Solutions for poor soil gardens

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BLOOMING GOOD: Since you will be starting off with fertile soil there will be little need for fertilizers.

FROM 2000 to 2007, Spain apparently built some 35 per cent of all residential properties constructed in the entire European Union.

So it is no wonder that many owners of those properties have found that they have only a shallow depth of soil and that the soil is of poor quality.

If you are in this situation, it is futile to expect to develop a long-term sustainable garden by planting directly in the garden soil. It would be far better to build areas of raised beds with 30 to 50 centimetres of a rich water retentive soil mix from day one and cover the areas between with stone slab, tile or stone chipping terraces and paths.

The benefits will be eightfold:

1. Fewer plants will die within a few weeks, months or years.
2. Raised beds can be used for hedges, flowering plants, shrubs and trees, culinary and medicinal herb beds, a rockery, succulent or bulb collections, rose collections, vegetables and fruit plants, bushes and trees, an asparagus bed, etc, etc.
3. You can work them without walking on them and do so standing up or sitting on a seat or stool.
4. Since you don’t need to walk on the soil you can work raised beds immediately after heavy rains.
5. Watering needs will be less.
6. Easy to work if you fill with a good soil mix.
7. Provided the raised beds are on a good draining base or have low water draining holes they will not become waterlogged even after heavy rains.
8. Less continuing frustration. Walls of raised beds can be brick, stone, aggregate blocks, wood, old doors, railway sleepers, welded or bolted sheet metal, and peat blocks, etc. They are easily built by a handyman or local odd-job man. Make the width no more than a metre.

We suggest that you fill the raised beds with a mix of good top soil, homemade or purchased inexpensive natural compost from a local composting yard or ecopark, and well composted horse, sheep, goat or poultry manure. If you use all the topsoil from the areas that you are going to cover with chippings you may have sufficient soil.

Since you will be starting off with fertile soil there is little need for additional fertilisers in the first year even if growing vegetables. In subsequent years top up the surface of the soil with five to 10 centimetres of good compost and well rotted manures.

To use the raised beds most productively put trailing plants around the sides to hang down the walls as well as maximising the tops of the beds.

For watering we suggest you install a drip irrigation system on the raised beds controlled by a simple battery operated timer or install a water tank above the raised beds and water by gravity.

If you are bothered by a neighbour’s pet cats or feral cats cover the top of vegetable beds, especially at sowing and planting times, with a removable wire mesh tunnel.

This can be covered with clear plastic sheeting to protect overwintering and early spring crops.

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