Good soil makes for good food
Of the three things most important to successful gardening, sunlight, soil composition, and water, it is the make up of the soil that is critical in creating a vibrant and healthy garden. Autumn is generally the best time to begin soil improvements; however it’s not too late to start for the spring. Creating a healthy soil is relatively easy. All it takes is adding organic matter to the existing garden soil.
Keep in mind that you are building the soil to improve its structure. This helps it maintain moisture, increase the biological activity within the soil, keep it loose and airy for good drainage, and provide readily available nutrients to plants. Building the soil is different from fertilizing the plants. Build the soil first, and then add the appropriate fertilizers when necessary. Fertilizer does not replace poor soil.
It’s pretty easy to add organic material to the soil. In the fall undecomposed organic matter can be added directly to the soil itself, such as manure, dried leaves, sawdust, and straw. Adding fresh green waste, such as grass clippings, will help the decomposition by adding nitrogen to the soil.
In the spring there will not be much time to allow decomposition to occur. If you have a compost pile with fully composted material, add it to the soil. Other additions include dried molasses, lava sand, green sand, earth worm casings, and shredded bark. Soil amendments, like Humus, are available in bags, where directions on how much to use are on the bag. Humus is pretty cheap at the store. Humus is what’s left after everything has decomposed. The compost pile also creates humus.
Whether you have clay soil or sandy soil, adding organic matter only helps the structure. Clay soils tend to hold water, whereas sandy soils allow water to drain too fast. A good soil will form into a ball when squeezed in your hand. It should break apart easily when pressed.
If beginning with a new garden, or even revamping an existing one, it’s not necessary to remove the existing soil. The soil amendments can be incorporated into the existing soil. Just add about two inches of organic matter to the top of the soil, and work it into the soil to a depth of four to six inches. Do remove grass before tilling, as tilling will drive it further into the ground.
Also, cut and take away weed tops. If you are very concerned about weeds place newspaper or cardboard over the existing soil. It will eventually decompose. Of course, at that point you will need to bring in garden soil. Always wait for the soil to dry before tilling, as it causes the soil to squeeze together and eliminate air space.
Another great way to build the soil is to add earthworms. Earthworms dig tunnels in the soil. As they dig, rich soil moves to the top and the rest of the soil is aerated for better oxygen flow. Earthworm casings add nutrients. You can buy the night crawlers or common earthworms and spread three to four per square foot of garden. Next fall think about growing a “green manure” crop over your garden.
The crop will grow through fall and winter. In the spring it gets turned over and incorporated into the soil. A few of the fall cover crops are clover, hairy vetch, or annual rye.
Here are two websites I used for this article. The information is clear and understandable: www.motherearthnews.com/ Organic-Gardening/2006-06- 01/A-Better-Way-to-Fertilize- Your-Garden.aspx www.dirtdoctor.com/organic/ garden/view_ question/id/3029/.