What is humus?
Humus is made from decaying plant and animal matter that has broken down to form a long lasting remnant in the soil. Fallen leaves, twigs and other plant material along with decaying animal matter will turn into humus.
Why humus is important in soil
Humus is an incredibly versatile addition to your garden. It acts like a sponge, holding water and nutrients and releasing them slowly through the soil. It also creates a crumbly texture which helps to break up heavy soils and make them easier to work over time. Humus improves lighter soils by giving them more body.
How hummus can be increased in soil
You can make your own organic matter by starting a compost heap and adding this to the soil once it has rotted down. Once in the soil, compost will continue to break down and eventually become humus. You can also add well-rotted farm yard manure or horse manure preferably by ‘double digging’ the soil. This is especially useful on vegetable gardens and allotments.
A quicker way to improve soil
The easiest way to get more organic matter into the soil is by applying mulch in spring and again in the autumn. This is useful on areas of soil that do not need to be disturbed, for example mature borders or fallow areas of the vegetable garden. Water and worm activity will take the mulch into the soil and help improve it with no digging required.
How new plants should be planted
This is an ideal time to improve the soil by digging the planting hole thoroughly and incorporating manure or compost, along with some general fertiliser to give your plant the best possible start in your garden. Mix the organic matter and a small amount of fertiliser with the soil to be put back around the roots and with the soil in the base of the planting hole.
Improving the soil in a vegetable garden
You can work on one area at a time as you rotate your crops. Concentrate on adding well-rotted manure or compost to the area intended for Peas, Beans, Onions, Leeks and leaf crops such as Spinach and Lettuce. Potatoes can have manure or compost added in the trench at the time of planting as can courgette and other squashes – this will all improve the soil over time. Don’t add manure to the area intended for root crops such as Carrots and Parsnips as it may cause the roots to ‘fork’, where growth is disrupted and the produce is left deformed.
5 top tips to improve your soil easily:
- Start a compost heap and use the finished product as mulch which will continue to break down in the soil and become humus
- Mulch your soil once each year or twice (once in spring and again in the autumn) if you have a very light or heavy soil
- Prepare planting holes well and add organic matter at the time of planting
- Dig vacant ground in your vegetable garden as soon as the soil is workable in winter or early spring, adding organic matter where appropriate for crop rotation
- Be patient with heavy soils – adding organic matter means that the soil will become easier over time!
Following these tips will leave you with great quality soil which will in turn lead to better crops and often a larger yield of produce.