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Soil builders: a rich yet misunderstood biodiversity

We are all very aware of the importance of the soil in a kitchen garden. Without good quality soil, it is difficult to yield a good harvest without using chemical plant protection products. A soil that lacks nutrients is not a gardener’s only fear: a shrinking biodiversity (particularly when using pesticides, fungicides and other chemical products) can be catastrophic for crops.

That is because under our feet, a multitude of creatures go about making the soil, which is so dear to us, of a better quality. Without this biodiversity, the soil would die. As an inert material, soil needs this fauna to regenerate itself. So, you ask yourself, who are these soil builders?

What is soil?

In pedology (the science of studying soil), the soil is not only studied in terms of composition, but also life, as one cannot exist without the other. From the biodiversity present comes the chemical composition, the quality, and from this quality comes the biodiversity. Hence, soil works in a cycle, which results in its strength and its weakness at the same time.

01In his “Guide to the experimental study of soil”, Albert Demolon, a pedologist, defines the soil as the following: “the natural formation of ground, with a moveable structure and varying weight, resulting from the transformation of the underlying bedrock due to various processes – physical, chemical and biological – in contact with the atmosphere and living creatures.”

Without going into detail on the soil’s composition, as here we are more interested in the soil’s biodiversity than its composition, we can nevertheless have a simple overview.

Biodiversity has an essential role in the soil’s fertility, the protection of species, the battle against soil erosion, good drainage of resources or nutrients by water, and can even play a role in decontamination.


02But what is soil biodiversity made of?

Soil biodiversity can be divided into four families:
-     Mega fauna found on the surface: toads, snakes, moles…
-     Macro fauna, visible to the naked eye: earthworms, ants, larvae…
-     Mesofauna, visible under a magnifying glass: mites, springtails…
-    Micro fauna, visible under a microscope: protozoa, nematodes, fungi, bacteria, algae…

03Each of these families has a specific role in the soil’s structure. The macro fauna that gardeners know well, such as earthworms or ants, are known as “physical engineers”, that’s to say that they are in charge of the soil’s renewal: they build habitats for other organisms in the soil, and are responsible for spreading organic matter and good water distribution.


Mesofauna play the role of “regulator” with regards to the population of microorganisms living in the soil, and so are predators that can save our crops from various diseases linked to having too many fungi or bacteria in the soil. These micro-organisms that make up the mesofauna are the “chemical engineers” of soil. They are in charge of decomposing organic matter, thereby supplying nutritional elements. They are also capable of attacking some pollutants.


How do you promote this biodiversity?

• Avoid ploughing the soil

How many gardeners use a tiller in their gardens? Far too many. We know that as gardeners grow older, working the soil becomes very difficult, but did you know that if you do it right, your soil will rediscover its balance and you won't have to work so hard to have loose soil? What's more, when you use the tiller too deep, you can dislodge species from their natural habitat, so everything will be upside down and nobody will be able to find where they are. That's without considering the death of many worms and other creatures. Remember, an earthworm cut in two inevitably dies.

• Balance the amount of organic materials

Gardeners like us know that it is important to watch the amount of organic materials (such as compost, for example). As well as bringing nutrients thanks to the biodiversity in them, it also allows us to protect our soil and thereby improve its ability to retain water.

• Don't use chemical products.

With us, it's all biological! We can never repeat it too often: stop using chemical plant protection products. The biodiversity that maintains and works your soil will never thank you enough for it, and your crops will never look better. These days there are many biological solutions to help you fight against potential invasions or infections.

• Use green manure to minimise erosion

Bare soil is sensitive to all kind of things, notably the weather, whether it is rain, wind, drought, etc. In the growing season, don't skimp on ground covers and mulching. As well as conserving the soil's heat, these covers will allow water to be conserved for longer. In periods of drought like last year where the rain gauge remains low, this will give the garden a helping hand.

If you decide to leave a flowerbed bare in a less prosperous period or in case of absence, don't hesitate to use green manure (e.g vetch, mustard, etc.) which will nourish and protect your soil and will ultimately act as ground cover for your other crops.

Malvina Beauclair

The allotment garden exhibition took place in the Hirschstetten flower gardens from 20th – 22nd April.

kgmesseAn exceptional ambiance characterised the flower gardens Hirschstetten where the 14th allotment gardens exhibition was organised from April 20th – 22nd.

More than 100 exhibitors presented (nearly) everything that makes an allotment gardener's heart beat faster. So, at the beginning of the gardening season the allotment gardeners and gardening amateurs could find information and tips, see innovations and gather new ideas.

The most prominent allotment gardener from Vienna, the actual town councillor and future mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig, personally opened the exhibition. Both professional exhibitors and voluntary organisations, among them of course the central allotment federation, were present.

