Story and pics by Stef Garland, founding member and patron of the MidCoast Growers Network
In this post I will share a few things that I’ve learned about soils in the process of building a garden in Copeland, where I moved to in 2014. Like so many new property owners who are keen to build a garden, my question was where to start? Informed by my horticultural studies, organic gardening magazines and books, and experiences with previous gardens, I formed a view of my ideal garden. It was a garden with a large variety of fruit, vegetables and flowering plants that looked beautiful together and were grown in a way that reduced the need for weeding, watering, and fertilisers. It was a garden that was designed with nature in mind, and provided a home for birds and other wildlife.
My approach was to create a series of terraces, starting close to the house and working down the hill over time. The raised terrace beds helped improve drainage while also keeping water on site. Hiring an excavator to create the main terraces on contour was a great investment. The earthworks included a network of paths in between the terraces for easy access and reducing soil compaction in the beds. Forming terraces around the existing fruit trees, - citrus, olives, figs, apples and pears made a big difference to their growth and productivity.
To give new (and existing) plants the best chance to thrive I then turned my attention to improving the soils. Every source of gardening advice about soil improvement has a common message - organic matter is the key! Even with a number of compost bins and compost bays, and a ready source of animal manure and grass clippings, making enough compost to go around my various garden beds proved to be an ongoing challenge.
Plant selection, while another whole topic, is very relevant to maintaining healthy soil. I grow plants such as comfrey, arrowroot, lemongrass and bana grass for a ready source of mulch. Groundcovers around the fruit trees also help protect the soils from drying out, so long as I choose plants such as herbs, strawberries and greens that don’t compete with the root systems of the fruit trees.
I’m pleased to say that by maintaining these practices year in and out, through the changing seasons and climatic conditions, I have created my ideal garden.