Learning how to improve your soil may be life-changing for any gardener or weekend warrior who felt their soil was too difficult to grow in. With that said, here are five methods to improving any soil, no matter where you’re starting. Read on!
1. Provide the Soil with an Organic Diet
Spring brings a frenzy of unseen subsurface activity. Billions of soil creatures yawn and stretch, bursting into creation. This living soil below ground aids in the growth of gardens above ground by recycling nutrients, absorbing water, enhancing soil tilth, and combating pests and disease.
We improve soil health by feeding and caring for it all year. How? The four essential needs of living soil are the same as ours: food, water, shelter, and air.
Autumn is the greatest time to begin. Organic compounds, which are essential for healthy soils, abound. Fallen leaves, garden detritus, kitchen trash, and even fruits gathered from beneath fruit trees can be added to the soil.
With a strong bladed hoe, chop organic debris directly into the top 2 inches of soil and cover with mulch. Ideally, combine concentrated manures, mineral phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, and lime. When these materials are added in the autumn, they have time to decompose before being used by plants in the spring.
2. Plant Cover Crops
Planting cover crops can act as a form of “soil breather” to add back nutrients and organic matter.
Cover crops also help build soil structure and improve its ability to hold onto water and air.
A healthy soil has an active and diverse community of soil life. One of the most important benefits of a cover crop is that it supports soil life. A cover crop is a living green manure. Those living plants provide beneficial organisms with food and shelter. They also capture and recycle nutrients and minerals, and even add organic matter to the soil. Plants like legumes, annual ryegrass, alfalfa, and buckwheat can flourish throughout fall and winter, making them ideal cover crops to nurture your garden soil.
3. Let Earthworms Do the Tilling
Earthworms love to eat leaf litter, compost, and other plant residues that are added to the soil. Their burrowing and tunneling activities also help aerate the soil, distributing nutrients and water to the roots of plants.
Earthworms also eat their own weight each day. The castings, or small balls of organic matter, that they leave behind are one of the most valuable benefits of earthworm activity.
4. Add the Missing Nutrients
Soils often don’t contain all the nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. Even if you’ve added organic material, you may need to add certain extra nutrients to get good plant growth.
If your soil test shows you are low in Nitrogen (N) or Phosphorus (P), you’ll need to add fertilizer. If your soil lacks potassium (K), consider applying wood ash (a non-toxic and organic source of K). Soil testing is a great way to determine the nutrients your soil needs.
5. Stop Walking All Over the Garden
Heavy traffic creates a compacted layer on top of the soil. When you step, you create little voids in the soil. Rain then easily washes soil down into the voids. Soil may appear to be wet even if it is actually compacted.
Compacted soils do not absorb water well and drain too quickly. This causes water to pool on top of the soil.
Compacted soils also do not hold air well. Oxygen is critical for healthy root growth and is needed for the soil organisms that recycle nutrients. We all have to walk through the garden, but try to avoid walking on it as much as possible. A gravel pathway is a great solution. If a pathway isn’t an option, try to minimize the amount of time you’re walking on the soil.
Improving your soil is a slow but worthwhile process. Bringing back nutrients, promoting healthy soils, and improving soil structure takes time. Start off with a good soil test to determine what your soil needs.
Blossom and Broom is a home and gardening blog that offers valuable tips and other information that can help you start your journey in growing your own food and keeping your home in its best shape! Check out our other helpful posts today!