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Soil, what could be so interesting about soil? Its brown, it’s everywhere and stuff grows out it –
surely that’s all? Sometimes I throw fertilizer or mix in some compost but that’s only if I notice that
my garden is struggling and the plants are yellowing.
But is this it, is this all there is to soil? The answer is of course No. Soil is perhaps the most
understated part of the gardening cycle and in fact forms the base from which all life springs.
People spend money and time selecting new seedlings and plants; they buy compost and top soil
and add fertilisers when things need a boost. But really few people actually know how and why soil
is so important and what makes up this brown matter below our feet.
This article will hopefully help shed some new light on this incredibly important substance and gently
change your thinking about this lowly and somewhat forgotten resource.
Soil, what is it and what is it made off? Soil is one of the three major natural resources, alongside air
and water and without it there would be no life.
Soil is made up of 3 main components; which are, minerals that come from the rocks below the
subsoil; released once the rock has been broken down and weathered by erosion.
• Organic matter derived from degraded plant material from fallen vegetation from the
• Living microorganisms; Perhaps form the most important part of soil and can be found in
huge numbers! That is often why soil is described as living and in approximately 1TBs of soil
there is on average 6 billion microorganisms working to help promote and sustain the soil
There is not just one type of soil, soil can be classified according to its texture, its ability to hold and
carry water and also its mineral load. Breakdown of bedrock gives rise to different soil types and
that’s why it’s often easy to determine an areas soil by just understanding what kind of bedrock its
The most common soil types are sandy, clay, silt, loam and humic soils. These soil types all differ in
Most soils are made up of a combination of the above and therefore some gardeners find it difficult
to classify them. For the purpose of gardening, a soil that is rich in organic matter has good water
carrying capacity, good drainage and a reasonable particle size, is best. Loamy soils and rich humic
soils are often described as the most fertile and have shown to produce the best results.
But looking back we have perhaps not yet understood what makes a soil fertile.
Plants require approximately 16 chemical elements for survival; these can be broken up into
The non mineral Nutrients are Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon. These nutrients are found in the air
and the water. As we know plants use these nutrients to perform a process known as
Photosynthesis. Energy from the sun is used to change carbon dioxide and water into starches and
sugars that are stored in the plant and used as energy when needed.
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) + H20 (water) = CHO (Starches and sugars)
Plants get these nutrients from the air and water and therefore there is little gardeners can do to
The other 13 nutrients come directly from the soil; they are derived from the weathered bedrock
and are held in the soil until taken up by the plant and absorbed by the roots.
These minerals can again be divided into two groups, the micro nutrients and the macro nutrients.
Micro meaning small, these nutrients are only needed in very small amounts and are sometimes
I already mentioned the different soil types but another important point to note is that the texture
of a soil can determine how well a soil holds nutrients. It is therefore important to understand which
soil types hold nutrients well, as this will ultimately determine the health and survival outcome of
your plants. Understanding the makeup of your soil is an important step in deciding how to treat and
Clay and soils rich in organic matter like loamy soils and Humic soils hold nutrients and water much
better than sandy soils. When water drains out of sandy soils it loses nutrients with it and these
become lost in the subsoil, too far from the plants root area for uptake. This loss of nutrients as a
result of excess water runoff is called leaching.
Nutrients are very important for all aspects of plant growth, health and ability to germinate and bare
fruit. It is clear though that the nutrients work best when used together.
Each individual nutrient does not do one particular job, but they all work together to promote the
plants health. By simply adding fertilizers that contain high amounts of only certain nutrients one
can easily understand why toxicities and deficiencies can occur.
That is why chemical fertilizers do not promote sustainable growth cycles; the synthetic compounds
are often easily leached from the soil because of their fast releasing properties. The nutrients are
therefore continually being leached into the groundwater and causing chemical build ups and heavy
The cycle of chemical fertilisers causes all sorts of problems for our environment and ultimately
erodes away at nature’s natural ability to cycle and create life sustaining soils. Microbial activity is
often decreased due to a build up of nutrients that become toxic. With the loss of these all
important microbes many nutrients are not processed into forms that the plant can take up, this
again causes a cycle of dependence on the fertilizers and results in unsustainable soils.
One of the main complications from use of chemical fertilisers is the contamination of ground water.
The high levels of synthetic NPK are not able to be stored as well as organic nutrients obtained from
natural weathering and breakdown of organic material. This results in increased levels of nutrients
being leached and ending up in the ground water and the sea. The long term danger from exposure
ourselves to high levels of these chemicals in our drinking water has not yet been established but
ongoing research has proved that they can result in severe illness. These high toxic levels of NPK
have also resulted in damage to our seas by way of increased algae growth and thereby a reduction
in oxygen levels . Synthetic fertilizers have been attributed as the leading cause of the dead zones in
the sea that have been identified all across the world. This lack of oxygen results in a decrease in
marine life and long term damages on ecosystems throughout the ocean.
Next time you think about using chemicals, it’s important to remember that you are not just
Dr Watson, who worked as a scientific adviser to the White House during the
Clinton administration said once, "We can move in a direction where we destroy our natural heritage
or we can move in a direction where we improve both human wellbeing and maintain our
natural heritage," he said. "We've got choices and we have to decide which
So what can we do to improve our soils without adding fertilizers?
As a result of years of damage, treatment with chemical fertilizers and pesticides and increased erosion due to poor gardening practises we can unfortunately no longer just do nothing and hope for the best. Our soils are depleted and over treated; they need help to return to their once unpolluted and natural state. Organic farming and gardening practices have become common knowledge to many people, we understand the damage of using chemicals and so think that the best way to go from here is to stop everything and just let nature be.
