A beautiful garden and a fruitful harvest start with a healthy soil. However, not all of us are blessed with plant-friendly soil. Does this mean that we’ll have to make do with subpar soil? Not at all. Here are a few tips on how you can enrich your garden soil.
Before we talk about these tips, let me first tell you about the benefits of having fertile soil.
Just like human beings, soil requires air, water, food and shelter in order to be healthy. In fact, this is the basis of all of the different ways that you can build healthy garden soil.
It goes without saying that your soil requires feeding the entire year. However, your soil especially needs it during autumn, so it has time to break down the food just in time for spring when budding plants need them most.
You can use everything from fallen leaves and rotten fruits to leftover foods to give your soil an organic feast. Just use your trusty bladed hoe to chop and mix your organic matter to the topsoil. You can even add some manure and fertilizer to give it a better nutrient boost.
A great way to give your soil structure is by adding some worms. Plus, worms work with other tiny creatures to transform organic waste into something that can help your plants grow. Just add some worms, compost and mulch to your anaerobic soil and they will do all the work. This is a very easy way to aerate your soil and give it more nutrients.
Sometimes, you’ll find that no matter what you do, your plants still aren’t growing well. It might be that your soil is lacking a vital nutrient. What you can do is to use soil test kit or even better, take a sample of your soil to a reliable lab. Best done during August or September, this will help you determine the proper balance of nutrients that your soil needs.
Most of the time, you’ll find that your soil needs some phosphorus, potassium or nitrogen since the soil requires a large amount of these macronutrients. For example, nitrogen is an essential requirement for plants and soil organisms alike. If your soil is lacking nitrogen, you’ll want to add some feather meal to your soil and use legume cover crops during fall or spring.
Another way to build healthy garden soil is by getting the weeds first before they can steal your plants’ food from the soil. You’ll want to do this during spring because this is when they start to grow. They’re also easier to control while they’re still small. You just pull them out as they emerge.
However, if you really want to get that edge over your garden weeds, you can do some fall mulching. This will not only make your weeds easier to manage, it will also add more organic material to your soil.
Before working your soil during spring, make sure that soil is dry enough. Working on wet soil destroys its structure, resulting in compacted soil with little space for your organisms and plant roots. Squeeze a handful of your spring soil to check. You’ll know if it isn’t ready and needs to dry further if you get water or the soil can be molded into a firm ball.
You can improve your soil’s fertility by planting cover crops like alfalfa, peas and beans. These type of cover crops also have an added benefit of incorporating nitrogen to your soil. It’s also a good idea to do mixes or alternates like clovers and grass for better benefits. In this case, the grass roots work well in boosting the soil structure and adding organic matter while the clover provides the nitrogen required needed to decompose the grass roots.
You’ll also find that there are cover crops that work better in some months than others. Early spring, you can plant grain grasses like rye and oats. Come winter, you can try popular picks like cereal rye and hairy vetch. There’s also buckwheat if you need a quick cover crop.
Like we’ve mentioned, air is an important requirement of a healthy soil. However, walking on your garden soil encourages compaction. This is why it’s important to create beds and pathways. You’ll also want to plant closely in the beds you make to conserve moisture and keep the soil at its ideal temperature.
Most plants grow well when the pH level of the soil is anywhere from 6.5 to 6.8. If your soil’s pH level is not in this range, your plants will have a hard time getting the nutrients that they need from the soil. However, changing the pH level of the soil takes time and requires patience.
An acidic soil has a pH level of less than 6.5. While there are some plants like blueberries that require an acidic soil, you’d normally want to increase the pH level of your soil. To do this, just mix some powdered limestone to your soil during fall.
On the other hand, a soil that has more than 6.8 pH level is alkaline. To improve alkaline soil, you’ll have to incorporate some ground sulfur to your soil. Acidic plant matters like sawdust and oak leaves also work well.
Using chemicals of all kinds can kill the living organisms in your soil. This includes fungicides, pesticides and even synthetic fertilizers which can do more harm than good. In fact, the damage to your soil can last for years which is why you’ll want to refrain from using this type of products in your garden.
Plants require a living soil and soil needs plants to stay healthy. However, this balanced relationship gets messed up when you use fertilizer. A better way to give your soil a nutrient boost and encourage your soil’s ecology to flourish is to use compost instead.
You can make your own compost system if you have a large garden to feed. You can also farm worms and harvest their castings to feed to your soil. This type of compost is called vermicasting. Other types of compost that you can use include yard trimmings, food wastes, fallen leaves, manure and mushroom compost.