For those who think of soil as simply dirt, it may take an attitude adjustment to view soil as a living collection of creatures, along with minerals and bits of living material: iron oxides, unicellular bacteria, actinomycete filaments, flagellated protozoans, ciliated protozoans, amoebae, nematodes, root hairs, fine roots, elongate springtails, and mites.
Each plays an essential role in organic soil health and the vitality and production from one's garden. They break down the huge, unwieldy proteins and lignins in straw, leaves, and the wastes and remains of living creatures into simple, accessible compounds, like nitrate and ammonium, that plants transform back into spicy peppers, crisp cucumbers and tender herbs. Soil is alive.
FERTILITY Microbes require certain working conditions to furnish the nutrients necessary for healthy harvests. Fresh air and a steady supply of food and water, plus protection from temperature extremes, will ensure productive soil. Covering the soil with biodegradable mulches, regularly incorporating fluffy composts, and minimizing compaction with good bed design are great ways to make sure the microbes stay munching and the plants producing.
Keeping the beds planted with crops or piled with mulch encourages roots and earthworms that will work to make the soil airy and loose. If the soil already is a thick clay or suffers from compaction problems, try using a broadfork to break up the hard subsurface soil layers.
WEEDS & PESTS Believe it or not, minimizing soil disturbance also helps control weeds. Weeds will outcompete tender crop plants for nutrients and other resources. Frequent digging or hoeing perpetuates the problem by dragging weed seed reservoirs from the deeper soil layers to repopulate the surface. By reducing or eliminating surface disturbance, one creates a more productive soil environment. Using mulch (we recommend straw), key to reducing temperature and moisture extremes in the soil, can also improve soil quality by shading the soil surface and putting surface seeds into dormancy until they can be decomposed.
ROTATION Crop rotation is the practice of growing a sequence of different types of crops on the same garden bed over several years. This practice deters pests and helps maintain an appropriate balance of nutrients. The result is healthy plants that can better resist diseases which can live in soil for many years.
When it comes to garden productivity, there is no substitute for good soil. The organic matter provides the building blocks of good health for your plants and your body. We've helped many families amend their soil, let us know if you'd like help too.