Top soil could very well be one of our most valuable, and overlooked, resources here on the planet. Water and air get a lot of attention, as they should, but they will be much less useful without good soil to grow the plants they nurture in. Out of all the Earth’s thick crust, topsoil only takes up the last two to eight inches. You measure topsoil from the top surface down to the first densely packed layer. This first densely packed layer is called substrata, and will later be broken down and combined with organic matter to become new topsoil. Between this substrata and the topsoil is where almost all organic matter, microorganisms, and nutrients essential to plant growth are located. When you buy garden soil, or seed starter soil this is what you are buying it for: the nutrients and microorganisms contained within to better grow your gardens and lawns.
Be sure to carefully research the topsoil you are getting. If you purchase bags of sand be prepared to be disappointed. You won’t get anything but a wicked sandbox. IF you go out and buy bags of peat moss, be prepared to be equal parts disappointed and living in a bog. But then maybe you want to start a swamp, if so go out and buy lots of peat moss and maybe some alligators. When you do buy some topsoil, it is usually made up of substrata that is broken down and enhanced with nutrients and a number of other elements depending on what exactly you buy. The substrata itself is made up of sand, silt, and clay. In nature this is broken down gradually over time by weather, and the organic matter necessary combines with it over time as well, until it becomes topsoil. A topsoil manufacturer, of course, doesn’t have time for this waiting around, there are customers to serve after all, so they will make the topsoil. This will be done by taking substrata and combining it with organic matter to create what you know as mulch. They then leave it in piles to break down at a rate accelerated beyond what would occur in nature. Have you ever walked past a big pile of wood chips, or mulch, and seen it steaming on a cool day? This occurs due to the heat generated by microorganisms breaking down the wood, left long enough and you’ll have mulch, and topsoil.
The best reasons to buy topsoil are to control erosion by growing new plants in areas with no plants growing, fix areas damaged by storm water runoff, to grow a thick and healthy garden, and to fix soils challenged by either too much sand (the sand box problem) or too much clay. For those in real need of nutrient content try a bag of soil amenders. This is a rich compost soil product that is great for plants as it is a 100% source of organic matter. If you can’t get things to grow in this top soil you may want to hang up the gardening gloves.
H V Beek is a landscaping and gardening expert. His family owned business Van Beek’s Garden Supply has been providing landscape supplies, garden store and patio stones in Oakville, Mississauga and surrounding areas for 50 years.
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