I recall reading in Carol Deppes’ book The Resilient Gardener that one of the benefits of renting is the scope of experience you get with different soils and climates as you move around.
Couldn’t agree more~
We’re no longer renters but we have been til now and the soil I have here in Eketahuna is the polar opposite of what I had in Horowhenua. In our last place the kids were making sandpits out of my soil, here, they’re making pots and sculptures out of my heavy clay soil!
My name Stoney Ground Herbs follows me one way or another (in Foxton we lived on a gravel road), here stones are a plenty within the soil. Although it grates my ears if my spade grinds along any and jars my wrists if my fork hits a big one, I am grateful, for the stones are sure to help with any drainage issues, I hope!
Without doing any soil tests or even feeling the soil I can look around and take some educated guesses to its condition.. Firstly there’s buttercups aplenty which tells me the ground is pretty wet, mint and lemon balm is growing randomly in places and looking like its loving the wet ground too. Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris, is throughout the lawn (selfheal is a wonderful herb so yippee!!) as is broad leafed plantain, Plantago major, (again, not too upset about this!) both of which like damp lawns.
Within the gardens (the gardens were advertised as organic – as I’ve been working through them and looking at the trees, I’m guessing that if you do absolutely nothing to your property you can say its organic, a bit mis-leading mind!) anyhoo, within the gardens there is convolvulus (Calystegia silvatica) grrr, which could mean poor drainage and low calcium. Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis– useful herb for for skin conditions, but we’re ok and don’t need it right now) which could pertain to poor drainage, low pH, low calcium, high magnesium, clay soils. Cleavers (Galium aparine) yet another useful herb in the wrong place, can indicate low nitrogen. The creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) also pertains to low nitrogen and poor drainage.
Must note, when we first moved here and was taking these notes we had arrived at the tail end of apparently 18 months of rain! Phew! Timing!
Looking at all the rhododendrons and camellias that grow in this neck of the woods I’d say acidic soils (low pH) are a characteristic of the soil throughout this area. Great for growing currants, blueberries and rhubarb too! I’m guessing that when my hydrangeas flower they will be a deep blue. Lots of walnuts, plums and apples around whom all grow best in heavy soils.
So, low calcium and low nitrogen, as well as low pH, with heavy clay soils.
Apart from removing all the plants in the wrong places, including a couple of walnut trees (who would put a walnut tree in their bloomin vege garden??…if you were thinking about doing it, don’t, walnuts exude toxins from their roots and as a drip from their leaves). I’m going to have to tutu with the soil quite a bit, particularly for where my herbs will grow. Most herbs prefer an alkaline soil that’s nice and light with great drainage. Oh dear! What sort of a challenge have I got myself into here?!
I love a challenge…well, if it goes my way!
I added compost of my own brew (from our last place) plus some lime. Whilst digging I found a lot of dahlia bulbs, actually not a lot, an obscene amount! I love dahlias as much as the next person but it started getting ridiculous and I stopped caring if I stabbed one of the monsters, I had been carefully digging them out and planting them over yonder called New Dahlia Bed. So the dahlias helped my plans of double digging to open up the subsoil…I didn’t need to, removing them did it for me. I added chicken poo that was piled up in the old dove cotes (was well matured) for added nitrogen. Once I planted my dear plants I mulched them with seaweed mulch that a fellow stall holder at the Wairarapa Farmers Markets sells. So far everyone is looking pretty happy, I’m glad i got them in and settled before this heat wave (what a difference from last year eh!).
For my vegetable beds I got all inspired by how my friend Glen started his garden that you can read about here. Perfect solution for completely new beds, being that we don’t live near the sea I’m using a lot of animal manure instead of seaweed.
Anyway… The root of the story is this…before you pull out your weeds have a wee think of what situation they’re taking advantage of and/or what they may have to tell you.
(Most of the information about weeds as soil indicators was taken from Tim Jenkins article in Organic NZ magazine, July/August 2010, Vol. 69, No. 4)