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Summary - this pages looks at parent soils

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Transforming parent soils


Parent soils, such as clay, sands and potting mixes can be transformed into soils suitable for wicking beds. Here we start by looking at what characteristics we should aim for.

If you know all this then simply skip to the next file in my reading list soil_biology.htm

The importance of biology

Most people understand that the current system of factory farming and processing food is unhealthy - too much fat, sugars and salt and lacking critical vitamins and minerals. While medical experts praise the benefits of eating more fruit and vegetables the problem is not resolved by eating sterile - chemically farmed fruits and vegetables

Image result for body biologyWe depend on biology. There are more bacteria in our bodies than native cells, they help us digest our food and produce hormones which signal that we are full. Without these signals we always feel hungry and tend to overeat. Further hormones signal our bodies to store excess calories as fat - our bodies mistakenly protecting us from starvation in the future.

We need to be eating fresh fruit and vegetables grown in healthy living soil. The easiest way is to grow them ourselves. Wicking beds enable almost anyone to grow healthy food but they need healthy soil – so what do we really mean by healthy soil.

Wicking beds - anyone can grow their own food

Wicking beds make it easy to grow vegetables even for people with limited time or space - such as an apartment -however the quality of the produce - like in any growing system - is totally dependent on the quality of the soil.

The global spread of Wicking beds is truly dramatic (see Wuhan – Shanghai talk).

This has not happened by some massive advertising campaign but simply from person to person.

This series on soils for wicking beds is offered under the Creative Commons system to help the spread of information.

The obvious benefit is that wicking beds don’t need to be watered so often - they almost thrive on neglect – so home growing has been taken up by many people who would have never contemplated growing in a traditional garden.

An even greater benefit of Wicking Beds is that nutrients are retained in the bed and not flushed away.

The greatest benefit of wicking beds is that virtually anyone can grow healthy plants but the soil must be a living soil. Health starts in the soil if nutrients aren’t in the soil they can never be in our food.

Soils for Wicking Beds

We have to make wicking beds soils starting from what is readily available and transform it to what we want.

soil pore spaceThe soil must have a high void space to hold water - if there is enough void space there is no need for any additional water reservoir - the soil can hold all the water that is needed.

It must be hydrophilic - water loving - so it will wick and hold onto water and nutrients.

It must contain the nutrients essential for both us and our plants and the nutrients must be available to the plants and not locked up. This comes from a living soil.

We know a great deal about the chemistry and physics of soil but the most important technology is soil biology - a young and rapidly growing science. But we still have only identified, isolated and studied a fraction of the millions of different species of soil biology.

Soil biology is more than a collection of many species - it is a living eco-system with all the myriad species working together.

Parent Soil

You have to start with what you have. If you have a garden you have access to soil but you are very lucky if you have that magic loam. Most people have soil which is from the extremes, either heavy clay or sand.

Clay may appear to be pretty horrible stuff with a lousy structure but it is generally fertile and has good water attraction properties.

Sand may be the opposite with a good structure but generally little nutrients. Some sands are hydrophilic with good wicking properties but many others, particularly if there are gum leaves around are hydrophobic and repel water, it just sits as little globules.

If you do not have a garden then you may have to buy potting mix. Factory production can also turn out bags of cheap potting mix by the truck load. But it is not a living soil and needs transforming.

Biology transforms soils

Soil Biology can transform soil. It can cause the ultra fine particle in clay to aggregate creating a large voids space.
Image result for soil biologyThese voids need to be connected and the large creature in the soil can do this for us. If we simply flood the bed the critters will come to the surface making little channels through the soil.

The fungi can dissolve minerals and make them available to the plants.

Wicking Bed soils need a high void content so they can hold water. The voids need to be connected so air and stagnant gasses can readily move through the soil.

A good Wicking Bed soil will have at least 50% void content.

If you have a high void content there is no need to worry about using stones and cloths – the soil will hold all the water that is needed and it allows all the volume of a wicking bed to be occupied by the root system.

Soil Chemistry

If it is not in the soil it cannot be in the plants. Fortunately the science of soil chemistry is well developed and it is easy to get your soil tested. A lot depends on the parent soil but there is no difficulty in adding the needed minerals.

For the typical gardener there is no too much need to worry over the primary and secondary minerals as compost will usually provide these.
 fungiIn the section on soil biology I talk about the importance of fungi. Calcium is essential for fungi so adding extra calcium in the form of gypsum and dolomite is recommended.

Many people are very selective in what they put in their compost and avoid adding citreous, onions, garlic etc. I respect that view but to be frank I don’t bother to sort my compost – if it is organic in it goes - however I am carful to endure that it does not become acidic by adding plenty of lime and other calcium sources.

Soil Physics

In a Wicking Bed the soil physics are very important. The particles need to be hydrophilic e.g water loving so it attracts water and wicks well and also must have the surface which can attract and hold onto nutrients.

This is always important but particularly for Wicking Beds.

The reading scheme

Rather than keep on repeating myself I have linked some of the previous files into the reading scheme.
Next file is the WickiMix Manual