Posted by Gardening Felix | Posted in Basic Gardening Tips, Soil gardening tips, Vegetable Gardening | Posted on 20-05-2013
Best Gardening Tips is proud to present an interview with biologist and hobby gardener Carl Hawkins from Norfolk, who agreed to talk about his garden plot, general advice on gardening and tips how to improve your soil with us. We met him on a sunny day in April and started to talk about his garden.
Carl Hawkins: You have to mulch.
BGT: Can you tells us some details? As far as I can see, the soil here is really clayey and heavy.
Carl: That’s nothing bad by itself.
BGT: In how far does your soil influence how you grow vegetables here?
Carl: The soil influences the water balance in the soil, you always have to keep an eye on the moisture. Most plants don’t like wet feet – we therefore dig trenches in summer, when there’s heavy rain. In so doing, water can flow of instead of staying in the soil – where it would cause mold. The other way would be to construct raised beds, where the plants are above the water line as well. However, root vegetables can get to wet even in raised beds if the soil is too heavy.
BGT: Wouldn’t it be ideal to grow everything in raised beds round here?
Carl: Of course, of course, but that depends on the materials you have at your disposal, and.. but what’s that?
Carl discovers an insect just some inches from his feet that seems to have made its way from the earth after a long winter sleep. After an elaborate explanation of the animal’s species and characteristics, we continue the interview.
BGT: Do you have a problem with slugs in your garden?
Carl: Yes, sadly. My general advice is to offer them as little habitat as possible, so no brush-wood, caves etc. There is of course the possibility of countering them with their biological enemy – ducks would be perfect. I can only recommend runner ducks to every ornithology enthusiast. They’re cute and tasty, and they eat snails.
BGT: What about planting mustard seed as a snail repellant?
Carl: I’m not sure, I haven’t tried that yet. Well, my mother always recommended lady’s mantle against snails. Quite a pretty flower, by the way.
BGT: If you encounter the problem that your vegetables simply aren’t growing well – do you conduct soil tests for nutritional value?
Carl: I think that that’s mostly not necessary. With a bit of experience it’s easy to discover how the plants are doing. For example, take a lot at that raised bed – stinging nettle, that’s always a sign for good soil!
Carl: You know, I live by the sea, so seaweed is a natural choice. I made some good experience with it during the last two years, not only as a fertilizer, but also as an additive to the soil – finding the right additives is a way to truely improve your soil. As our soil here is loamy, seaweed and sand are great additives that we mix into the earth. At first I was afraid that were oversalting the soil, but it turned out all right. Seawater contains all kinds of micronutrients, so.. I want to emphasize the advantage of seaweed and similar additives to the soil’s structure in any case.
BGT: Do you think that erosion is a danger for your standard garden with only one or more harvests per year?
Carl: Not necessarily, although I would always advice fellow gardeners to use cover crop (as a method to retain nitrogen in the soil). You can use mustard plants, for example, even in late autumn – this way it will wither in winter before the bloom (mustard is an annual plant) and can then be plowed into the soil. Clover is a standard, as well.. Just recently, a neighbor advised me to plant rye, which I will try in the near future. Cover crops should always be applied in combination with compost.
BGT: Do you have a final fertilizing tip for our readers?
Carl: Horse manure. That’s simply the best fertilizer to improve your soil quality – if you can get your hands on it. The digestive system of horses is not as effective as that of, let’s say, cattle, therefore their manure contains some semi-digested plants with more nutrients and is simply a great reservoir that depletes much slower than chemical fertilizer. When chemical fertilizer washes away, it easily find its way into streams and ponds – the consequences are disastrous. In my eyes there’s no reason why gardeners have to contribute to this issue.
BGT: Thanks for your tips, Carl.