Healthy soil means plants will grow more vigorously and be more productive and while some soils are naturally fertile, in most cases nature benefits from some assistance.
That’s where manures, fertilisers and feeds come in.
When animal manures are added to soil, they slowly release nutrients as they break down which feed plants.
Manure helps improve the condition of soil, notably its ability to retain moisture and to hold onto nutrients.
Fresh is not always best when it comes to deploying manure and it is better to use some that is a few months old and has composted, as ammonia levels will be reduced and there’ll be less likelihood of weed seeds in the mix. Don’t apply fresh manure to vegetables that are growing as the ammonia could scorch them.
As a rough guide, use 5kg per square metre to dig in and improve soil. Manure can be used on light soils in spring but for heavy soils, autumn is better.
Alternatively, well-rotted manure can be used as a mulch, which should be applied as a 10cm deep layer.
If part of your plot is plant-less, green manures are a worthwhile way to make use of the space.
These are crops that are grown to then be dug back into the soil, adding organic matter and nutrients in the process.
While they are growing, they suppress weeds, attract insects and protect soil over winter. When they are dug over, they improve soil structure and fertility by adding valuable nitrogen.
Green manures are quick growing and can be used throughout the year.
Blood, Fish and Bonemeal
This rather gruesome sounding fertiliser has been used since Adam was a boy and is a general-purpose plant food that can be used on flowers, shrubs and vegetables.
It comes in powder form and can be applied as a base or top dressing. It provides phosphorous and nitrogen which improves flowering and crop production.
This can be bought dried or as a liquid and comes with seaweed extracts that enhance plant performance and productivity.
Trace elements, such as iron and copper, provide plants with a tonic and encourage stronger and healthier growth.
Seaweed feeds can be applied at any stage of the growing cycle.
Nettles offer the opportunity to make your own free plant food and spring is a good time to use them as you want plants with fresh growth.
Simply chop up the nettles and put them in a bucket, fill with water and then cover.
After about a month, filter the plant from the liquid (it will smell awful but it’s a small price to pay) and you will have a liquid feed rich in iron, magnesium and nitrogen that will help develop green leaf growth and is particularly useful for growing plants in containers.
Dilute the feed with water before using on plants so the liquid is gold in colour.
Comfrey is another plant you can make a feed from. Find out how here.