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Healthy Soil
by Paul Hambruch
by Paul Hambruch


Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1927, Paul grew up in the beautiful resort town of Baden-Baden. After the war, he apprenticed in agriculture and received his degree as an agriculturist in 1951.

Immigrated to Canada and moved to the Columbia Valley in 1953. He and his wife started greenhouses and a nursery in 1957, a flower shop in Golden, B.C. in 1961 and purchased another shop in Invermere in 1968. Sold the business and retired in 1992. We are now involved as volunteers in many aspects of community life.

He also chairs the Communities in Bloom program in Golden

Our hobby remains what we have done for so many years: gardening.

May 5, 2002

At this time of the year, gardeners want to see the brown of good garden soil and the green of a nice lawn instead of the white of snow. When we operated greenhouses, we could never sell many white flowers. When a customer told me: "I've seen white for six months during the winter, so why on earth would I want to see white flowers all summer long?", that made a lot of sense. 

But what I want to talk about is your garden soil as the backbone of your garden, a subject I seem to get back to again and again. In German, a farmer is a "landwirt" which, translated, means caretaker of the of the land or soil. Take care of your soil and your plants will take care of themselves. 

For soil to be healthy requires good drainage, good pore space to allow air into the soil, good soil structure to allow roots to penetrate easily, a strong electrical charge to keep nutrients from getting washed away and a wide range of particle sizes, which is directly related to drainage, pore space and soil structure. 

It's true that we have to live with the soils we find in our gardens, whether they are heavy clay, gravel, sand or whatever. The good thing is that there are a few simple rules that improve all the different soil types. The best thing you can do for any soil, with the exception of peat bogs, is the addition of organic matter in the form of peat moss, compost or manure.

You can also work in a green cover crop such as fall rye or you can even use sawdust in reasonable amounts. Just remember, the last two take up a lot of nitrogen as they decompose, which causes problems unless extra nitrogen is added as they are worked into the soil. The safer way to go would be to compost those materials before applying them. 

Do not work your garden soil down to small particle sizes. A soil that has very uniform particle sizes will crust over, excluding air from the roots. I like to work my garden with a spade, just turning over each spade full and letting it crumple naturally. It's better for the soil and good exercise for the person doing it. 

In my experience, tillers do not go deep enough and end up breaking the soil into particles that are too small and all of the same size. If you must use a tiller, run it at the lowest speed possible and avoid going over the garden again and again to avoid destroying the soil structure. 

Using sand to improve drainage actually has the opposite effect: the sand fills up existing pore spaces and decreases drainage, whereas organic matter increases pore spaces and drainage. It may seem like a paradox, but soil supplied with liberal amounts of organic material will drain better, yet hold water better at the same time, the important thing being the air spaces. More on this subject next week.



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