It’s that time of year when the nights are as long as they ever will be and the short days are either freezing cold or soaking wet. So let’s do something a little warmer and more productive than wrestling a welly out of a muddy hole.
Shall we avoid back straining digging every autumn ?
Well, take a look around when you go for the post Christmas dinner walk with the family. If you stroll amongst the trees and shrubs in a local wood or forest, will you see lots of digging going on? No, what you will send is a rich, deep and soft soil. Heavy with humus and leafmould, moisture retaining but easy draining soil, full of nutrients and bursting with life.
So why do we dig? Many assume it improves the soil texture by breaking up the compacted ground. It can but then if we don’t compact it so much, earthworms and other invertebrates will keep the texture open.
Maybe it’s to add goodness? Well, again yes but if we add to the surface, those busy worms will work it down into the subsoil.
Exposing pests so the frost and predators will clean them away?
Predators exist where the pests live. Digging up the environment where the predators prey can do as much damage to the balance of predator and prey as it does to the pests themselves. Creating a better environment for the predators improves the balance in favour of the good guys and keeps the soil healthy.
It improves the structure of the soil.
Structure and texture are two different things in soil.
Structure is the size of particle that describes you’d soil type. Larger particles allow greater movement of water and air, so rocky to sandy or even silty soil. Silt to clay are the smallest size particles, binding tightly and resisting water passage but holding onto vast amounts of nutrients.
Texture is the way different proportions of these particles combine. A good mix of clay,sand and silt will create the much desired loam soil. If you have too much of any of these you can add things to improve the mix but you cannot change the structure/size of the particles themselves.
Digging for the sake of changing the structure is impossible, digging alone will only loosen soil temporarily and will not add any lasting benefit.
At best, lightly forking good compost onto the top few  centimetres of the surface may help the worms and other bacteria find and utilise it, digging down and destroying the working environment for natures workforce won’t.
The long goal is to create a healthy place for a thriving society of hardworking bacterium to work for you,taking in the nutrients and taking care of the health of the soil. Avoiding standing on the soil by working from the sides and planting closer will reduce or even remove compaction. Adding compost to the surface instead of digging and encouraging natural predators will increase the vitality of your soil and reduce pests.
The big picture here means playing the long game, those trees not only take from the soil, they add leaf litter. More importantly, they’ve taken a long time doing it. Small annual plants come and go in the same way annual fruit and vegetables do at the plot and in the garden. The soil is there forever so that is what we need to manage, feed and support.
Now, where did you put those seed catalogues?

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One thought on “Let’s look at the bigger picture.

  1. Soils vary significantly in their properties. They may be deep in some places, shallow in others, black or gray in colour, sandy or clayey in texture. Although the soil mantle covering Manitoba is far from uniform, all soils have some common factors. For example, all soil is a mixture of organic and mineral material plus water and air. While the major components remain the same, the proportion of each component in this mixture varies from soil to soil. Every farm may consist of several types of soil. To date, over 1,000 different soil types have been recognized in Manitoba, about 550 of which can be found in agro-Manitoba. They are not scattered randomly, but occur in definite geographic areas and in certain patterns. Significant differences set apart the soil of a poorly drained pothole from the adjacent well-drained ridge or hilltop while relatively small differences occur between adjacent soils on level fields of uniform texture.

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