The dirty lowdown

I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  The sandy soil isn’t actually all that bad.  I always thought of it as a soulless substrate that contained very little goodness that needed amending within an inch of its life!  I believed those who had sandy soil hand been dealt a bad hand and I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t one of them.   But now I’m one of them with more than enough sandy soil to shake a stick at.

Beach sand
The sand on the beach is much different from my sand, although some things still manage to grow.

It is a pervasive thing – with its fine black grains getting in everywhere.  I think it will be better in a house as we will be able to put in things between it and the doorway to reduce the clingage to feet and shoes.  Things like steps, a deck, luxurious door mats with a thick deep thatch of bristles, and then maybe a mat or rug inside the door.   Here in the caravan there is little to stop it hitchhiking in and the gritty feeling beneath bare feet is a tad irritating and so frequent sweeping is essential.

Sandy soil
You can’t get away from the fact that this is sand, but there is more to it.

Our Handy Neighbour tells me of all the amazing crops his father grew, sweetcorn and kumara are some of the things he said did really well and I don’t imagine he had raised beds back in the day to make that happen.   He also assured me it was good soil – although the topsoil is only about a couple of centimetres deep.  It is apparently low in sulphur as this is water soluble and flushes through the sand.  As a result, this can affect the plants ability to utilise nitrogen and other essential nutrients, as well as affecting the processes within the plant that actually need sulphur, like the development of proteins, the formation of chlorophyll and other metabolic processes.

So, it would seem with a little help this soil wouldn’t be too bad, so I checked it out with my soil test kit.   I dug a hole where the boxes had done a great job of removing the grass on the top, to collect my sample.  It had a silkier feel than the sand on the beach below and it really felt like there was some substance to it – although nowhere near the substance you get from a lovely thick swamp soil.  The black of the sand was also tinged with a light brown and so it felt promising.

sandy soil
As far as sand goes, this doesn’t look to bad and is far removed from the stuff on the beach.

I was pleasantly surprised when my testing revealed the pH was in a great place for growing vegetables, the Nitrogen was hovering around adequate and the phosphorus was hovering somewhere between deficient and adequate.  The Potassium was depleted but my Handy Neighbour had also mentioned the soil was low in this as well.  Apparently, this is common in sandy soils as it is also soluble and easily leached.  But knowledge is power, and I can work with this.

The most common advice to ‘fix’ sandy soils is to add lots of organic material and keep adding it and after several years you’ll have a lovely sandy loam that will grow anything well.  I appreciate this; however, I have a couple of points that mean I need to think outside the box.  As I want flat land to put my garden on, this will create an erosion field day.  That thin layer of topsoil and all its goodness could easily be lost once the grass cover protecting it is removed to create a level playing field.  I need to put something on top to effectively hold it down.

Sandy soil test results
The sandy soil didn’t do too badly in its tests.

And the other point is I want to have raised beds, so I can control the growing conditions and bypass the years of waiting for the addition of organic material to turn my garden into something wonderful.  I can put anything I like in my raised beds and so I’m going to fill them with a mix of compost for that all important organic content, which I still have to source from somewhere, but I’m sure I’ll find some when the time is right.  And I’ll have the lovely soil from ‘Up near Froggies’ for the bulk of the beds for structure and the important inorganic content that often gets overlooked when filling raised beds.

Now I know this area ‘Up near Froggies,’ it is around the corner from where we used to live.  There was a chance I would have been able to get some of my very own old swamp soil, but there wouldn’t have been enough to make it worthwhile and was put in touch with this lovely supply.  It isn’t swamp soil, but it is prime horticultural land from what makes up part of the bread basket of this region.  Who am I to turn down such fine soil?

Good soil
Compared to the sandy soil this stuff looks so much better – it has a healthy glow and a firm texture.

