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Ericaceous compost pH test facts: how can compost change your garden’s chemistry?
Soil is wonderful, complex and fascinating. The properties of turf and topsoil are phenomenal- however those of the compost we add to improve it are no less amazing. The importance of understanding the exact qualities of what’s under your garden can be lost of many new gardeners- yet this can often be the difference between a successful garden, full of bright blossoms & huge yields, and disappointment.
Ericaceous compost, pH and the secrets of how gardens grow
While all compost contains the millions of micro-organisms that give it such great fertilising qualities, ericaceous compost goes a step further- using a blend of ingredients designed to change the balance of your soil chemistry. This special mix helps release vital nutrients to your plant that, depending on the soil conditions in your part of the country, they might not get otherwise.
What is soil pH?
Soil pH is the acidity, or lime content, of your soil. Lime is highly alkaline and creates soil conditions that contain certain minerals, rather than releasing them to your plants. Manganese, boron and iron are examples of nutrients trapped by alkaline soil- therefore plants that require more will struggle in these. These ‘acid loving’ plants will produce poor growth and off-colour leaves if grown in alkaline soil. Similarly, plants like asparagus, ferns and cauliflowers can struggle with the lack of molybdenum in acid soil. You can test your own soil’s pH yourself- we recommend using a home testing kit for the most accurate results. Knowing your garden’s pH is an important step when planning your planting for the year.
Ericaceous compost: pH- altering
So how does Ericaceous compost alter your soil pH? It all comes down to the blend of ingredients used in its production. Unlike traditional compost which uses a blend of loam, limey topsoil, peat and broken-down organic matter, ericaceous compost is specially prepared to add acidity to the earth. This slowly builds up a more favourable soil profile over months, to establish an environment that supports acid-loving plants like tomatoes, raspberries and acers.
To learn more about ericaceous compost, pH in the soil and the types of plants that love an acidic soil profile- see our page on ericaceous compost.
At this time of year there’s lots of focus on gardens & outdoors gardening, yet for many people space or time restrictions simply don’t allow large scale gardening projects. With a third of properties on the market now listed as being without a garden- and with up to almost 50% of gardens paved over in some areas, a larger proportion of us than ever have no immediate access to cultivatable ground. That could explain why more and more people are choosing to keep house plants.
With a wide variety available from most supermarkets, as well as florists and garden centres, house plants offer a hugely versatile plant for new gardeners, those with less time or no outdoor space for borders. Lower-maintenance and inexpensive, these attractive plants can often make great introductions to plant care for younger gardeners. Potted into containers, where the quality of the soil can be controlled by the gardener, you’re avoiding any problems with acidity, clay content, or other problems that can come with gardening outdoors- not to mention the weather. Of course, your indoor plants are not without needs- natural sunlight and a consistent supply of water are vital for plants that stay inside. Of course, if you have space, you can always place your potted plants outside during summer, although this depends on having the room available. For most of the year, though, your indoor plants need to be thoughtfully positioned to ensure they get plenty of light while not being positioned close to radiators, heaters or high traffic areas that might lead to the plant getting knocked or damaged by people or pets.
Another crucial factor in maintaining even the easiest houseplants is drainage and moisture management. As your plant is enclosed in a non-porous pot it’s easy to over or under-water, and the conditions inside the enclosed container may deteriorate as the soil struggles either to drain the stagnant water or dries and becomes infertile and dusty. The container can make it extremely hard to determine the levels of water needed. This is where your choice of compost comes in- as the right soil improvers can make a tremendous difference to the moisture levels and general health of your plant. Allowing water to drain is vital to preventing the decline of your plant health- ensure you repot your plant as soon as it begins to outgrow its current container- and keep it raised on a porous surface to permit plenty of space for excess water to escape. When you do decide to repot your plant in a larger container, ensure you select the right compost to provide additional support and fertility to the plant in its new home. A tried and tested, purpose-mixed potting compost such as the John Innes No.2 formula is a great way to ensure your house plants get the best possible drainage and right balance of nutrients to thrive all year round. John Innes No.2 is a long-standing favourite for gardeners looking for the right balance of food for their plants and chalk to enhance water regulation- and develop healthy, vibrant and attractive plant sot enhance any home or work space.