This regular annual venue of same-minded people was also this year a great success.


Leeds allotment federation: going from strength to strength...

GB1Following last year's very successful "Learning Day" put on for all allotment gardeners in Leeds by the Leeds Allotment Federation in conjunction with Leeds City Council Parks Dept. another event has been arranged for 24th March 2018.

From putting out the advertising poster for this year's event all 150 places were taken up within a fortnight.

The day itself consisted of coffee at 10.00 a.m. on arrival and the opening was by Cllr Jane Dowson, the Lord Mayor of Leeds.

Then two sessions of the six workshops took place.

This was followed by Andrew Tokely, Director of Kings Seeds giving a talk and demonstration on sowing seeds and getting best germination results.

There was a free..! Lunch followed by a further two sessions of the six workshops.

GBThere was an impressive array of workshops.

• Caring for fruit trees - Alan Thornton, The Orchard Project
• Composting - John Cossham, Master Composter
• Pest Control on allotments - Alan Masterton, LCC Pest Control Manager
• Growing Vegetables - David Allison, National Vegetable Society
• Grants for Allotments - David Ball, Community Matters
• Plate 2 Plate, compost from food bins - Mark Warner

Finally there were an evaluation session and closing remarks finishing at 3pm.

Take up for the event has been so great we are now looking at arranging another event for September.

Integration Garden

The Competition of the NGO " Deutsche Umwelthilfe" continues – Five allotment garden associations among the winners in 2017

IntegrationGardening promotes local attachment and "taking root". No other place is better suited for people to talk and socialize with each other. For this reason, allotment associations and community gardens, which open up their cultivable acreage to refugees, make an important contribution to the integration of those who seek protection against war and violence in Germany. Five of the projects that were awarded a prize in 2017 are managed by allotment garden associations.

The Querbeet project: Integration in two Osnabrück allotment garden associations

The Querbeet project is stimulating the integration of refugee families in two Osnabrück allotment garden associations. Gardening creates opportunities for encounters and enables refugee families to participate in our society. The five gardens are managed by one family each. They already form an integral part of the life in the association. Two refugees have even made the leap into the job market through the garden project!

Eime Intercultural Garden (Lower Saxony)

The intercultural garden is part of the local allotment garden site and is well equipped. All tools including the lawn mower have been donated, as well as the garden furniture and the barbecue. A wildflower meadow has been sown, there are fruit trees and a shared vegetable garden. The board of the allotment garden association supports the project developed on this plot and has taken on the lease.

Lüneburg Cultural Garden (Lower Saxony)

This is the first "Integration garden" of the competition! The garden is located on an allotment site in a residential area on the outskirts of town. It is jointly managed. It comprises a large plot that is planted and harvested by all. There are also small fruit trees, berry bushes and a herb spiral. Various raised beds and mounds were built, as well as a greenhouse, created out of old windows. There is a hut with a large shelter attached. The garden is accessible to all at any time.

Dillingen City Garden (Saarland)

The Saar Future Workshop (Zukunftswerkstatt - ZWS) is developing an integrative community and educational garden on a 200 m² plot of the North Dillingen allotment garden association. The offer to cooperate was directed primarily, although not exclusively, to refugee women, in order to provide them with freedom in their specific situation, to initiate contacts and to facilitate gardening together according to their wishes.

Intercultural Bielefeldt Gardens in Lübeck (Schleswig-Holstein)

The intercultural garden in the Buntekuh district of Lübeck includes five plots of land at the allotment garden association Buntekuh. Highlights in the garden are a clay baking unit and a solar-powered water pump. The garden is managed organically. Gardeners can tend their own beds or garden in the common areas. There are many courses, activities and festivals for children and adults.

The competition will enter a new round in 2018. For all information please go to:

Thomas Wagner, BDG

Since its beginning the social function is a corner stone of the allotment movement throughout Europe.
You find some examples from Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden in the Hyphens no. 60 to 63.
Have a look at these inspiring projects.

Malou Weirich,
Secretary general of the International Office du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux

Nordic Garden Fair in Stockholm

2The reward "The Allotment Promoter of the Year 2018", was given to Örebro Municipality (i.e. Örebro City) at The Nordic Garden Fair in Stockholm on Thursday 22nd of March.

The diploma was presented to the municipality's representative, planning architect Christin Gimberger, by Koloniträdgårdsförbundets president Karl-Erik Finnman for encouraging all sorts of gardening in the municipality, especially allotment gardening.

The authorities are supporting the allotment gardens in the municipality and are planning to create new allotment areas in the future.

The awarded was founded in 2006.

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