Healthy soil is without a doubt a gardener’s best asset to success. Volumes have been written throughout the ages on agriculture productions, do’s and don’ts.
While all these things are important, it can be overwhelming and seem complicated, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are some basic fundamentals to keeping your soil a thriving ecosystem, at least in my experience. I will share my tips with you here, and although I strongly encourage you to get a good book or two (not just googling it), to have on hand ( books tend to be very thoroughly researched before publication), my gardening tips here will get you started on the right track.
#1. Organic matter for healthy soil.
Soil is continually breaking down and releasing nutrients into the soil that plants are always using. It’s important to keep adding nutrients and matter in.
Getting the process well started with composted leaves, grass, chicken, cow, or sheep manure-well-composted I might add- earthworm castings, kitchen scraps, and so on is very important. This is the ‘fiber’ in your soil, so to speak. It helps your soil retain moisture as well as have better drainage. All of which is important to your plants and therefore, to you as a gardener. Plus all those ‘vitamins’ for your plants.
The added bonus with doing this, is you will encourage earthworms to take over your soil, and they will end up doing the majority of the digging and fertilizing eventually.
That is definitely a topic for another post, but let it be said, the more earthworms, the better.
Another way of improving your soil is planting cover crops to add in nutrients like nitrogen and organic matter. While this is worthy of another blog post as well, let me say that this can be done in small garden areas to vast farms.
#2. pH test your soil’s health
The majority of plants, particularly vegetables and fruits, like a soil pH of between 6.5 to 7.5, usually closer to 7.0. In other words, slightly acidic or close to neutral. Some plants, like peppers and eggplants etc, do well at 7.0 to 7.5, and indeed, require it (do your research here). If you’re growing blueberries, they like a super-acidic soil, around 4.5 to 5.5. We’re talking swamp material here.
I can’t stress this following statement enough:
You can have the best compost, leaves, weed control, mulch, highest quality seeds, but if your soil pH is off, those nutrients are not available for your plants to utilize, making everything else virtually useless. The most beautiful soil on earth will not yield well without adjusting your pH when necessary. You will have problems with germination, seedlings starting and dying off, stunted plant growth if they do get going. Lack of flowers, production, yellowing leaves, diseases as they are not healthy. Soil pH is key.You can have the best compost, leaves, weed control, mulch, highest quality seeds, but if your soil pH is off, those nutrients are not available for your plants to utilize, making everything else virtually useless. Click To Tweet
Get yourself a simple soil testing kit from your garden center. Order one online if that works better for you. While these aren’t as precise as getting a soil sample from a lab, or your nearest agricultural extension, it will at least give you an idea of where you’re at.
Here is a general rule of thumb to follow.
If you live in regions with a lot of rain, you are most likely going to have acidic soil. You will want to add garden lime, wood ashes etc to your soil to raise the pH.
If you live in dry climates with little rainfall, you are most likely going to have alkaline soil. Adding in things like peat moss or a little coffee grounds can help bring that soil pH down.
#3. Mulching for Healthy Soil and Plants
Plant your seedlings or let your rows sprout, then mulch them with grass clipping or compost. Cover the pathways and between the rows too. Mulching is yet another topic. For now, let’s say that it will keep your soil temperature more even, and reduce moisture loss.
Better yet, it will slowly keep breaking down and encourage earthworms to inhabit your garden. Earthworms do so much to enrich the soil, and having them as part of your garden is truly in your best interests for healthy soil and plants.
And, every time you water, you are watering those nutrients from the mulch down to the roots of your plants.
4. Ask the Experts
My final tip is, ask the experts. By definition, I mean people who have the results you want. Go to the gardener down the street with the amazing tomatoes and say hello. Compliment them on their tomatoes, and ask them how they do it. I’m willing to bet they would love to trade garden talk with you. After all, pretty much everyone likes to be asked their opinion and advice 🙂 That’s human nature.
Go to your local garden centers, and ask them questions on your soil type, local climate, best types of seeds, and things like diseases in your area.
Look around for seed exchange groups that will have seeds adjusted to your zone and climate from years of adaptation in your area.
Farmer’s markets are another gold mine, with local farmers and urban gardeners all congregating to talk and share. Support your local growers and artisans, and I’m betting you will have better soil.
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