer methods over time, requiring more and more to achieve the same effect. Organic fertilizers are more in tune with nature because they are created from the remains or by-product of an organism. They act slower but they 'amend' the soil rather than the quick 'feeding' it like inorganic fertilizers.
The pH of your soil will also affect its fertility. Each plant has its own preferred pH value range. To learn more pH and how to change it read my Soil pH article.
ConclusionSoil like a lot of things in the garden requires maintenance. We have learned about the different types of soil texture, what constitutes a fertile, healthy soil and how to create it if it does not exist. The next step is to step out into your garden, take a look at your soil and help your plants out if your soil is of a poor quality. Your plants will thank you ten-fold believe me. Good luck!
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Soil pH and its Effect on Your Garden
Category: Gardening Articles | Posted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 1:57 pm
As you may have observed from your gardening experiences plants can be fussy things. The right location, amount of sunlight and 101 other factors influence your plant's growing ability. One factor which is very beneficial in understanding before putting that new plant into the earth is soil pH.
What is Soil pH?Let's get all scientific for a moment and learn what pH is. In chemistry pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a solution is. Okay chemistry lesson over. Basically soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. Soil pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. If your soil has a pH value of less than 7 then you have acidic soil. On the other hand if your soil has a pH value of greater than 7 then you have alkaline soil. A pH value of 7 is neutral, meaning you have neither acidic or alkaline soil.
The Effect of Soil pH on PlantsKnowing the pH value of your soil before planting is very important as it has a direct influence on the health of the plant. Each plant has its own recommended soil pH value range. The reason for this is that soil pH effects the availability of nutrients within the soil and plants have different nutrient needs. For example the nutrient nitrogen, a very important plant nutrient, is readily available in soil when the pH value is above 5.5. Similarily the nutrient phosphorous is available when the pH value is between 6 and 7. If a plant is placed into the wrong kind of soil it will be lacking in nutrients that it needs which will promote disease. In general the best pH value range for soil is approximately 6 or 7 as this is the range in which most nutrients can be readily available.
Finding Out pH of SoilFinding out the pH of soil is usually a trivial matter and the kits to do so should be available at most good garden centres. Usually a pH testing kit will include a small container / test tube, testing solution and a color chart. A sample of soil is taken from your garden, placed into the container / test tube and a few drops of testing solution are added. The container is then shaken and left for a certain period of time. The color of the sample in the container is then compared against the color chart to determine the pH value of the soil. Note that if you want to determine the soil pH of an large area it may be a good idea to take soil samples from many different locations, combine the samples and then perform the test on the combined sample.
A quick way to find out the pH of an area is to look to see if there are any house hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) already growing in the area. If so observe the color of its flowers. A soil pH of 6 or below will produce blue flowers while a soil pH of 6.8 or higher will produce pink flowers.
How to Make Soil More Alkaline (Increase pH)If your soil is acidic or slightly acidic you can take steps to make it more alkaline to accommodate the plants you want to put there. You can make your soil more alkaline (increase its pH value) by adding a form of lime. Lime is a compound of calcium or calcium and magnesium. It is usually applied in the form of ground agricultural limestone, burnt lime or hydrated lime (slaked lime). The smaller the limestone particles then the quicker your soil will become more alkaline. For this reason hydrated lime will offer the quickest performance because it is slightly soluble in water so it can permeate the soil quicker and reduce acidity faster.
Increasing the pH of your soil is not an overnight process and it is best to allow 2-3 months to allow the lime to neutralize the acidity of the soil acidity.
How to Make Soil More Acidic (Decrease pH)Some ornamental plants and fruit plants like blueberries require an acidic soil. To make your soil more acidic (decrease its pH value) you can use either aluminium sulphate or sulphur. Aluminium sulphate is the quickest acting as it will increase the acidity as soon as it disolves into the soil. The downsides are though that its effects can be short term and it is possible to over-apply it.
The more recommended but slower way to increase your soil pH is to use sulphur. Sulphur converts to sulphuric acid with the help of bacteria in the soil but this takes time depending on factors like the presence of bacteria, texture of the soil and moisture levels. This could take months if conditions are not ideal.
ConclusionRemember to always take into account soil pH when deciding what to plant in your soil. If you do not know what the pH of your soil is then test your soil and if needs be take steps mentioned earlier to change the pH value over time. Best of luck!
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