If you are reading this book review you probably already appreciate the importance of soil to growing plants and feel there might be something more you could do in regard to soil improvement. Secrets to Great Soil provides the information you need to get started on a soil improvement plan so that you can enjoy quick results as well as long lasting benefits. As author Elizabeth Stell points out, “The easiest, most dramatic way to improve any garden is to improve its soil.” Good soil is the key to healthy plants that look better, produce more, and can stand up to the problems created by weather, pests, and disease.
The first step is getting to know your soil and Stell leads you through the process with everything you need to know. The information is organized in a very simple, effective way complemented by diagrams and charts that make it very easy to understand. Specific directions are given for determining soil texture, examining soil structure, testing soil drainage, and assessing earthworm activity. Insets provide all kinds of tidbits to spark interest and enthusiasm. Did you know, for example, that earthworms can swallow and process over 200 tons of soil/ acre?
Other sections of the book help you understand and determine the nutrient content and pH of the soil, ways of adding organic matter, and the tools you will need for working the soil with directions on how to care for them. Considerable space is devoted to various methods of composting and specific directions are given for each. Mulches, amendments, and green manures, as well as how to choose and apply organic and synthetic fertilizers are covered in considerable detail with all the information displayed in easy to understand charts. Most books deal with how to supply nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, but this book does an equally through job on supplying calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, and micronutrients. It provides charts comparing the various materials that can be used to supply each nutrient so that you can choose the way that best meets your needs.
After covering the basics of soil improvement the author switches the focus to solving specific problems such as poor drainage, hardpans, slopes, saline soils, and soil diseases. Next, fine-tuning the soil for specific plants is considered with a spiffy chart to help identify common problems. The special needs of annuals, perennials, vegetables, lawns, woody ornamentals, herbs, and container grown plants are addressed with suggestions for managing the soil where they grow. The final section of the book is a soil-care calendar to help you organize your time effectively and incorporate your soil management activities into your year round gardening routine. Throughout the book insets called “Hints for Success” and ‘Master Gardening Tips”, add detail and depth to the discussion. You can learn, for example, how to identify disease resistant tomatoes, and how to make waste products into mulch. On every page there is something to learn even if you have gardened for years.
Secrets to Great Soil is a very down to earth (pardon the pun) book on soil that can benefit both the novice and more experienced home gardener. It contains some information that may be available in other books but it does so in a unique way that makes it very easy to understand and use. Its straightforward presentation accompanied by charts highlighting the information help the gardener see the big picture as well as the detail and best choose the right course of action. There is no glitz to this book, just good solid information and suggestions written in an upbeat, simple style. A great resource.