This past week I had a letter from a reader containing a couple of questions regarding soils.
Her questions were about things that have annoyed me for years. It is all to do with making money, of course, in this case by manufacturing something they call potting soils promising all sorts of marvellous nutrients.
This is largely a figment of the imagination of the manufacturer, I fear.
Those of us confined to apartments don’t really have any choice if we wish to grow anything, but if you have access to plain, ordinary, good old garden dirt, forget so-called potting soil.
At one time I was advised to put garden soil on a metal tray and cook it at 350 degrees in the oven for half an hour to sterilize it before using it (thereby killing all the imagined bacteria in it as well as all the good stuff).
In my early ignorance I tried it. My poor husband, peeking in the oven to see what was cooking, was driven back by the smell, and groaned “good grief, I hope that’s not what we’re having for dinner?”
Actually while the baking certainly killed any bacteria, in my opinion it also killed most, if not all, the nutrients.
It was rendered dead by heat suffocation.
I began to use my ordinary garden soil, adding peat moss to aerate it a bit, and compost to give it added life.
From that time on I had to use caution when in the greenhouse so I wouldn’t be knocked over by rapidly growing and joyful plants!
In an effort to be honest with you, I should admit that once, in a tray of sprouting seeds, I grew a fine crop of moss, and another time a large family of garden worms, but it was always interesting, always productive and I loved it!
Betska, to answer your questions, just remember I am not a trained horticulturist, just someone who has always loved the soil and what it can grow.
So, you ask? How can you create rich potting soil? This only applies if you already have a source of garden dirt. To this add your own rotted compost (about two thirds soil to one third compost). No compost? Add a half teaspoon of 20-20-20 to a two cup measuring cup of the garden soil and peat, mix well, then add water to dissolve the fertilizer.
Now mix it again, really well, and spread it out to dry.
As for creating rich garden soil, my husband and I used to go down to the beach after a winter storm and collect seaweed in garbage bags.
We spread this out on top of the raised beds, not even washing off any salt beforehand.
By spring it would have almost blended into the soil, so we just sprinkled agricultural lime on top of the beds and dug in the mostly decomposed seaweed.
We then planted the vegetable seeds which grew big and beautiful produce on that rich organic diet.
Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 30 years.