The Green Life Soil Co acknowledges the Nyoongar Whadjuk people - traditional custodians of this land. We wish to acknowledge the strength of their continuing culture and offer our respects to Elders past and present.
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Winter/Spring - August 2012
What are YOU going to be growing this Spring? We can help!
I hope this finds you enjoying the mild weather. We have had some gorgeous days; although the lack of rain is certainly a concern.
This is certainly a very productive time in the garden. There is a huge amount of vegies and herbs to go in the ground now, and much to harvest before the heat of summer really begins to arrive.
In this issue we have a run down of jobs to do, and some advice on growing amazing tomatoes, from the winner of our tomato taste test we ran last spring. We do intend to run it again over summer - so watch this space for more details!
Thanks again for your support and kind words regarding the newsletter. Don't forget, if there's something you'd like to see covered in future editions, drop us a line.
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1. Weed control. Slash, whippership or hoe weeds before they set seed. Weeds which grow from bulbs underground (like oxalis and onion weed) will still spread, but weeds that rely on seed - like wild oats, wintergrass and flatweed dandelions will be greatly set back and you will reduce numbers for next year. Do be watchful - these weeds will pump out new seed heads within days - but repeated trims will reduce the size and vigour of the seed heads every time, as the plant uses up valuable energy. Of course, hand weeding is more effective in the long run - if you have the time.
2. Lift and divide perennial plants. This includes a range of herbs and ornamentals, like Iris, Day Lily, Agapanthus, Dietes, and herbs like mint, chives, tansy, comfrey, oregano, etc. Swap, donate or Freecycle any surplus plants - share the love!
3. Fertilise fruit trees. Many are emerging from winter domancy, and putting on fresh growth in spring. Now is the time to improve the soil with aged manures and compost, and give trees a light dressing of rock dust to provide trace elements.
4. Sow your summer vegies. Many summer fruiting vegies (eg. tomato, capsicum, chillies, eggplant, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, etc.) can be sown now - until soil temperatures increase, sow in seedling trays and place in a warm, sunny spot and protect overnight when the temperature drops. This will give your plants a booming head start and you can get your own mature seedlings in the ground as soon as spring really hits. Don't be tempted to plant out in garden beds just yet - if the soil is still too cold, germination isn't going to happen.
5. Plan and prepare your garden beds. If you are going to be putting in new beds, now is the perfect time. Think about where you'd like to try growing various vegies, and do a little bit of research into companion planting (see our fact sheet). If you are picking and pulling out spent crops, now is the time to replenish and top up beds with more organic matter (if it has broken down) - use aged manures, compost or our Vegetable Concentrate to feed up soil microbes and establish ideal growing conditions for your new seedlings. Other fact sheets that may be useful are:-
Remember if you are wanting to order raised garden bed packages through us, they are made to order, and you do need to allow about 3 weeks turnaround time for manufacture. As spring nears, beds are made on a first come - first served basis, so order early to avoid delays!
6. Watch for pests and diseases. Damp conditions and less sun can mean plants are more susceptible to attack from rot and leaf spot diseases. Ensure adequate airflow around your plants (particulary important if you are raising seedlings under plastic) and quickly treat affected plants to stop spread. Also snails, slugs and slaters can do incredible damage overnight - see our last newsletter for tips and ideas for their control.
Growing Winning Tomatoes! - by Damo Mansfield
At the start of the year, we held a 'Tomato Taste Test' - for a bit of fun! We had some great entries, but the winner was Damo Mansfield, with his Costa del Marmande tomato.
From doing a little bit of research about this variety, it was one of Burke's Backyard taste favourites too, and is well reknowned for its superior flavour. Damo has very kindly provided us with growing tips for what HE does to achieve a great tasting tomato crop. He has also sent in some recent photos of his wonderful garden for us to share with you. Enjoy!!!
Growing Tomatoes with Damo
Surprisingly early!, in late winter I notice self sown tomatoes germinating in my veggie patch from the previous year. I wait 2 weeks to be sure to be sure, and then plant my seeds.
