Category: Understanding Your Soil

What is Hydrophobic soil and how to fix it with soil wetting agents

Hydrophobic Soil – What is it, and how to fix it?

Water is a key element for plants to live. Without proper watering, your garden has no chance of survival. Unfortunately, in a lot of regions in Australia, the problem of hydrophobic soils occurs, which means that getting the water to where it needs to be, can be a bit of problem.  Read on to find out what hydrophobic soil means for you and how can we fix it. Read more

30 Days To Grow a Better Garden

30 Days to Grow a Better Garden

Welcome to September, or as it will be called at 'So You Want A Better Garden?' month. This month I will be focusing on helping you step forward to meet your gardening goals. I realise though that for many people the task of improving your garden seems monumental.

Don't fret! One of the keys things I'll be helping you do this month is break the task down into manageable, bite sized pieces with my series '30 Days to Grow a Better Garden'.

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Sustainable Gardening Tips 

Many gardeners have sustainability in mind. Growing the food you eat, after all, is a big step to living a sustainable way of life. Compared to non-organic methods, organic methods are definitely more sustainable, not only for human health, but also for wildlife, the water, and the soil. Sustainable gardening, however, goes beyond the use of organic techniques. From energy and water conservation to the reduction of waste, there are so many ways to make our gardening practices more sustainable.

There are so many sustainable gardening tips you can follow, and below are just a few of them. Read more

What makes ‘good’ soil?

To have a thriving garden, like so many of us crave, it is very important to ensure that everything is just right. The sun needs to be right, the shade needs to be right, the wind needs to be right but, very importantly, the soil needs to be ‘good’. However, I have had a lot of people ask me ‘what makes soil ‘good’? Yes, it is true, this is actually a little subjective because some plants actually require more specific type soils. Some like more alkaline, some like more acidic. Some prefer coastal limestone based soils, others prefer more clay based soils. However, as a general rule, there is such a thing as ‘good soil’ and yes, it is attainable for you!


What makes soil?

Basically, when it comes to soil there are two main ingredients, with an few others added to the mix in smaller doses. The main two ingredients are sand and clay. All soil will be a mix of various parts of sand to clay. Soils with more sand in them will be lighter, more grainy and, if you pick it up in your hand, will easily run through your fingers. Soils with more clay will be heavier, absorb more water, stick together more and, if you pick it up, will stick to your hands a lot more.

Added to sand and clay, in soils, are various other minerals such as limestone, sulfur and the like. Organic matter also plays a very important role in determining what your soil is like. Generally speaking, it is the organic matter which binds together the sand particles and the clay particles. This is a little simplified, but it fits for the explanation.

So what makes GOOD soil then?

A soil can be considered ‘good’ when it has particular levels of sand, clay, organic matter and another ingredient called silt. This ‘good’ soil has a name and that is loam. Now, there are slight variations in what is considered as loam as well, you can have light and heavy loam, but they are just small differences in the overall make up. For the purposes of this article, ‘good soil’ is a medium loam, so smack bang in the middle of heavy and light loams.

Roughly speaking, a medium loam has the following ingredients;
10% Coarse sand (so BIG sand particles)
45% Fine sand (so SMALL sand particles)
20% Silt
15% Clay
10% Organic matter & moisture.

Now, these percentages are just rough, but they give you an idea of what it takes to make your soil good.

But what makes this consistency of soil ‘good’?

Good question, what characteristics does this consistency of soil have which makes it good? Well, loam is considered good because though it drains really well, which roots like because it limits root rot, this loam is able to absorb a good amount of water which gives plants access to water when needed. This consistency also helps lock in various nutrients (added via fertilisers). Loam also keeps a good temperature, not getting too hot in summer and not getting to cold in winter. This is all because this ‘mix’ of ingredients happens to work well together to allow plants to thrive.

What is the problem with soils that have too much sand?

The positives to soils with lots of sand is that they drain water really well. The problem is that fine and coarse sand are not very good at keeping any water in place to be accessible for your plants to use. Sand also allows nutrients to leech away when water, meaning that your plants don’t have access to the minerals that they need to grow in a healthy manner.

What is the problem with soils that have too much clay?

As you can probably guess, the problem with clay soils is the opposite. Clay soils absorb and keep a lot of water, which can actually cause plants problems. Though roots need to have access to water, they don’t like to be immersed in water (unless they are water plants) as they need to be able to breath. Clay based soils do a good job of keeping nutrients, but they often lock them in so well that it becomes difficult for plants to access.

How do I fix my soil?

This is actually quite a complex answer because, though I have explained loam, I have still only explained it in a basic way. There are other considerations in actually making a good loam or turning your damaged soil into loam. You need to make sure the pH levels are right for what you want to plant. You have to make sure you have enough fertiliser (nutrients) in the soil for your plants to do well and then, of course, you have to make sure it is a good mix as described above. However, generally speaking, if you pick up the soil in your hand and it runs through your fingers really quickly, you need to add some clay particles. To do this, check out Gardening Australia’s tips. If you have the opposite problem, you pick up your soil and it just sticks really thick to your fingers OR it is very hard to dig into your soil because it seems ‘rock hard’, you have too much clay. Good tips for this can be found at Organic Gardening.

Good luck with improving your soil!

So You Want A Better Garden?

