Soil is one of a gardener’s most important resources, and preserving its health and vitality one of our most crucial responsibilities. Nourish the soil sustainably and you’ll be rewarded with healthier plants and bountiful harvests for years to come.
I was reading National Geographic the other day, and came across an article on soil called “Our Good Earth.” The article discusses the problems facing soils all over the planet, and made me realize just how precious healthy soil really is. We’re losing topsoil rapidly as we consume more and more land to house and feed the ballooning human population. It can take nature over a thousand years to produce just one inch of soil, but erosion, compaction, and contamination can wipe it away much faster. This precious resource, the means to sustain and feed us and the entire planet, is often just treated like dirt. It’s time that changed. And it can start in your very own backyard.
Taking care of the soil not only preserves nature for the long haul, it has many short-term benefits to the gardener. Maintaining healthy, biologically active soil leads to healthier plants that are less susceptible to pests and disease, increased yields, and less runoff and wasted water.
Soil is alive. It contains countless varieties of microbes, fungi, and bacteria that help make minerals and chemicals available to plants as food. Organic matter is essential to maintaining soil life and therefore in making it fertile for plants, which is why composting and mulching are so important. Preparing the soil without disturbing it too much is also essential to building and maintaining healthy soil.
In order to prepare your soil for gardening, you must first know your soil. It helps to know the texture of your soil to find out how it retains water. Clay soils have flat particles and are often hard with poor drainage, but retain water better than sandy soil, which drains very quickly and is made up of round particles. Loamy soil is a mix of the two, with both decent drainage and water retention. Mixing sand into clay soil or clay into sandy soil can help balance it, and so can adding compost and other organic matter.
It’s wise to do a soil test in order to determine the makeup of your soil and also figure out what minerals and nutrients it lacks so you can add sources of them in the right quantities. Often your county’s extension office will offer soil tests. If your soil test indicates high levels of a toxin like lead or serious deficiencies, you can always build raised garden beds or use containers for gardening instead.
Maintaining and managing your soil sustainably and organically will not only help keep your garden growing, it will help nature keep building one of our most precious resources.
Ways of Building Healthy Soil in the Organic Garden
Now that you know how to start being a good soil steward, you can start helping nature build healthy soil and reap the benefits in your own garden. If we take care of the earth, the earth takes care of us!
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