When and how should you improve your garden soil? Many gardeners still dig up their vegetable garden as soon as the last crop has been harvested. But is this always advisable?
Loosening garden soil properly
There are various ways to improve the garden soil. Soil loosening plays an important role in this, with the natural soil composition providing the direction. Roughly speaking, there are sandy soils (light soils), loamy/sandy soils (medium soils) and clay soils (heavy soils).
Different tools are used for cultivation:
The spade is still the classic tool for deep soil cultivation. It can be used to easily incorporate harvest waste or autumn leaves when turning the soil. A digging fork can also be used to improve the soil. Since the clods often disintegrate during ploughing, it is more commonly used in spring. A sow's tooth is pulled through the soil like a plough. It can be worked in an upright position and progress is quite fast.
To dig or not to dig?
If the soil is very heavy or compacted, it makes sense to dig it up in autumn to maintain or create soil tilth. The large clods disintegrate due to the frost effect, creating fine and stable crumbs. However, the soil flora and fauna are severely disturbed in the process. If important soil organisms reach deeper layers, they cannot survive there because of the lack of oxygen. So when digging with a spade, make sure to preserve the soil stratification as much as possible!
An alternative is to stick the tines of a digging fork deep into the soil and only lever vigorously on the handle. This way the layers also remain intact and air still gets into the soil. This technique can be used well with medium-heavy soils.
Very sandy soils do not need to be dug up at all. In most cases, it is sufficient to loosen the soil to the depth of a spade in spring. A sow’s tooth glides through the soil relatively easily. Even a not too heavy, loamy soil can be worked with a sow tooth. However, this requires much more muscle power.
Keeping the soil crumbly
A well-drained soil is crumbly, well aerated and easy to root. If a heavy soil is mulched regularly for a year after digging or if it is planted throughout, the loose structure is well preserved. Then tilling with a sow’s tooth or digging fork in the following year is often quite sufficient.
Improve garden soil: Targeted enrichment with nutrients
Sandy soils do not store water or nutrients very well. Compost, mulch or green manure can improve the soil’s ability to store nutrients in the long term. However, a mulch layer should not be applied too thickly – 2 to 5 centimetres is usually sufficient. The blanket of organic material can be carefully worked into the soil shortly before planting or sowing.
As a general rule, plants only need nutrients during the growth phase. If nitrogen is applied too late in the year (from August), perennials and woody plants may not be sufficiently hardy. In spring it is advisable to use fast-acting, nitrogenous mineral fertilisers only from the end of March.
With horn shavings and other organic fertilisers, on the other hand, the nitrogen they contain is not immediately available to plants – it must first be converted by soil organisms. Natural fertilisers can therefore be applied all year round. It is best to wait during the cold season until the soil is frozen and soil life is dormant. Then the nutrients are guaranteed to be converted only in spring.
Stable manure is often applied in autumn or winter. Our tip: compost the manure and apply it only in early spring. This way no burns occur on sensitive roots. Manure has a favourable C-N ratio, provided it contains sufficient straw. It is possible to spread it in the bed without admixtures.
Not all manure is created equal
The dung of horse, sheep, goat, rabbit, pigeon and chicken contains quite a lot of nitrogen in an easily absorbable form. It decomposes quickly and is referred to as “heaty”.
Duck, goose and pig manure decomposes comparatively slowly. These types of manure are called “cold”. Root burns occur less frequently here.
Cattle manure occupies a middle position.
The suitability test for garden tools
Work is only fun with the right gardening tools. Tools with rustproof blades, leaves or tines will last a long time without care and can be cleaned up quickly with a little water from the hose. You don’t even have to dry them.
However, the blades of non-rusting tools usually do not stay sharp for long. In addition, the softer steel has to be thicker than tools made of carbon steel. Since the latter is forged thinner, the tools made from it are much lighter and at the same time very stable.
This is particularly noticeable with large tools such as spades or digging forks. The disadvantage: the metal rusts quickly and you have to polish it occasionally to prevent soil or plant sap from sticking. Frequent use and occasional oiling with acid-free organic oil will keep the steel intact.
The right handle length for a spade
Often the whole family, or at least the gardening enthusiast part, uses the same spade model. It is more ergonomic if everyone uses a tool with the right handle length. This is suitable when the arm, bent at a right angle, can rest on the spade handle. An adjustable spade fits every body size.