Successful gardeners know – it’s all about the soil.
Your garden soil is alive and is a plant’s essential source of moisture, air and nutrients. Good garden soil supports a living, thriving community of beneficial creatures such as earthworms, woodlice, centipedes, microscopic bacteria and fungi. These contribute to a healthy ecosystem by converting dead material into organic matter.
Adding organic matter will do the most to improve your garden soil in four ways:
1 . It adds structure, which improves root penetration and access to soil moisture and nutrients.
2. It helps soil workability, creating a nice mixture of clay, silt and sand, so that water can enter and remain without too much pooling. Organic matter will help retain enough moisture to provide water for your plants needs.
3. Having a nice balance of organic matter also improves the emergence of seedlings due to reduced crusting of the surface.
4. Organic matter increases productivity, allowing more nutrients to access the roots of your garden plants. This means bigger and healthier plants.
If you haven’t taken the time to do a mason jar soil test you should. This will give you a feel for the kind of soil composition you currently have and is information you need to begin to improve your garden soil. Because soil is where it all begins in the garden.
Improving garden soil is not a quick fix, but there are things you can add each year as you go about improving your soil structure.
Get access to inexpensive organic materials for your yard
Look around for inexpensive organic matter. You can collect these materials from your own yard or get it from your neighbors. Your non-gardening neighbors will be happy to get rid of it! You can often find suitable materials for free or for sale in your community; search online for “compost” and your community name. Here’s some of the things you can use:
- Leaves gathered in the fall.
- Needles from conifer trees.
- Sawdust shavings.
- Bark chips from a tree cutter service. They will often deliver it for free just so they don’t have to pay a dump fee.
- Composted materials from your own bins.
- Peat moss is effective, but can be expensive for large areas.
- Grass clippings that have been dried.
- Old straw or hay bales that have been spoiled by rain. You can often find them hanging around in a farmer’s field (just ask first!)
- Manure, which is the uniting force of soil fertility. I’ve heard it called the “biochemical duct tape that holds great soil together.” If you have access to composted manure even better. Cow, horse, sheep and chicken are considered hot manure and need to be composted first. Rabbit manure can be used directly on your garden beds with no composting.
Cultivate the topsoil for a great spring garden
Topsoil is the rich, well-cultivated, top 12 inches in which most plant roots grow. The depth can vary depending on whether your soil has been well-cultivated or neglected. One of the best ways to improve garden soil is to cultivate deeply, which opens up soil for air and water to penetrate plant roots.
To prepare your soil for growing vegetables next season you need to add your composted organic materials in the fall. Begin this winter by digging 6 to 12 inches deep and then adding your composted materials to the top. This process of turning the soil over in advance and letting the compost act as a mulch is the key.
It will reduce weed germination and bring those beneficial insects. In the spring you can till it in.
Prepare seedbeds for next year
As the soil starts to dry in spring, finish the seedbed by breaking down the surface into a fine crumble, using a fork and rake. If the soil is not sticky, you can walk on it at this stage, which breaks the clods and gently firms the surface. Once the seedbeds are finished though, refrain from walking on them. You don’t want to compact all your hard work.
Apply a balanced organic fertilizer, then do a final raking. Remove excess stones, remaining clods and any weeds. Ideally, you should prepare your seedbed well in advance of the first sowing, allowing time for a first crop of weeds to germinate. Hoe off the weed seedlings immediately before sowing your garden seeds, which will give your crops a head start.
I hope you’ll take some extra time at the end of the garden season and really get your beds into shape by improving your garden soil. You’ll be glad you did!
Soil Building Resources at Amazon:
September is National Organic Harvest Month and to help you make the most of your harvests, I’ve teamed up with these other amazing bloggers. Please be sure to check out their tips and more: Rachel from Grow a Good Life – Kathie from Homespun Seasonal Living – Teri from Homestead Honey – Chris from Joybilee Farm – Susan from Learning and Yearning – Shelle from Preparedness Mama – Angi from SchneiderPeeps – Janet from Timber Creek Farm