All my best articles have been collected into what I’m calling the ultimate gardening toolkit – make sure you take a look, there’s a heap of great gardening advice available.

I’ve also published a series of gardening ebooks that you might be interested in. Good luck!


Growing Tomatoes | Growing + Care Guide Australia

As we enter spring, and soon summer, it seems a lot of people have decided to try their hand at growing vegetables.

In Australia, one of the main stays in vegetable gardening is the humble tomato.

I have recently received a few requests for information on growing tomato plants so i thought I might share my 2 cents worth on that topic here with a post


Top Tips for Growing Luscious Tomatoes

Step One – Prepare a really good soil

Photo: Herman Turnip

Like with most plants, to grow healthy tomatoes as much effort needs to go into the process BEFORE planting as you do AFTER planting. Any fruiting plant requires a rich blend of nutrients throughout the growing phases for it to produce good fruit and this is most certainly the case for new tomato seedlings or even seeds.

For tomatoes to thrive they need to be able to grow really big, deep roots. For this to happen they need to be planted in a good loam soil. A really claggy clay soil will be the death of healthy tomato plants! A good idea would be to buy a vegetable soil blend, which most garden shops sell, and mix this in with your soil.

This will include a whole heap of natural micronutrients that your tomatoes will need. Also add a good NPK fertliser to the mix, making sure the mix has a high nitrogen content to help foster early growth. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are the three main nutrients that plants need to survive.

Step Two – Choosing what to grow from, seeds or seedlings

One of the decisions you have to make is whether to plant in seed or seedling form. Tomato seeds are cheap and really quite easy to cultivate however I myself prefer to grow from seedling. Because tomato plants grow big and are generally high yielding, I only ever really need 3-5 plants in my garden.

Sowing a packet of seeds will yield many more plants than this, more than i could ever require, and so I generally choose to go from seedling. This also means I will start to yield fruit sooner rather than later.

I have heard a few arguments as to why growing from seeds is better, such as being able to control what goes into your plant right from the start, however for me this just hasn’t really been an issue. However either option works.

Step Three – Planting

If you are planting from seed form, basically follow the directions on the back of the packet of seeds. If you plant from seed, expect to have to either move some of the plants later on (when more than one seed germinates in close proximity to another).

This isn’t always an issue as you will often get areas that you have planted seeds that don’t germinate at all, so you can transplant a seedling from a high yield area to the lower yield area’s.

If planting from seedling my main advice is give them space! Like I mentioned above, tomato plants generally grow rather large. Planting with at least 30-40cm between seedlings is your best bet for not having plants growing into each other down the track.

This also helps the plants in terms of nutrient availability because there will be more nutrients in the soil close to each plant, they won’t be fighting for nutrients.

I also like to place a stake into the grown when I plant my seedlings, ready for later use, because this way I know i won’t be disturbing the soil around them too much with the stake. The tomato plant will grow around the stake.

Step Four – Looking after your Tomato plants

After your seeds have germinated into seedlings or after you have planted your seedlings, it is all about looking after the plant, helping it to grow and thrive so that your tomato plants are best positioned for producing great fruit!

For the first 3-6 weeks the focus is on getting the tomato plant to grow, developing strong stems and strong roots. Once your plant is about 40cm high i would tie it, loosely, to the stake you installed when you planted.

If you didn’t do this, that is ok, place the stake close to the stem but do it carefully so as not to disturb the roots too much. As it grows more, keep an eye on it, if the top ever looks like it is starting to droop then it is time to tie it to the stake again, higher up, to provide good support.

With fruiting plants the key to great fruit is two things, water and nutrients. All fruit mostly consists of water, so obviously a plant needs great access to water to inject it into the fruit. Plants also need regular doses of nutrients to help them grow and produce great fruit.

I like to use Yates fertilises, in particular the water soluble thrive fertiliser. I apply this quite generously about once a week. As far as watering goes, as long as your soil drains well you cannot, in my opinion, over water veggies.

At a minimum I would water them every second day, but for the first 3 weeks i’d strongly recommend daily. Even after 3 weeks, if you have the time, daily is optimal.As the tomatoes start to ripen, turning from green to red, hold back on the watering a little (so every two days is fine) as this will encourage the plant to focus more on injecting sugars into the fruit, making for sweeter, better tasting fruit.

Once tomatoes are well reddened, pick and enjoy! I love a nice, fresh, juicy tomato straight off the plant 🙂

So You Want A Better Garden?

All my best articles have been collected into what I’m calling the ultimate gardening toolkit – make sure you take a look, there’s a heap of great gardening advice available.

I’ve also published a series of gardening ebooks that you might be interested in. Good luck!

soil wetting agent

Here is a reposted article from 2007 on soil-wetting agents.

Soil Wetting Agents

Ahhh winter, the brisk mornings, the cloudy skies, the inability to simply walk 5 metres without getting wet…oh how I do not enjoy it! However, although I may not enjoy the rain, your garden will and we DO need rain.

Only one problem…with Australia’s harsh summers increasingly drying out our soils, sometimes our gardens are not equipped to handle or best utilise the rain we do receive in the winter. One such reason for this is that soil can tend to build up a ‘crust’ on top, made up of various bits of soil, chemicals and other things. This is why you may see your garden ‘holding water’, that is, the water not sinking into the soil but instead pooling or running away from the plants.
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