What’s brown and magic?


It is beneath your feet and grows the food you eat, but as a society we take it for granted. The good old brown stuff, soil, is one of our unsung heroes. Trees and bees get all the attention – they are, let’s face it, rather more active and endearing than soil. However, it is time for soil to take its turn in the spotlight… Ladies and Gentlemen, today is #WorldSoilDay.

So we all know that soil is essential for food production, obvs, but don’t forget that plants are also grown to provide fibre for energy, clothing, medicines and animal feed. Not only that, but according to the Soil Association, soil also stores most of the world’s carbon (beat that, trees) and is home to an incredible amount of living organisms, such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi. In fact, just one teaspoon of soil can contain as many micro-organisms as there are people on the planet.

Soil is also vital in its role as storing and filtering water. This means that it increases our resilience against floods as well as droughts.

As if that wasn’t enough, the good bacteria in soil are also beneficial for our health. Contact with soil makes us happier and smarter and explains why activities such as gardening can help with mental health.

That’s nice then. Thanks soil for being there. I’m off now to find some buzzy little bees to save… Bye…

Except, stop. Soil isn’t ‘just there’ a static, immovable constant in our lives. In fact, our soils are in danger. They are disappearing at a rate that is alarming for future generations, with 2.2 million tonnes being lost and degraded in the UK each year. This is caused by factors such as expanding cities, transport infrastructure and pollution – either industrial or through the inefficient use of fertilisers.

Not only that, but climate change may increase rates of loss if drier conditions make soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, or if intense rainfall washes soil away. It’s much harder to put it back than it is to look after it.

The Soil Association campaigns for better protection for soil, including supporting organic farming practices and promoting best practice. We can all do our bit for soil too.

Organic may be part of the solution, but it can be more costly. As an alternative, seek out the LEAF marque (a symbol of a leaf) which indicates that products have been grown sustainably.

Next, think about your own patch of soil and how you can look after it. If you have a garden, however tiny, then get composting. Leaves, cut grass, fruit and veg peelings and tea bags will all mulch together in perfect harmony in a compost heap or bin. You’ll end up with lovely rich organic matter to spread onto your flower beds and help make healthy soil.

Don’t buy peat-based compost either. This is a direct way of digging up special habitats and valuable carbon stores. The peat-free alternatives these days perform just as well.

It is most definitely brown and at first glance rather boring, but soil is the very stuff of life and it needs our love.


Activity: transform sad hippos into mini gardens

Do you have a neglected hippo languishing in your garden? This one was in mine, unloved and uncared for…. so sad 😦

It used to be cherished as a paddling pool, then a sand pit, but now it is festering. Time for a hippo rescue.

To transform an old plastic paddling pool or sand pit into a mini raised garden, read on.

You need:

  • A really sad and neglected rigid plastic pool
  • A drill or sharp stanley knife
  • A bucket full of gravel
  • One or two bags of peat free compost – depending on your pool size
  • A selection of shallow rooting plants, try courgettes, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs, salad leaves.

Start by cutting or drilling drainage holes into the bottom and sides of the poor hippo (or equivalent). Just an inch up from the bottom on the sides is enough.

Next, position it where you want it, ideally with full sun – it will be too heavy to move when full. Next, fill the bottom with gravel until it is about 2 cm deep, like this:

Next, fill to the top with compost. Our little hippo only needed one bag. Finally, plant your seeds and plants and give them a good water. Be aware that there is still a possibility of frost, so protect vulnerable youngsters with a homemade cloche (a cut off large water bottle popped on at night will do the trick).

The result: One happy hippo!

We do need to paint his eyes back in though, they look a bit sinister. Happy gardening.