I do not have the best soil for growing tomatoes, which require rich soil with lots of humus.
But I want to grow them so, this summer I am going to work hard to improve my soil.
Soil has three components, clay, sand and humus.
Clay holds water and binds nutrients to it, keeping them in the soil and stopping any fertilizer washing straight through.
Sand gives drainage.
Humus gives the soil structure and binds nutrients to it.
My soil is 95% sand, 4% humus and 1% clay. This is about as bad as you can get.
I want to grow tomatoes next year. Tomatoes need deep, rich soil with plenty of nutrients and plenty of humus.
Where do I start in my plan to make my soil fit for tomato growing?
Tomatoes need Deep, Rich soil, Plenty of Nutrients, Plenty of Humus, so first priority:
There are three ways I can get deep soil
- Double digging
- Tip a truck load of soil outside my kitchen window
- Build a raised bed
Double digging presents me with major problems. My 'garden' is on a slope and the fools who owned the house before me levelled it off by tipping ten truck loads of limestone lumps about 3 inches across onto it. Double digging through limestone without a mini-digger is out of the question. A mini-digger costs too much.
A truck load of soil costs too much and would not be enough anyway, without a raised bed to contain it.
Building a raised bed I can do and maybe I can get some top-soil to add to it.
Building a Raised Bed
Building a Wall for My Raised Bed
I have to work out a zero cost way of containing my raised bed yet. I have 6 or 7 railway sleepers lying around, but the preservative from these might leach into the soil and make my tomatoes, peas and onions taste of creosote, not nice.
I could buy a few concrete blocks and cement and build a wall around it, but that would cost too much and look ugly, so I would need to screw planks to it to improve its appearance.
I have pallets and did wonder about making a containing 'fence' using pallets, but it seems like a lot of work.
I will leave the containment for now and start work on the bed.
Raising the Soil Level
This seems like a good opportunity to get rid of all the rubbish lying around the garden, like that plasterboard wall I knocked down. Out comes the wheelbarrow and I barrow the bits of sodden plasterboard across to my new tomato patch.
I then take all the old cardboard boxes that have been piling up (I knew they would come in useful one day) and threw those on top of the plasterboard. These will rot down and turn to humus in the soil, over time and will hold water. Anything that helps the soil hold water is good for growing tomatoes.
I look around the garden and remember that I have a few wheelie bins full of old weeds that I threw in there three years ago, maybe they will have rotted down by now. They have, so I tip the bins over and shovel out all my composted buttercups into the wheelbarrow, wheel it over and tip it out on top of the cardboard.
I have a compost bin full of turf and soil that has been rotting down for a year. Into the barrow it goes. This is some of the original meadow turf, so the soil on it is not too bad.
A friend has heard of my plan to get better soil to grow tomatoes. He turns up with a trailer load of soil and turf from his lawn he was digging up to pave it. He dumps the trailer load on the drive, then comes back with another trailer full later.
No greater gift can you give a gardener than the best soil or compost you have.
I remember that I have another two wheelie bins full of palm leaves. Yes, we do have palm trees in Ireland. These leaves never rot down normally, but I was digging a month ago where I had buried some and the soil was teeming with worms.
I pulled the wheelie bins across to my 'raised bed' and tipped out their contents, more potential humus.
I extract all the turf from the topsoil and barrow it in to tip it on top of the palm leaves. More humus.
I have three large compost bins made from pallets that are full of compost in various stages of readiness. My compost has potato peelings in it and all the peelings seem to sprout as potato plants, it won't matter though. I get a lot of weeds sprouting from the compost, too, but if it's buried that will stop them reaching the light and growing.
I fork the compost into the barrow and wheel it across to my pile of stuff, about to be a raised bed, construction site.
I barrow in the top soil that is left on the drive. Now it is beginning to looksomething like soil fit for tomatoes.
Look around the garden and think.
Along the field boundaries in Ireland are mounds of earth with stones stuck into them. These date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, so they have lasted well. The stones are vertical and just wedged into the earth. Hedges were then planted along the tops of these earth walls (in Ireland they are called ditches).
I have an earth mound, I have stones just like the ones stuck in the 'ditch'…
I put all of my small and medium sized stones into buckets and place the buckets around my raised bed.
I wedge my first stones into the earth. This is going to work. After a few false starts I get the knack and by the end of the day I have a stone wall around my raised bed, cost – nothing.
I get a 20Kg bag of blood fish and bone fertilizer and rake it into the soil. I use this because it is a slow release fertilizer that will slowly nourish the soil. All the humus I have incorporated should absorb the nutrients and release them as required by plants.
A weed appears so I get the hoe out. I will have to keep the weeds down somehow…Plant peas all over the raised bed.They will put extra nitrogen in the soil, making the soil the best possible soil for growing tomatoes next year.