Where and how to plant?
I select a warm sunny spot that has rich soil from a previous crop. I make a small furrow with my Ho-mi (see photo) about 25 mm deep and sow the seed along it quite thickly. I then cover the soil back over the seeds with a pinching action with my fingers; this leaves a fluffy windrow of soil over the seed that is easy to see when watering and does not form a crust to stop germination. A thin layer of Green Life Soil Co veggie concentrate placed over the seed helps to keep them well fertilized and happy. (Note: sieve it first to remove stones or chunks.)
As I have sown the seeds very thick, I then thin out the germinated seeds to about 100mm apart along the row, liquid fertilizer of fish emulsion and seaweed keeps the plants thriving, Attention to detail here means healthy seedlings and a good crop later.
I plant out when the seedlings are about 100mm tall into soil that has had Veggie Concentrate rotary hoed into the soil. Place them 600mm apart in rows 1200mm apart, the plants need plenty of air and sun to keep fungal diseases away. Mulch with pea straw to stop the soil splashing onto leaves, which is a prime source of disease.
As the plants grow, I progressively remove the bottom leaves to stop fungal diseases getting a hold. I prune the plants to 2 main leaders and keep them tied to a 2400mm star picket, any shorter than this and you’re not growing your tomatoes well enough! A pyrethrum spray will keep any nasty bugs away if used with caution. I pick the tomatoes as ripe as I dare, as sometimes fully vine ripened fruit will attract fruit fly.
A splash of garden lime on the leaves will keep fungal diseases away.
We are grateful to Damo for sharing his tips with us - thank you!!! And - in case his "green thumb" status was in any doubt - here are some more recent photos from his garden. From left to right: Carrots and celery growing together, Parsnips and peas together, and finally a strong crop of green manure - almost ready for slashing and turning in.
We ran the Tomato Taste Test as a bit of fun, and to fundraise for charity. Damo's chosen charity is Canteen, and we were happy to present them with $100, thanks to your support.
Over the next few weeks more and more tomato varieties (in seed and seedling form) are becoming available (including Eden Seeds of Rouge de marmande - a close relative of Damo's variety) - so call in and see us and get started on growing YOUR own winning tomatoes now!
Turn Sand into Soil
Growing in Perth's sandy soils is a huge challenge, and according to the results of our survey, it is one of the biggest frustrations faced by many of our customers.
The sandy soils here in Western Australia are ancient, and are devoid of nutrients and organic material. As far as a growing medium, sand provides for good drainage - but that's about it!
There is good news and bad news about having sand as a starting point in your garden.
The good news is sand is actually easier to work with than heavy clay soils. Sand CAN be improved to create a healthy loam, and CAN be developed into a wonderful growing medium.
The bad news is that there is not ONE magic silver bullet, and it may take time and/or money to get to a point where your garden will thrive. Here we will look at some options which will be helpful:-
Why is Sandy Soil so useless?
1. Soil Waterholding ability.
Comparitively speaking, sand particles are quite large (microscopically). They have a smooth surface, and combined, have a small surface area.
Clay particles are on the opposite end of the spectrum - they are tiny - and combined have a huge surface area compared to sand.
(To explain: Imagine a basket ball is a grain of sand. Think about its outer surface area.
Now think about a number of golf balls - and how many would be required to take up the space of one basketball - I haven't done it - but what do you think? 20 - 30 golf balls? Now take the outer surface area of one golf ball, then multiply that by 20 or 30 times - and you can see that comparitively, the number of golf balls that take up the space of one basketball have a greater combined surface area.)
Soil particles all have tiny micropores on their surface which fill with water. Sand particles have larger pores, but but due to the smaller surface area, cannot hold as much water.
Because of this 'surface area' phenomena, clay soils hold between three and six times the amount of water that the same volume of sandy soil holds.
2. Organic Material and Humus.
Much of Perth's sandy soil contains less than 1% of organic matter.
