For the love of gardening! By Mick O’Brien Dip.Hort(MAIH)

Well if it wasn’t for our love of gardening and our determination to grow our favourite fruits, vegetables and flowering plants in the landscape, it would otherwise be considered another certain laborious household chore indeed as we sometimes compete with elements of mother nature and her myriad of flourishing life forms ready to pounce on your ripe fruits as harvest time approaches, never mind having to deal with the effects of soils drying out or becoming hydrophobic and let’s face it, if rainfall or irrigation droplets applied to these water repellent soils just roll off the soil surface and are not being absorbed, then what chance have we got for a bountiful harvest? Our sandy soils here on Bribie Island do not retain much moisture or nutrients due to leaching as you would expect, but the drainage is generally excellent, something most plants actually love but the lack of organic matter means there is constant work needed to build up some soil carbon with the addition of copious amounts of organic matter such as compost and applying mulches like Lucerne or sugarcane, which rapidly break down and stimulate the soil beneficial organisms over time.
But what if you just want to plant some new ornamental plants you have purchased from your local garden retailer? How do you make the hydrophobic soils accept water again? How do you keep the new plants hydrated? Well gardening with sandy soils can be quite a challenge at the best of times but if you have hydrophobic soil, (which forms when trace amounts of organic matter have coated the soil particles and dried to such an extent that water penetration is impossible) then solution number one is to apply a soil surfactant (Soil wetting agent) which is the quickest way to get the ball rolling and these products are readily available from your local garden centre. When you apply the surfactant diluted in a watering can to the soil surface around your intended planting area, you will see a soapy froth being formed, which is the result of the waxy coating of the soil particles starting to dissipate. This is not and instant process unfortunately, but it does work well in conjunction with a soil rebuilding strategy and if you mix and backfill your new plants with a rich organic planting soil mix at the time of transplanting and then keep the lot irrigated and mulched while scheduling in some fortnightly applications off fish emulsion and seaweed, you will be well on your way to getting the soil to accept irrigation once again.
The trick then of course, is to keep up regular additions of organic matter and microbe brews to slowly create a well-drained fertile soil overtime. Interesting to note that a well hydrated turgid plant that has its roots tapped into the soil storehouse of available nutrients has a higher brix level in the sap of the leaf. (Brix), is the term used to describe the amount of available sugars and nutrients stored in the leaf of the plant), which can be measured in a small hand-held apparatus, called a refractometer. The more humus in your soil, the higher the brix readings in the plant tissue in general and this is what gives your plants the edge, when dealing with environmental extremes like long periods of cloudy weather, which can block the sunlight from penetrating the chlorophyll cells (chloroplasts) in the leaves, which is needed for optimum photosynthesis when forming flowers and fruit. This is especially important to farmers, as the quantity and quality of sugars contained in the fruits determine the quality of their produce and ultimately their shelf life too. For the home gardener, the best way to increase brix levels is to apply diluted seaweed to the plants foliage and root zone, which has been one of my sustainable ongoing chants since day one. You can also add fulvic acid which aids in the absorption of all available nutrients and is used by farmers in combination with their fertiliser regime. Fulvic acid assists in chlorophyll production and when used in cloudy weather it has therefore been referred to as “the second sun” in the horticultural industry.
So, for the love of gardening, may your soil be healthy and moist, your plants strong, your harvest plentiful and your garden surrounded with birds, bees and natural wildlife!