It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning to grow your own for the very first time this spring or whether you’ve had a veg patch on the go for years… the quality of soil is everything.
When you think about what a plant does when it grows, it makes sense to give the soil in which its growing a lot of love and attention. A plant puts down roots, and from those roots it draws out all the water and nutrients it needs to grow big and strong. The soil, therefore, needs to a) make it easy for the plant to put down its roots in the first place, and b) be full of nutrients and have enough water to nourish the plant.
Let’s look at these two things in a little detail:
Making it easy for plants to put down their roots.
If you’ve ever grown a carrot that looks like a pair of legs, then you’ll understand what can happen to a root if a stone gets in the way. Now, the carrot is a mighty fine root. And as roots go, the carrot is sizeable. The same can be said of parsnips, beetroots and celeriac. But if there’s a big old rock in the way, they have to find a way to reach the nutrients and water from the soil, so the root splits and you get a pair of trousers. Or something else.
Now imagine the same situation for a delicate and thirsty runner bean with its wispy little roots. They’re finer and need fine textured soil to give them a good head start to get all that water. If the soil is big and clumpy, or rock solid, it’s difficult for them to establish their roots properly.
Providing nutrients and water.
The soil is the plant’s source of both food and water, and from that source your lovely veg plants need to find all the nutrients that they need to flourish. Nitrogen, potassium, iron, magnesium and all that. And guess what? It ends up on your plate. So it’s worth getting this bit right. If the plants are deficient in nutrients, they’ll wilt or be stilted in growth. You might find your nice leafy spinach is looking a little yellow, your spuds might just not reach the size you were hoping for and so on.
Your soil quality and type also dictates how much water is available to the plant – you don’t want soil that is prone to being too waterlogged or too dry.
So, how do you make sure your soil does the job? First you work out what type of soil you have (check out our post on different soil types). Second, you’ve got to give it a lot of TLC to improve it. This time of year is a great time to start digging over, weeding and adding plenty of organic matter to enrich your soil ready for a bumper crop this summer.