Organic matter is made up of plant and animal residues in various stages of decomposition. The final stage - and most long lasting is humus, which is the residues of micro-organism activity, and is the most stable and long lasting form of organic matter; lasting thousands of years. All forms of organic material (decomposing to humus) are important additions to soil to feed micro-organisms. It is these creatures in their activity and life cycle which make nutrients in the organic matter available to plants. Under a microscope, humus is like a porous sponge. This sponge like structure holds onto water and nutrients, making them available to plants as required, and helps prevent leaching of nutrients.
Organic matter also hugely improves soil structure, allowing air and water to penentrate, and soil roots to grow into voids created around pieces of organic material.
How much organic matter to have in your soil is a matter of contention. It depends on what you are growing, other management practises in place (eg. mulching and irrigation) and even seasonality. But one thing is sure - the ideal amount is LOTS more than 1%!
3. Soil Structure.
A range of particle sizes is ideal for plant roots to grow. Lots of nooks and crannies created by big particles, with gaps in between them filled with small particles, creates pockets of air and water that plants need to thrive.
Too many big particles (Sand) - there is too much space, so water flows straight through. Too many small particles (Clay), and there is not enough space, so compaction and crusting happens.
Ideal soil has a range of particle sizes, and is generally referred to as 'loam'.
4. Cation Exchange.
Without getting too technical here, we all know what happens when we rub a balloon to generate static electricity and hold it near someones head, right? Hair is attracted to the balloon and it stands on end. This has all to do with electrical charge and the negative and positive attraction forces.
Amazingly, the nutrients in soil and plant roots have a very similar relationship.
Clay and humus (due to their electrical 'charge') hold onto nutrients in a way that sand simply cannot. Plant roots are able to remove these nutrients - slowly, and as required - from clay and humus particles. This process is called cation (Cat-iron) exchange, and you want soils to have a high cation exchange capacity (CEC) - otherwise nutrients applied to your garden will leach through with water, and won't be available to plants long term.
If you are interested in Chemistry, this is a fascinating field and there is much to be read about cation exchange and how it works.
If you are not interested in Chemistry, then take it from the scientists that clay and humus is good stuff to have in your soil.
Turning Sand in to Soil
So now you can see what sand lacks, and why it's not ideal to garden in. So what is the solution? As we told you - unfortunately there is not one quick, simple magic bullet. (If someone is telling you there is - be cautious.) However there ARE strategies to improve your soil, and do so dramatically.
1. Add Clay.
With those two simple words, I could continue writing for hours. There are several options now available to Perth gardeners for clay improvers to add to sandy soil. Each manufacturer will claim various benefits - and like most things in gardening - each product will have it's pro's and con's. However every garden is different, every gardener is different - and different things will work for different people. In fact a combination of things is usually the way things work in my experience.
Types of Clay available.
Bentonite Clay has been around for years and has been promoted by Perth gardening leaders for decades. Yes, decades. Amazing that there are still so many people who aren't aware of it, and it's benefits.
There are two types of bentonite available - sodium bentonite and calcium bentonite. Both will do the job of holding moisture in soil, however we tend to recommend calcium bentonite as calcium adds beneficial things to the soil, sodium (salt) not so much. There are other differences, but I don't feel they are particularly relevent to home gardeners.
Bentonite has many industrial uses. Used as a dam liner (the white clay you see around dams on many farms), in blasting and drilling, and even as a food additive!
The bentonite clay we sell is calcium bentonite, from a large reserve in Watheroo, about 250kms north east of Perth. This bentonite is one of the active ingredients in our product, Sand Remedy. There is a range of other ingredients we add to enhance Sand Remedy; to provide a wide range of trace elements, beneficial microbes and a food source for them. It is designed to create a soil environment where soil organisms thrive, thus increasing the health and vigor of your plants. Sand Remedy is Certified Organic.
We also use bentonite in our soil mixes, to help with water and nutrient retention.