From farmers to homesteaders to allotment gardeners, everyone benefits from a crop rotation strategy, yet many newer gardeners are nervous at the prospect of employing such a rigid method. However as environmental and organic-minded gardeners continue to eschew chemical fertilisers, new methods of enhancing production are a great way to keep your garden productive.
There are many benefits for crop rotation in your allotment- not least increasing yield while limiting waste. Besides this you can limit the spread of disease, prevent pollutant run-off and help fght weeds. Many people opt for a four-year rotation structure- this is time most diseases take to be fully eradicated from the soil.
Did you know a simple crop rotation between seasons helps to balance the fertility needs of your crops? Many beginners falsely believe that different veg has roughly similar soil or nutrient requirements, however if you’re seeking the maximum return from your garden you should try to match your crops to the soil that best suits them.
For instance, following legumes with cabbage best utilises the nitrogen left in the soil by the beans, while weeds can be controlled by crops such as potatoes.
By moving your crops around, you can inhibit the spread of certain plant diseases. Be careful not to follow one crop with another of the same family as this could perpetuate diseases- ensure to research transferable diseases between crops, as well as fertility requirements.
Winter plays an important part in crop rotation. The aim is to restore the fertility of the soil, so naturally over winter crops need to fit into this strategy. Ideally leave ground over every other winter to recover, combined with compost suited to the crop planned for summer you can expect the soil to be far more productive. Over winter ideally you should consider planting out similar families of plants, under cover if necessary. Cabbages and potatoes that can develop over both growing seasons can be a useful way to keep the soil productive without draining it.
Have you just dug out your gloves, only to uncover something that looks and smells like it belongs on your compost heap? Gardening gloves can be found in every hardware shop or garden centre, but are very often made using cheap fabrics and poor manufacturing that means they quickly become filthy, smelly and pretty unhygienic.
Aside from being an excellent filler for a gardening-addicted relative’s Christmas stocking, the problem of buying the right, considered pair of practical gloves is something everybody encounters- though admittedly some more than others. A shed that’s simultaneously damp enough for mildew to prosper, but warm enough for mice to find inhabitable has over the years combined with more than a little bit of fussiness to ensure a steady turnover of gardening gloves in this author’s garden. The worst ever proved to be a very cheap and thin fabric pair- despite washing they succeeded in causing an extremely nasty thumb infection (green fingered indeed) and since then the motto has been quality over price.
A good pair of gloves is worth hanging on to, and while you can get a pair for pennies, there’s a lot to be said for paying a little more to get something that will last- something that holds true for most outdoor tools and equipment.
Never put your gloves away wet or dirty- especially if they’re stored somewhere damp or cold. Clean them thoroughly with a damp cloth after each use, and if they’re leather top up some dubbin once they’ve dried. Always let gloves dry naturally, not on a radiator or near any other heat source- this will crack the leather. Don’t put gloves in the washing machine (especially on a hot cycle) and certainly never in the tumble drier!
‘Gauntlet’ style gloves- these are named after medieval hand armour, because of the long protective edge extending over the wrist and forearm. Some can reach all the way to the elbow- ideal for reaching deep into thorny bushes like roses.
‘Rigger’ style gloves- typically thick and durable, consisting of separate panels offering increased protection from wear & tear. They will give eventually, especially if not properly cared for, but can be trusted for most heavy duty tasks like tree care or clearing land. They feature a degree of cut-resistance, though can sometimes be a little unshapely and prone to rubbing. Like cowhide they tend to dry out if not cared for, and can stiffen which can cause blisters or aggravate existing scratches. The panels ensure great durability but if badly made all those edges can be uncomfortable if the lining starts to go.
Disposable Gloves- These aren’t for delivering miracles, but at a push can be used for handling less…tasteful outdoor materials. However at a minimum get some disposable latex (surgical-style) gloves underneath as these cheap, mass produced gloves may not feature much moisture-resistance. A very heavy duty rubber glove will probably do a better job of keeping your hands away from any nasties- just remember to hose the glove, wash in hot, bleach-water mixture and after removing, soak again with disinfectant to purge any germs.
