Real Men Sow

Different Types of Organic Matter to Replenish Your Soil

To grow healthy, bountiful fruit and veg, we are reliant on the soil. Feeding the soil to create a rich base for our plants is arguably the most important thing a veg grower does all year.

Generally, this is done annually during the Autumn, and involves adding bulky organic matter to our beds. The organic matter helps replenish the nutrients that have been taken out of the soil by the previous season’s crops. Veg plants feed incredibly hard during the growing season, so replacing the lost goodness is vital for continuing success.

So, what does everyone add to the soil to restock the goodness? This will generally depend on individual factors, such as space, cost and what is available locally. Here are a few examples of organic matter that I’ve used with success.

Horse Manure
Horse and cow manure is a traditional and popular organic matter amongst generations of gardeners. The very best muck is the jet black, well-rotted stuff which has been left for a year, and is often delivered to allotment plots on the back of trucks.

Animal manure is high in nutrients, making it ideal for digging in to soil. A good load can cost up to £20, but this often depends on how keen people are to shift it. My local livery yard can’t move it quick enough, and are more than happy for people to fill up trailers and bags from their muck mountain for nowt.

Garden Compost
Well-rotted, homemade compost is like black gold. High in nutrients, it is easy to make from an equal mixture of nitrogen ‘rich’ greens (e.g grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, spent veg plants) and carbon rich ‘browns’ (e.g. cardboard, paper, straw), either in a designated compost bin, or piled up and covered with old carpet.

Compost is free and once you’re got a system licked, available whenever you want it. Creating enough to cover a whole allotment or veg plot is a challenge, but some local Councils sell their own green waste compost which can be used to bulk up your own stock.

Living near the river has been a rich source of freebies for me, and none more so than the bladderwrack which is washed up after every tide. If you’ve got access to the sea, a barrowfull of the slimy black weed can be gathered in no time at all.

Seaweed contains all nutrients plants require for good growth, and can be dug straight in without washing the salt off.

If you are collecting seaweed, take care not to remove too much from one area, or dislodge rocks in the process, as these provide important habitat for estuary creatures such as crabs.

Leaf Mould
Leaf mould is low in nutrients, but is an excellent soil conditioner and helps maintain moisture. I use lead mould primarily to bulk up garden compost, although I find it an ace form of mulch on its own.

The mould is easy to make, but the leaves can take a year or so to rot down. Simply gather up leaves, put them in a plastic bin liner and pierce a few holes into the bag.

And some I haven’t used…
Many growers advocate green manures, but I must confess I’ve only used them once. Green manure involves growing a cover of specific plants right across a bed, and digging in later on.

A good crop of green manures offers protection to the soil during bad weather, suppresses weeds and stop nutrients escaping.

I’m keen to try using green manures again, as access to both my garden patch and allotment isn’t brilliant, so the opportunity to grow a soil conditioner there and then would be very handy.

Have you used green manures or any other organic matter to improve your soil? How did you find them?

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  1. DennyNovember 4, 2013 at 10:30 amReply

    Ive used Mustard with really good results, as soon as you lift the crop sow mustard, and it really inhibits weed growth.
    Obviously its a brassica, so make sure you dont spoil your rotations.

    Winter Field Beans are also really good, as they over winter, and again, supress weeds.

    I have 3/4 Raised beds at my plot, and I’ve filled them with 4/5ths 4 year old horse manure. (due to it being free) Its like rocket fuel for plants.

    • Jono

      JonoNovember 5, 2013 at 9:58 pmReplyAuthor

      Thanks Denny. I like the weed suppressing idea over winter. I’m useless at keeping on top of the weeds during winter.

  2. Alan @ It's Not Work, It's Gardening!November 4, 2013 at 3:02 pmReply

    A productive restaurant garden in town foregoes the composting step and just digs holes to fill with kitchen scraps among their most heavy feeders (tomatoes for instance). They cover with some soil, and the plants get lots to eat in a month or two.

    • Jono

      JonoNovember 5, 2013 at 10:00 pmReplyAuthor

      Hey Alan – I’ve done a similar thing for growing runner beans in. Dig a spade deep trench in the new year and cover over to rot down. I filled it with some grass clippings too.

  3. david shinnNovember 4, 2013 at 10:44 pmReply

    Hi Jono,
    Friends in the village supply our site with manure from their icelandic ponies.It’s free and delivered into the double bunker which I made from free pallets.
    It’s not well rotted but isn’t too strong and gets used as a mulch round pretty much everything (except root crops of course).

    I used to compost garden and plot waste in a pallet surround but now use plastic “daleks” (also free from villagers who don’t use them!) .They seem to heat up well on the sunny open ground and can be moved around the plot onto vacant space ,so the contents get well mixed which helps the decomposition.

    I tried green manure last year but then thought why am I now growing rye grass when I’ve been trying to get rid of the couch grass all summer!

    • Jono

      JonoNovember 5, 2013 at 10:05 pmReplyAuthor

      I find the daleks much better too. You’re right about the heat. Turning the compost can be tricky, but I’ve always got good results from them. They look tidier too.

      I put the compost in plastic sacks and tie at the top in Autumn. I find it helps the compost finish off the rotting process.

  4. MikeNovember 13, 2013 at 3:35 pmReply

    I have two ‘Daleks’ in my back garden (no plot yet!) No probs with them, but has anyone bought or thought about buying a ‘Hot Bin’ Supposedly due to the high heat produced (60deg) compost is ready in 90 days!
    I’m still thinking about purchasing one.

  5. AnonymousDecember 2, 2013 at 5:32 amReply

    I’ve planted phaecelia a few times. It’s so pretty and bees go crazy for it. I know it’s not the point to let it flower but I can’t help it, one of those accidental bonuses you get sometimes.

  6. BerylNovember 11, 2014 at 1:59 pmReply

    I got hold of a free hotbin this year from someone who downsized their gardening. It is difficult to keep the temperature up and staying up, but once you get it going it is quick to produce compost. not sure I would buy one over a whole load of big daleks though,

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meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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