The other form of clay now being promoted in Perth is Kaolinite clay. This is a more common form of clay, and this is sourced from the manufacturer of that particular product's own property in the Great Southern Region of WA. The manufacturer promotes tests that show Kaolinite is more efficient at water and nutrient holding. I have seen information (provided by the bentonite suppliers) that say bentonite is more efficient. I am not a soil scientist, and as yet our own product trials have been inconclusive.
I am not about to claim superiority over a competitor's product. I am sure both products work, and have their place. I would again say that every product has it's pro's and con's - and different things work better for different gardens, and gardening methods.
One thing that does not seem do be in dispute is application rates. If you see in gardening books that clay content of soil should be around 20 - 40% - this refers to kaolinite clays. If you were to use bentonite at that ratio, you would end up with soil not unlike concrete!
Bentonite should be incorporated at a ratio between 1 - 5%. We always suggest adding a smaller quantity intially then adding more if required. You will know when you have reached an adquate mixture in your own garden by observation and checking soil moisture regularly.
Please note - adding clay of any kind will improve your soil's water holding ability. But it WILL NOT stop soil from drying out. (Remember - no magic, silver bullets?) What it DOES, is make soil much easier to re-wet. If your soil is VERY dry you will need to add a lot of water to re-wet it. Remember clay holds up to six times the amount of water that sand does? So it will take A LOT of water before it is once again moist.
But once it is re-wet, providing you water regularly (and don't forget to mulch) you will notice it really holds onto moisture in between waterings; meaning overall you use much less water. And more importantly, water is always available to plants, not just once a week or twice a week on your allotted watering days! This promotes stronger and healthier plant growth.
2. Add Organic Matter.
To create a healthy, living soil you need to add organic matter. This can be in the form of animal manures, compost, straw, etc. It needs to be breaking down in order to feed soil microbes, which make the nutrients contained in the organic material available to your plants.
The quality of these nutrients is very important if you are growing food crops. If you aren't providing a particular nutrient to the soil - there is no way the plant can provide it to you in turn. This is why we recommend a range of materials to add to your garden. Making and using your own compost is terrific - but make sure you add lots of good stuff to your compost, or else add different things to your soil every now and again. Trace elements are extremely important - but they are only required in very small amounts. Adding rock dust once or twice (maximum) a year to the soil is sufficient.
Everyone with sandy soil complains that organic material 'vanishes'. Typically, 70% is used within a year (being eaten by microbes) and a further 50% of that remaining 30% is used the following year.
Stick with your efforts! Adding organic matter will build humus levels in your soil over time which will result in better plant growth, better soil structure and more disease resistant plants. The organic gardener's mantra is "feed the soil" - because this is what really feeds the plants.
Over time, (between 3 - 5 years) you will notice you need to add less material, or add material less often, as the humus levels build up. You will notice the depth of decent soil improves from a few centimetres to 20 - 30cms or so, and the soil will be full of worms and hold much more moisture.
Nobody said having a great garden would be cheap. Of course there are many things you can do to save money (eg. make your own compost) - providing you have the time. But surely even if it costs financially - there are worse vices to have than a hobby that gets you outdoors, keeping fit, and growing food for your family.
I have heard Peter Cundall say "If you can garden in Perth you can garden anywhere in the world." - so stand tall, sandgropers. Remember - no magic, silver bullets. But lots of rewards down the track. And that's the real magic. Enjoy the journey.
Our Products to help with Sandy Soil
Sand Remedy. Our Certified Organic mixture of bentonite clay and minerals to help with water holding ability. (click here for more information on this product)
Vegetable Concentrate (Native Concentrate, General Concentrate, Lawn Concentrate, Acid Concentrate) - our unique blends of organic material, compost, manure, fertilisers, trace elements and beneficial microbial activators which are designed as soil improvers for sandy soil. Available bulk or bagged, for delivery or pickup. (click here for more information on this range of soils)
Not sure what you require? Contact us and we'll be happy to help.
