Your Soil is Alive

Learn how to keep your soil healthy

Did you realize that your soil is actually alive? It's not just dirt. Your soil is full of living organisms, living plant material and minerals. My husband, who grew up on a farm, always says that dirt is what is under your nails and soil is what you plant in.

Your Soil is Alive - Find out how to feed it

A healthy soil should be full of healthy bacteria, amoebae, protozoans, nematodes, earth worms, and mites as well as other things. All these things help to break down organic plant materials like straw, leaves, dead grasses, compost and other once living plant material. Once these things are broken down they are usable for living plants to use as energy to grow and bloom.

Your soil is no different than your body. You must feed and water it so that it can produce fuel to sustain plant life. This is especially important for organic gardeners, but it should be important for all of us. Synthetic fertilizers are like junk food; you get a quick fix at first, a burst of energy if you will, but it will not sustain a healthy body, or soil in this case.

So the best solution is to feed the soil regularly. Here's how you can accomplish that easily and inexpensively:

Feeding Soil in an Ornamental Garden

  • Add a 1"-2" layer of compost around plants once or twice a year. You can make your own compost for free. Find out how here.
  • Use organic mulches such as leaf mold, straw and shredded wood mulch; they will break down over time and add nutrients to the soil. I prefer cedar for a wood mulch, but pine is acceptable as well. Using what is readily available in your area will keep the cost down to a minimum.
  • Remove weeds often so they don't compete with your plants. Or better yet, prevent weeds even better by laying 6-8 layers of black/white newspaper under the organic mulch of your choice. It will attract earthworms and add nutrients as it breaks down. Don't forget to add those weeds to your compost pile.
  • Supplement blooming plants with organic fertilizers such as the ones put out by Espoma.
  • Consider making compost tea to water plants 2-3 times a month for a liquid fertilizer that contains nutrients that are readily available to plants immediately. Compost tea has been shown to have some pest and disease resistant properties as well. Find out how to make your own here.
  • Avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides as they will likely undo all the hard work you've done to the soil.

Feeding Soil in an Edible Garden

  • Mix in a 1"-2" layer of compost into the soil before planting time in the spring.
  • Use organic mulches such as leaf mold, straw and shredded wood mulch; they will break down over time and add nutrients to the soil. I prefer cedar for a wood mulch, but pine is acceptable as well. Using what is readily available in your area will keep the cost down to a minimum.
  • Remove weeds often so they don't compete with your plants. Or better yet, prevent weeds even better by laying 6-8 layers of black/white newspaper under the organic mulch of your choice. It will attract earthworms and add nutrients as it breaks down. Don't forget to add those weeds to your compost pile.
  • Supplement heavy feeding plants with organic fertilizers such as the ones put out by Espoma. They have a great product for edibles called Garden Tone.
  • Consider making compost tea to water plants 2-3 times a month for a liquid fertilizer that contains nutrients that are readily available to plants immediately. Compost tea has been shown to have some pest and disease resistant properties as well. Find out how to make your own here.
  • Avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides as they will likely undo all the hard work you've done to the soil.
  • Rotate crops to help prevent plant diseases and to help add nutrients to the soil. Grow legumes in various places in the garden; they naturally add nitrogen to the soil as they grow.
  • Consider growing a cover crop to help prevent weeds and add nutrients in the off season. Clover, rye or winter wheat are popular choices. Turn over the soil in late winter or early spring and allow the plants to decompose in the soil before planting time.

So you see, feeding your soil is not all that hard. Make smart, deliberate decisions when it comes to your soil and you will have happy healthy plants all year long.

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