on May 14, 2015 by test_editor in Archive_2015, Print Articles, Comments Off on May 14, 2015: What’s in Your Garden?; The real dirt on fake soil.

May 14, 2015: What’s in Your Garden?; The real dirt on fake soil.

May 14, 2015: What’s in Your Garden?;
The real dirt on fake soil.

By Hilary Kemsley.

“Every summer for the past 20 years, I have added mushroom compost and/or Composted Pine Mulch to my home garden.”

We are all beginning to understand that millions of tablets sold as vitamins contain few, if any, ingredients that improve human health. Similarly, huge numbers of bags marketed to gardeners as soil contain little, if any, nutrition for plants.

Produced and coloured to mimic dirt, the contents of many of these bags are manufactured growing mediums, not dirt.

It is easy to be duped. The words “Black Earth” often seen in the ingredients listed on these products bring to mind the fertile top soil we learned about in Grade 6 science class. But bagged up “Black Earth” is not earth. It’s only pretending to be earth.

The article “Black Earth vs. Top Soil” on eHow says, in a Sarah Palin circuitous way, “Buying black earth that is not top soil is acceptable if it is not needed for areas where plant growth is important.” Translation? If you don’t care if your plants grow, fake soil works fine.

Health conscious grocery shoppers read labels carefully. Label-readers run into problems, however, when shopping for earth to feed their gardens.

On a recent visit to a reputable garden centre, I noticed that some bags had no list of ingredients– just the product name. Others, like the one shown here, listed easily misinterpreted information such as:

  • Minimum organic matter 15%,
  • Maximum moisture content 50%,
  • Ingredients: black earth, leaf and yard compost.,

What “maximum moisture content 50%” means, is a mystery.

Every natural soil holds moisture with varying degrees of efficiency. Clay holds the most moisture; loam, compost, top soil sit in second place; sand holds hardly any moisture at all. Manufactured growing mediums can hold moisture well. This writer was unable to track down what message “Maximum moisture content 50%” conveys to consumers. Surely it doesn’t mean that 50% of the weight of the bag we lug to the car is water.

“Minimum organic matter 15%” hints that 100% of the bagged material could be organic. Hurray! Or, it could be that 85% of the bag contains not one bit of absorb-able nutrition for your plants.

Here’s what to look for when augmenting your garden soil: 100% organic matter.

My personal favourite is mushroom compost (MC). MC is made from 100% organic materials, holds water well so you need to water less, and before it’s planted with mushrooms, the mixture is heated to a temperature high enough to kill weed seeds.

Every summer for the past 20 years, I have added mushroom compost and/ or Composted Pine Mulch to my home garden. The cost of loose soil or compost alone ranges from $30.00 to $44.00 a cubic yard. The cost of transportation for any sized load is $110.00.

A word of caution: If you want to stay on good terms with your neighbours, don’t do what I did my first year into organic gardening. I enthusiastically ordered ten 10 cubic yards of manure for my inner city lot. Fresh, steaming manure as it turned out. ‘Twas a small mountain of manure, believe me. Took four weekends to level it.

Neighbours still talk about the smell.

Author Hilary Kemsley has run Westboro’s Student Organic Gardeners for over 14 years. She can be reached at studentorganicgardeners@gmail.com

Ingredient Filler.

Ingredient Filler.

Photo Caption: Typical labeling of commercially sold garden supplements may not tell the whole story. Photo by Hilary Kemsley.

[ED: Learn more by attending one of various Master Gardener’s lectures put on by The Friends of the Central Experimental Farm each spring. For dates of lectures, tours, sales etc.; Please refer to the Newswest Garden Calendar.]

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