Win a $50 Voucher!
We are always interested to know what YOU - our customers - want, and ideas on what we can do to improve our business.
To that end, we have devised a quick (10 question) survey on line. If you complete the survey, you are entered into the draw to win a $50 voucher from The Green Life Soil Co.
Just for fun - here are profiles of our crew. Come in and say Hi!!
Andrew has been with GLSC for almost six years, having joined us as a weekend casual while he was still in high school. Andrew is largely responsible for scheduling your deliveries, and ensuring the wheels of production run smoothly. He is often in the bobcat making up soil mixes, and preparing loads for delivery. He bought his first house at 21, and will no doubt be a multi millionaire by the time he’s 42
John is one of GLSC’s newer recruits, having left a corporate life to pursue a tree change. He has completed Certificate II in Horticulture at Polytechnic West, and is keen to help customers with their planty-questions. John mostly works in the shop, answering phones, advising customers and keeping us plied with coffee. He also helps out with the odd delivery and is one of the few people who can get away with wearing a beanie and still look intelligent.
Ben also started with us as a casual while at high school. Ben is one of the dynamic duo who help with bagging. He also has the neatest handwriting of all staff – bar none – and often receives compliments from customers to this effect. He also has very large holes in his earlobes (apparently this is fashionable amongst young people) which continues to be a source of fascination for me.
Steve has been with us for a while now, having been a school friend of Ben (and his brother) he came on board when we needed an extra pair of hands in production. He is the other half of the dynamic duo, keeping our bag production up to date. Steve’s hobby is body building, and so carrying heavy bags to your car is a joy for him, really.
Matt works with us mostly on Sundays, helping out Andrew and keeping production rolling. Matt is training to be a Phys. Ed teacher and strangely has the worst diet of anyone I have ever seen; existing on fast food of all varieties – the more deep fried, the better. I suspect the closest he gets to vegetables is walking past the seedling stand every weekend. However – that said; he is fit and healthy and still outpaces the others!
Coby is the youngest of our team, he is still at school and works as our Saturday casual, following in the footsteps of his older brother Taylar who worked with us until he accepted an apprenticeship. Coby helps out in the shop, helps customers with goods to their car, and keeps tubs stocked up for us.
Jon H is our mild mannered delivery driver. He is friendly and easy going – at least when working for us. His real passion is fishing, and I don’t believe the fish would find him friendly OR easy going – (just saying). He spends quite a bit of time in Mandurah on weekends pursuing this hobby, and replacing fishing gear. He also has some good shark stories.
Paul & Linda
The owners of The Green Life Soil Co, these guys started out in 2001 when they were after a tree change to their former lives, both working previously in design. They have one child and a large dog. They live in Chidlow where they have a ‘work in progress’ vegie garden, and quite a few fruit trees. Having only been there for three years there is still much to do – in so little spare time! Their other hobby is Lindy Hop – a form of swing dancing. They’re not very good at it but it’s something that is great exercise, good fun, and a way to get out of the mindset of work 24/7. Linda now has a fledgling blog about their garden (and gardens in general) http://www.greenlifesoil.com/_blog/The_Stoney_Patch
Missy the shop cat. Missy is the resident mouser, and likes to sleep in a practical spot - usually on the front counter, or on the office desk. In cold weather she favours a lap to sleep on and is not easily dissuaded. Usually she loves a pat from customers, but has been known to strike out when she's had enough (like most cats do) and likes to leap onto the counter from behind customers to give them a fright. Much correspondence leaves our place with her footprints on it. (Sorry about that.)
Newsletter - Special Offer
As a thank you for your loyal support, we would like to offer 10% on seeds and seedlings this spring. For on-lline shoppers, visit www.greenlifesoil.com and use the code: SEEDS
at checkout for the discount to be applied.
In store, please mention the deal to staff to receive the discount. (One time use per customer.) Valid until 30th September.
Happy Gardening - and see you next time!!!
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