Cowhide and leather gloves- these typically feature a short wrist, and offer high flexibility and excellent scratch protection. A lined glove is usually better, as long and it doesn’t reduce flexibility on those tricky jobs, and the slightly thicker leather gloves offer less grip for muck than drier, rougher cowhide. You can mould them by wearing them and submersing your hands in warm water with a tiny splash of washing up liquid (to break down the oils holding the leather in its current shape). After several minutes the gloves with adapt to the shape of your hand- so ensure to hold something- this will reduce hand soreness, prolong the life of the glove and provide better grip. Always treat the clean leather gloves with dubbin regularly, particularly between fingers (where moisture can become trapped)- this will improve comfort, protect the leather and ensure the surface doesn’t attract grime.
Polymer gloves- there is a very wide selection of synthetic gloves available, featuring all kinds of padding, enhanced finger or palm grip, even extensive padding for use with power tools. While natural fibres almost always provide a better balance of protection and dexterity, it’s hard to find a clear fault with material like nylon. However it’s important to bear in mind that stretch fabric will reduce in thickness when worn, and very often while some areas are well protected from wear and tear, often others can be weaker.
Keen to set up a garden but short of space? Towns and cities may not seem compatible with the peace and tranquillity of gardening, yet each year millions plant their first seed and embrace the urban garden revolution!
Many of us harbour a deep desire to garden. But with more and more people living in densely populated urban areas it seems that the simple pleasures of tending to plants is on the decline. Yet a dedicated few are fighting to adapt, and get green fingers pruning, planting and picking in the cities of Britain. Whether you live in a terrace or a bedsit, there are ways you can foster your love of plants. So if you’ve decided this Spring will see your gardening ambitions blossom into reality, here’s The Compost Shop introduction to urban gardening to get you started!
Urban gardening has always sought to turn its chief limitation into its chief advantage. The dearth of space in city housing is going to be a challenge, however with a little creativity many gardeners have found ways to overcome this in magnificent style.
One of the great advantages to gardening in the city is the ready availability of recyclable materials that can help you give your urban garden a unique look. While the more traditional back yard might accommodate a neatly squared-away vegetable patch, if you’re limited to a balcony, roof or even less, consider using something to create a novel, innovative home for your plants. Amazing trellises, baskets and beds can all be improvised with a little imagination, however plenty of purpose-built options are available at garden centres too.
Being creative also applies to your plants. Whatever kind of space you’re working with, you will be able to find something suitable. Climbers and pot plants are a great place to start if you’re very short of space- even a small balcony can accommodate them.
Bear in mind the space you’re using, its characteristics and limitations. How much light will your plants be getting? If you’re in a block of flats, will they be exposed to strong winds? If you can’t accommodate a greenhouse, what will you do with your plants over winter? Finding innovative solutions to these problems is what urban gardening is all about, and many people enjoy finding fun and clever ways to resolve such problems.
Another creative solution to gardening with very limited space is indoor gardening, using systems such as grow lights and hydroponics. While these systems can use a great deal of both space and electricity, and generate noise, the possibilities of efficient vegetable production from modern hydroponics have never been more promising.
Gardening takes work. Part of the attraction of the hobby is the quiet hours spent in caring for your plants as they grow- and the hours spent planning for the seasonal changes ahead. Plants need near-constant attention, especially in difficult or unique settings. Consider how much time you can commit to tending plants, but also expect that however much time you put in, will reward you with pleasure and relaxation.
There are many reasons to seek the enjoyment and serenity of gardening. As a challenging project it often serves as the antidote to the quick fix, instant gratification of modern life, yet as a peaceful and solitary activity it relieves stress, focuses the mind and increases pleasure in your surroundings. It also encourages time spent outdoors and physically active.
Being committed to your garden, however small, also means spending time researching and discovering the lessons others have learned in their own gardening journey. Many blogs and pages exist online, but plenty of books and magazines also cover what you need to know. Gardening may be a journey of discovery, but knowledge is your friend too- and learning all you can about the needs of your plants will build and feed your interest as well as increasing the chances of success.
Our range of composts and other gardening products will get your urban garden off to the best possible start, and we hope that whatever your ambition your enjoy discovering how much the world of gardening has to offer!
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