What Is Soil Conditioner?
The term “soil” refers to any organic material which contains living organisms. These include plants, animals, insects and fungi. When these living organisms die or are killed, they release nutrients into the soil. Plants need these nutrients to grow and survive. Animals require them for food and shelter while fungi need them for their growth.
Without such vital elements in the soil, life cannot exist there.
In fact, the word “soil” comes from the Latin words sivere meaning alive and cernere meaning to build. Therefore, it means building up of living matter. To create a healthy garden requires proper soil preparation and maintenance. Properly prepared soil is necessary for good plant growth and health. A properly prepared soil helps prevent erosion and provides better drainage than loose dirt or sand.
A healthy soil is essential for gardening success. Healthy soils contain good amounts of humus, organic matter and beneficial microorganisms. Humus is the living remnants left over after dead vegetation has been removed from the ground. Organic matter consists of small particles of decaying plant material that have not decomposed completely. Microorganisms break down organic materials into smaller parts called compounds which are then used by plants as food sources and energy source.
The key to having a fertile soil is proper preparation. There are various methods to do so. The most common is the use of inorganic and organic soil conditioners. Inorganic conditioners improve the physical, chemical and biological condition of the soil. Organic soil conditioners add nutrients and oxygen to the soil.
It is recommended to use a mixture of both in order to achieve good results.
Inorganic Soil Conditioners
There are two types of inorganic soil conditioners: physical and chemical. Physical soil conditioners do not contain any nutrients which plants require to grow. Instead it helps with the structure and porosity of the soil. It is important to have aerated and well-draining soil for better root growth of plants.
Some examples of these ingredients are:
Grit is very heavy and helps the soil retain moisture better. It is also important in preventing water logged areas in the soil.
Tiles are crushed roofing tiles which help keep the soil from collapsing.
Sand is needed to improve drainage and aeration of the soil. It also adds beneficial drainage area for roots.
Clay has tiny holes which increase soil aeration. It is also an important component in most soil types.
Sawdust is wood waste product which adds organic matter to the soil. It is also important in increasing plant growth.
Wood shavings help retain moisture and prevent crusting. It improves flammability of the soil which means it can help prevent wildfires.
Granite dust helps to neutralize very acidic or alkaline soils. It is very important in preventing unwanted chemical reactions in the soil.
Some examples of these ingredients are:
Green sand is made from finely ground beach sand and calcium carbonate. It helps to provide a neutralizing effect in highly acidic or alkaline soils.
Peat moss is partially decayed vegetation matter. It retains moisture, prevents compaction of the soil, and adds nutrients to the soil. It also helps to prevent plants from drying out in between watering.
Charcoal is made from decayed wood. It helps to prevent drainage problems and absorbs excess moisture in soggy soils.
Manures are cultivated from animal waste. They add nutrients to the soil and improves soil structure. Fresh manures contain high levels of nitrogen, which can burn young plants, so they should be composted before application to the soil. Types of manures include:
Cow: High in nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
Horse: Very high in nutrients.
poultry: Low in nutrients, but often contains essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium.
animal hoof and horn: Contain large amounts of calcium and magnesium.
Blood and bone: High in phosphates which helps to strengthen plant cell walls and help plants to grow bigger.
Seaweed and algal: High in potassium and other trace elements. They also helps to aerate the soil as they decay.
Carrageenan is a red seaweed used to stabilize soil that is prone to erosion.
Rock dusts are derived from rocks such as granite and limestone. They help to neutralize acidic soils.
Lime can be ground limestone or manufactured lime. It helps to counteract the effects of acidic soil.
Wood Ashes are the remnants of burnt wood and helps to neutralize very alkaline soils.
“You have a lot of ingredients to pick from, you have no idea how much of each ingredient to add though. You’re going to have to wing it I’m afraid.” The sly smile reappears on the Farmer’s face, “But no matter what you add, there’s always a chance you’ll mess up the soil and kill the very plants that you’re trying to help.
Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
You’s like to push the smirk off of the Farmer’s face, but you know he’s just doing his job so you take a deep breath to calm yourself and scan the ingredients listed. You’re lucky that he has everything you need to make your decision.
There are two ingredients that stand out to you, Peat Moss and Rock Dust. One is listed as ideal for acidic soils, while the other is listed for alkaline.
If you choose Peat Moss, you can neutralize the soil to make it less acidic and softer. This would be ideal for plants like roses and strawberries that have root systems that prefer softer acidic soil, but might work for plants like cucumbers and tomatoes that need more acidic soil as well.
If you pick Rock Dust, you can counter act the acidity in the soil to make it less acidic. This would be ideal for plants like carrots and daffodils that prefer neutral soil, but might work for plants like tomatoes and cucumbers as well.
To mix things up a bit, let’s say you’ve been growing a few different plants in your room and you’re ready to take them outside. For every plant, you have to choose ONE batch of soil to take with you.
Here are your options:
Mix 1: Perfect for strawberries and roses. Great for cucumbers and tomatoes in moderation. Mix 2: Great for roses and daffodils. Good for cucumbers and tomatoes. Mix 3: Good for tomatoes and cucumbers.
Tolerable for roses and daffodils.
Your goal is to pick ONE MIX to take outside with you.
Which mix do you choose?
Note: You may choose more than one mix if you think you have a good reason for doing so.
Sources & references used in this article:
Organic potting soil and soil conditioner by G Henderson – US Patent App. 10/293,581, 2004 – Google Patents
Seaweed in agriculture and horticulture by WA Stephenson, E Booth – 1968 – themodern.farm
Cubed soil conditioner with high water absorptivity and retentivity by BM Barton – US Patent 3,953,191, 1976 – Google Patents
Earthworms vermicompost: a powerful crop nutrient over the conventional compost & protective soil conditioner against the destructive chemical fertilizers for … by RK Sinha, S Herat, K Chauhan… – Am-Eurasian J Agric …, 2009 – brickendsfarm.com