They say the secret to good soil structure is that it can retain water, yet drain. Friable enough so roots don’t rot, but moist enough so plants don’t die of thirst.
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8 Sep 2011 - 9:26 AM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2019 - 5:44 PM

Daffodils. Tulips. Irises.

The flowers of spring have leapt to life. Each year they surprise and delight, each year I’m reminded of where they were, or where I planted them. And each year I’m amazed at how many blossoms brighten the yard come September.

Made more worm farms this morning. Well, I helped. Some paper that had been soaking in water for months in 44-gallon drums smelt pretty bad. The old hay and silage that had been trampled over winter is mixed with more cow poo from the paddocks. And two great mounds of wonderful, rich, organic matter is left for the worms to digest. With them, they’ll bring bugs – glorious bugs – that will give more life to my soil.

I don’t know if it’s good luck or good management, but there’s more grass and more vigour in the place than my first winter. Maybe it’s the mild July that kicked things along, or the dolomite, worm farms, seaweed, perennial pasture seed, and a bit of the mulched hay that I’ve been lacing the place with. Grass, as I’m beginning to understand, is the key. And the key to grass is the soil. A farming friend who’s nearly finished his PhD reckons we know more about the structure of the moon than the soil that feeds, clothes and houses us. More about moon dust than the structure of the dirt we cultivate beneath our feet.

Grass, as I’m beginning to understand, is the key. And the key to grass is the soil. 

They say the secret to good soil structure is that it can retain water, yet drain. Friable enough so roots don’t rot, but moist enough so plants don’t die of thirst. It doesn’t matter whether you’re growing cabbages or cows, all the energy comes from the sun and the only way to harvest that in the field is through plants, and plants need good soil. Shame so much of our continent’s topsoil has been squandered over the years, some blown onto New Zealand, much of it washed down the streams and rivers.I’ve come to realise my particular corner of the world is always going to pose serious challenges. Rich, fertile soil in the valley floor is too wet and drains too slowly for most crops. The small patch of earth that faces north and grows grass is probably too small to support the cows long term, even with the improvements and additions I’ve been making since arriving at Puggle Farm. Though, as visitors today reminded me, they have sand not soil, so it grows magnificent carrots and no fruit trees. They have virtually no frosts, but low fertility. So every corner of this land, every valley, hilltop, bay and paddock, has its own nature, its own microclimate, its own challenges. As gardeners of grass, it’s up to us to try to understand the piece of land we’re caretakers of.

I do have fertility at least in parts of the farm. I do have water; that blessing that so many Australian farmers could do with more of. My winters aren’t as bitter as Europe, my summer’s not as harsh as the mainland. And the bounty of Puggle Farm’s soil has nourished me well, despite my incompetencies over the last 32 months. And, what’s more, while there may be piles of poo in corners of the paddock, there are pretty flowers to brighten up the place as well.

 

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GET DOWN AND DIRTY
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