Nourishing Your Garden Soil
Did you know that a single tablespoon of fertile garden soil is home to over a billion organisms, including over 40 thousand different species of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, nematodes, insects and earthworms?
It is this rich ecosystem of life that converts organic material into the nutrients essential for plant health and growth. I like to think of this biological community as the engine of the soil and the organic material as the fuel that makes it run.
To build and maintain a great garden you simply must add new organic material to your beds each and every year to keep the engine running.
Top dressing your beds each year with a 3-5” layer of compost or well-aged manure and mixing it lightly into the top layer (4-6”) of existing soil will ensure a steady supply of nutrients.
It is not necessary or recommended to deep till or turnover your garden. Doing so is disruptive to the life cycle of soil organisms, fungal threads are broken and earthworm burrows are destroyed. The balanced web of life on which your garden depends is best left undisturbed.
Another method of passively introducing organics into your garden soil is to mulch around your maturing plants with leaves, grass clippings, straw or seaweed.
Not only will mulch keep your soil temperature steady, help retain moisture and suppress weed growth it will slowly breakdown and be incorporated into the soil. Come fall you will be wondering where it all went. What remains can be mixed into the soil and will decompose over the late fall and early spring.
A third strategy for building organic content is to plant a fall cover crop of legumes such as clover, alfalfa, peas or beans. Legumes fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it to the soil in a form readily available to plants. Turning your cover crop into the soil in early spring will provide a nutrient boost just when it’s needed.
Adding organics also improves the structure of soil. Sandy soils that leach water and nutrients quickly are vastly improved by the retentive properties of organic material. Dense clay soils that resist water, air and root penetration will release their natural fertility when enhanced with the introduction of organics.
Perhaps all of this is best expressed in an old adage of gardening wisdom:
Poor gardeners grow weeds.
Good gardeners grow vegetables.
Very good gardeners grow soil!
If your garden has not been top dressed for this coming year give us a call or drop us a note here at Home Harvest. We have an excellent supply of composted aged manure and would be pleased to drop by and top you up!