I ran this soil through a few tests as well and found the pH was perfect, the potassium was a little on the low side but not too bad, the phosphorus was somewhere between ok and could do with more, but the nitrogen was a tad excessive.  Maybe the first thing I’ll do is grow cover crops and then add them to the compost instead of digging them in.  While it will be wonderful for lush leafy growth – think of the cabbages, it won’t be so good for fruit and flower production.   But I can work with that.   Once again, knowledge is power. I can make adjustments.

The body and feel of this soil feels great.  It looks like it will do a better job of retaining the moisture as you can put some damp soil in your hand and clench your fist and it holds together until you give it a gentle nudge and it crumbles away to a lovely light and fluffy soil.  I have the feeling I’m going to enjoy working with this soil once I get more closely acquainted with its idiosyncrasies.

soil test
The ‘Up by Froggies’ soil tests rather well and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Having said that, I also want to grow things beyond the veggie patch and become more familiar with landscaping and ornamental gardening, and I can do so safe in the knowledge the soil will be ok, maybe with a little help.  All that is left to understand really is the weather and the impact of the ocean on this environment.  I’m led to believe the wind can be rather strong when it wants to be.   Fun times ahead.

Come again soon – I still need to get those seeds in.  I got distracted by all that lovely dirt.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

17 thoughts on “The dirty lowdown

  1. In school, we took some rather intensive soil science classes. There is so much to know about soil. It was funny though, that some of the most productive soil here in California does not ‘look’ all that great, including the soil of the Santa Clara Valley. Some of it feels and smells rather inert when dry in late summer. Some is mucky clay in winter. Yet, we all know how excellent it is for some crops.

    1. Hi Tony. Soil is such a complex creature. There is so much to know on so many levels. And yet most people just take it for granted and walk all over it without so much as a second thought that they owe their existence to it. I hope you have a lovely week. Cheers Sarah : o)

  2. As you say, if you know what you’re dealing with you can make the necessary adjustments to get to where you want to be 😀

    If the weather holds fine for the weekend, then come Sunday Middle Mudlet and I will begin making a start on getting the greenhouses sorted, the beds cleared of the remains of the hedge mulch (the bits that were too big to decompose in time for Spring) and some more seeds on the go. Going to get our hands dirty and I can’t wait 😀 x

    1. It is often a case of putting one foot in front of the other, but lately for the most part we are doing a lot of standing around. I suspect things will get busy very quickly, very soon! I hope the plans for your garden go well. : o) xxx

  3. Yes, fun times ahead! I didn’t know about sulphur being water-soluble or being so important for plant growth. I have sandy loam, so not too bad but I bet it is low on sulphur as crops have a hard time in my garden.

    1. Hi Helen. Sulphur itself is not soluble but in the form plants use as a sulphate it is readily soluble and easily leached. One of the signs you can tell your plants are lacking sulphur because they tend to be a bit yellow. I hope your plants have a better time in the garden in the future. : o)

      1. Thanks for this information, Sarah. I’ve also heard that the yellow on plants can be lack of nitrogen – only the bay tree suffered from that and when I fed it more nitrogen, the yellow disappeared. So, maybe the soil doesn’t lack sulphur after all 😊

        1. Plant have an interesting way to tell us what they need. Nutrient deficiencies can be easily identified, but often people think abnormal leaves are disease. Each deficiency shows up in different ways which is fascinating and better than a disease as it is generally easy to fix. : o)

  4. Somewhere in your vicinity is Envirofert. They do a lovely organic compost, which they can deliver by the truckload. The only problem I had with it was I felt it was a bit light and sandy, which is good for clay soils but not so good for your type! I mixed mine with a load of horse manure, let it sit for a couple of weeks, then dug it in. The garden has been amazing 🙂

    1. Thanks for the tip Trudy, I’ll look into it. It would seem not all dirt is created equally, but at the end of the day most degrees of quality can be amended and fixed. So pleased to hear your garden has been amazing. : o)

  5. Very impressed by your rigour! I find sandy soil intriguing because I garden on clay. Look forward to seeing how this develops!

    1. I think it is half wanting to know what I have to work with and half wanting to do something – anything garden related! There has been a lot of waiting around lately! I’ll be busy again soon enough. : o)

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