Soils ain’t soils Sol…

So you are thinking of starting a garden, you look at your garden space where you want to start your first beds and you think “my soil is too poor, nothing will grow in that except an abundance of weeds”. So you grab a cuppa and sit there despondently gazing at the patch while you consider your alternatives. Make you own compost? Perhaps but the time to gather the materials will mean waiting another year for sufficient quantities to make a difference. The Home Centre you cry, gulp down your now tepid cuppa and head to your local big box store where you are dazzled by the array of prepacked garden soils, compost and soil amendments.

Before stacking bags on your trolley let’s stop for a moment and consider what you are getting for your hard earned. Lets follow the supply chain back to the beginning. Various recycling outfits process green waste into compost, other suppliers remove topsoil from building and construction sites, sieve out the plant matter and stones, and both provide the raw materials to a packager. The packager receives truckloads of materials, blends them to create the wonderful balanced mix trumpeted on the packaging. They then put the mix over pipes laid on the ground which pumps steam through the piles to kill weed seeds… and the worms, bacteria, viruses, archaea and fungi and anything else alive in the mix (bacteria are generally killed above 60° C and fungi at 70° C and steam is at +100° C). This sterilized mix is then bagged in plastic, stacked on pallets wrapped in more plastic and shipped to outlets via distribution centres where it may be stored outside where it will be solarized by the sun; and if not there then certainly at the garden centre.

So what we have is an organically rich mix (truth in advertising) but for all intents and purposes sterile. Have you ever noticed the bags of soil activator next to the bags of garden soil/compost? Now you know why it is there.

The next step is to go to the bulk garden supplies centre where you can buy by the trailer or truck load. Great news, but hang on has it also been steamed or composted? Well plunge your hand into the heap, if it is hot then it is likely that it is alive. On a dollar per kilo basis it is much cheaper to buy in bulk than to buy in bags, you get to inspect it without having to buy a bag, get it home and open it.

In the past I have used the bagged soils and bulk compost so in another post I will talk about how I use it.