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Sunday, 5 June 2011

Your soil is crucial

Your soils fertility is the key to successful organic vegetable growing. Not only does the soil provide a mooring for roots, it allows roots to breathe, supplies water for the roots to soak up and most importantly food for your plants. Types of soils can vary in the Mediterranean but there are four main classifications and its well worth the time in finding out your soil type. 

We are within the Lefkara formation of Cyprus and our soil was formed during the palaeogene period, millions of years ago, when sea levels dropped forming land with high carbonate and siliceous deep water sediments and this accounts for the whiteness of our chalky soil. The disadvantages of chalky soil are that is free draining and loses nutrients easily and ours is slightly acidic with a pH of 5.5.
 Fortunately, unlike some chalky soils, it has a good depth and has benefited from generations of adding organic matter which has improved its fertility. It does, however, bake hard after very heavy rain, if followed by strong sun, and needs loosening to avoid seedlings being crushed. 

Our challenge is to continue improving its fertility, structure and gradually improve its acidity. The best way to improve a soil is by adding as much organic material as possible, over many years, as part of a rotation cycle for growing vegetables. Animal manures, compost, seaweed or green manures will all add humus and goodness to your vegetable beds.

The pH needs of individual plants are important for the health of your plants and cannot be underestimated. Basically pH measures how acidic or alkaline your soil is. The pH range is from 1 to 14 and less than 7 means soil is acidic and over 7 that it is alkaline. The level of pH affects a plants ability to take up nutrients and generally a range from 6 to 7 allows most nutrients to be readily taken up by plants. It is well worth the expense of purchasing a test kit to analyse your own soil and then monitor changes over time as the addition of slow acting ground limestone, during your rotation cycle, will gradually alter acidic soil towards neutrality. Monitors are easy to use and come with full instructions.

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