alive logo
foodfamilylifestylebeautysustainabilityhealthimmunity

The Dirt on Soil

Share

An important part of gardening is getting to know your soil type and how to maximize it. Soil consists of 50 percent mineral solids (clay, silt, sand) and 50 percent water, air and organic matter. A good mixture provides a well-structured soil.

An important part of gardening is getting to know your soil type and how to maximize it. Soil consists of 50 percent mineral solids (clay, silt, sand) and 50 percent water, air and organic matter. A good mixture provides a well-structured soil.

Clay soil is dense. Although quite fertile, it drains poorly and can turn to near concrete when dry. Sandy soil is lower in fertility and drains too quickly, leaching nutrients and drying out roots. Silty soil is more porous than clay and less porous than sand. It's fine and smooth and washes away easily.

All these soils can be amended to provide a healthy environment for your precious plants. The best way is with organic matter. Adding sand to a clay soil will help the structure, but organic matter is better. It helps improve not only the texture but also the biological activity of the soil. Worms and bacteria eat the organic matter and help decompose it, providing a fertile and healthy loam.

Peat moss is very effective, loosening clay soil and allowing good drainage and air circulation. Added to sandy soil, it acts as a sponge, holding the water and nutrients that plants require. Other organic matter that improves soil includes manure, shredded leaves, leaf mould, grass clippings, sawdust and compost.

You can till in the organic matter if you prefer, but it isn't necessary. The soil bacteria and worms will do the job for you. In fact, many experts advise that tilling appears to vitalize the bacteria too much so that they consume the organic matter too quickly, leaving little nutrients for plant growth.

Making Good Compost

Think of a compost pile as a feast for billions of hungry microscopic creatures that break down organic matter. Compost is an excellent fertilizer, a superb soil conditioner and protects your plants from drought and disease. It provides nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as micro-and-macro nutrients necessary for healthy growth. The essentials to composting are the right material, air, moisture and warmth. The vital ingredients are carbon for energy and nitrogen for building protein.

Ensure you have both carbon material (browns) like dry leaves, straw, hay, twigs and paper as well as nitrogen material (greens) like food scraps (no meat or bones), grass clippings, weeds and manure, using roughly two to three times as much brown as green material.

Once built, a pile will produce finished compost in about one year. You can speed things up, however, by following these steps:

  • Turn the compost every week (or even every three to five days). This helps to aerate the pile and heats it up.

  • Make the pile large enough, at least three feet high, wide and long.

  • Chop or shred the material you put in. The smaller it is, the faster it will decompose.

  • Make sure the pile has enough moisture. Not too wet, it should have the moistness of a wrung-out sponge.

Finished, mature compost has a pleasant texture and an earthy aroma. Once your compost is ready you'll find several uses for it. Apply as a slow-release organic fertilizer any time during the season. A one-inch layer is sufficient. However, sun and wind can dry out the top layers, creating poor conditions for the bacteria. Applying an organic mulch over the compost will keep soil organisms content in moist, protected conditions.

When turning under cover crops in late summer or fall, work a little compost into the soil at the same time. It will help the fresh green material decompose.

Compost tea is a fertilizer to soak into the soil or spray directly on plant foliage. It contains beneficial organisms, nutrients and many other compounds. Spraying plants with compost tea may prevent or reduce certain disease problems.

To make compost tea put two cups of compost (to one gallon of water) in a burlap bag, cheesecloth or old pillowcase. If necessary, dilute it to the colour of weak tea. Spread the solid contents in your garden or return to your compost pile.

Ad
Advertisement
Advertisement

READ THIS NEXT

Easy Does It
The Delicious Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

The Delicious Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Treat yourself to the body-loving ways of this luxurious delight

Laura Newton

Laura Newton