Unfortunately it’s not so simple, yes nature does have the capacity and ability to sustain itself but as a result of mans influence there is just too much damage and the natural reserves have started to run out. We have created a dependency for chemicals and therefore cannot just go cold turkey as this will only result in a very long healing process and unenthused gardeners.
The trick is to understand how nature supports itself and what natural compounds are available to help improve and promote the soil and plant cycles. Using natural products is the best way that one can help, they act to treat the damage and supply the right tools to help get the healing process started and on its way. Just like humans nowadays, even though we might eat a healthy diet and exercise frequently we still often require a boost usually in the form of vitamins to help kick-start our systems. Outside influences like stress and pollution have resulted in increased requirements and additional support regardless of how healthy one may originally have been.
In a similar way to how our bodies react so does our environment, we need to look at ways to promote the natural cycles and ensure that they are sustainable so that we can continue to experience abundant gardening.
Some common soil problems such as compacted soil, saline soils, sodic soils, unfertile soils, and poor soil structure are often seen as a result of long term damage and as poor gardening practices. The idea is that the only way to fix soil is by using chemical fertilizers and or spending lots of money on new top soil. Both of these are not sustainable and besides from having a dangerous impact on the environment and your savings they do little more than putting a band aid on a much bigger problem.
The fact remains, we need to correct the soil from within without aggravating the problem further, but how?
This is a question that many home gardeners have asked including myself. For years I had this problem and knew that there was little more that I could do besides using more fertilizer and bringing in expensive top soil. I continued like this for many years and finally came across an answer to my prayers.
Gypsum, a natural soil amender, conditioner and fertilizer and a
Gypsum is a mineral compound that occurs naturally in nature. It is harvested from natural salt pans and milled into a fine white powder and used in many areas of industry including agriculture. Why don’t home gardeners know more about Gypsum, well because it’s in direct competition with the multi trillion dollar chemical fertilizer industry.
Gypsum is made up of calcium – sulphate CASO4 and comes from the Greek word Gypsos or chalk. Gypsum is used for all sorts of things, building dry wall cement, plaster of paris, chalk and agriculture. In fact use of gypsum goes far back Ancient Egypt when large amounts were found on the fertile flood plains of the Nile river. The Egyptian farmers noted the importance and power of this mineral compound and used it to supplement their crops.
In Rome builders using alabaster for statues found that in areas where it was sprinkled on the ground, the grass would grow much stronger.
Years later in 1831 Benjamin Franklin in his celebrated book, An agricultural catechism
spoke about the importance of taking care of the land, and one way he mentioned was using plaster of paris as a fertilizer – Plaster of paris is made from Gypsum and in actual fact Benjamin Franklin was actually referring to this powdery compound.
Since then there are hundreds of stories of gypsum being used as a natural fertilizer and today it is used on a grand scale by many famers all across the world.
But what makes Gypsum so special and how does it work to improve soil? The minerals that make up Gypsum as discussed earlier are very important in soil and plant health and are often found lacking in soil, and therefore gypsum acts as an excellent supplement of natural calcium and sulphur. It also acts to improve the soil structure and release compacted soils. It does this by flocculating the soil particles together and forming stable aggregates. This helps with movement of water and air between particles and also allows for the roots to penetrate further into the soil.
Gypsum helps to reclaim soil and prevents runoff and leaching of nutrients due to poor water penetration. It therefore contributes to holding nutrients and thereby ensuring adequate availability for plant uptake.
The extra calcium added to the soil also helps to increase nutrient uptake and reduces the harmful effects from salt build up. Sodium and chlorine often build up as they are commonly
added to our water systems and irrigation systems. Salt build up can be very dangerous to plants and soils and can cause damage to cell wall and rupture plant cells.
Bicarbonates in irrigation water can also have a damaging effect on calcium levels by increasing the pH and thus reducing the availability of calcium for the soil and plant uptake.
Gypsum is also used to stimulate microbial activity and thereby increases a soils potential for breakdown of organic mulch.
In summary Gypsum improves the soil texture and structure by the following,
1. aeration, 2. drainage, 3. water carrying capacity, 4. provides calcium and sulphur, 5. binds heavy metals, 6. stimulates microbial action
Soils that have cracking on the surfaces as a result from sodium build up and poor water infiltration can be treated with Gypsum. It also helps to prevent water logging in clay soils by aggregating the particles and improving drainage.
Often gardeners use lime on their soils to improve the pH and correct nutrient imbalances. The problem with lime lies in the fact that if not watered in enough it can cause soil burn. Gypsum is 100 times more soluble than lime and so is very easily absorbed into the soil
Sandy soils, clay soils, silty soils and loamy soils all benefit from applications of Gypsum, the overall soil structure of each can be radically improved and thereby ensuring that the plants have a greater chance at improving nutrient uptake and their overall ability to survive.
Gypsum is natural and does not pose a threat to our environment, after many years of research and trial and error I have found a product that contains natural gypsum with additional kelp as a an extra source of nutrients, the name of the product is suitably chosen as Soil Build – because in a nut shell that is exactly what it does.
I have been using the product in all my gardens and it has shown tremendous results. Before planting and in the cold winter months I start by preparing the soils so that come planting time in spring the soil is ready to act as foundation and sustained supplier of nutrients to the ecosystems in and around the garden. Soils are at their most active in winter …………………………….
I even found it to be very useful in treating plants with salt spray damage. I simply spray it onto the leaves and let the Gypsum solution work its magic!
I am dedicated to only using products that work to balance nature and promote the inherent natural mechanisms that already exist. Gypsum is 100% natural and when used in combination with organic compost and mulch will improve any soil type.
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