It’s not pretty to look at, tasty to eat, or a juicy tidbit to tell our friends, but without it you can kiss the hopes of a great garden goodbye. What is it?
So how do you get it?
To start with most of us don’t have it naturally.
Just like if you are fed bad things you will be unhealthy, more likely to get diseases and more likely to feel rundown, so will your plants if they don’t have a good diet. That means before the first seed is put in the ground, you need to improve the soil. But how do you do that?
Soils vary enormously from one area of the country to another. Each type has its virtues and its negatives. Generally they are broken down into 3 basic categories.
Clay has very tiny particles. It holds water very well. Sometimes too well. It packs together very tightly and lets very little air in. Plants can become waterlogged and oxygen deprived and they will rot. But it holds nutrients very well so you use less fertilizer. When it dries it is very hard and difficult to dig through. And hard for roots to go through. It also takes longer to warm up in the spring.
Sand has very large particles. There are plenty of air spaces and roots go through it well. Digging is easy in sand. But water goes right through it, therefore it dries out very quickly, taking fertilizers with it, leaving the soil dry and nutrient deficient. But in the spring it warms up much quicker.
Loam is a happy medium. If you have loam you are a step ahead already as this is the ideal soil texture for most plants. But even with loam that is only half the battle.
What you want is a soil that has a nice “crumb” to it. Kind of like the crumbs of home baked bread or brownies………mmmm.
Oh!…., back to the soil. You want a soil that is easy to stick your finger into. If you can easily stick your finger into it then roots can go through it easily too. In addition this type of soil will hold nutrients better and let air in better. And will be full of life, such as earthworms.
Most of us don’t naturally have this really good “ideal” soil. So how do we get it? We have to add what most soils lack, or at least lack enough of. Organic matter.
Organic matter will improve the ability of the soil to hold water but let the excess drain away. It will give the soil spaces for air, and make it easier for roots to grow through. Plus it will hold nutrients better even providing some nutrients on its own.
Organic matter is simply dead plant or animal tissue. Or animal excrement (poop). Organic matter as it decomposes will return to the soil what it was made of, for the next cycle of life to use. So organic matter gives the soil good structure and helps make it more fertile at the same time. How do you add this organic matter to your soil? There are many ways and many schools of thought. I’ll tell you about a few. But remember…
Your garden is depending on you.
First, COMPOST. Every gardener should be making compost*. There are many types of composters from homemade to purchased, from large and elaborate to a bucket in the garden. But the concept is the same. It is a container or area in which you put organic matter and vegetable kitchen scraps to decompose. Learn how to make great compost here and here is a post about advanced composting. But if you don’t have one already You need a composter!
|Composting? What Is That?
Second, gather all your organic matter. Small pieces please. For this type of garden you don’t want tree branches or anything large like that. You want this organic matter to be vegetative (for reasons I’ll discus when we talk about composting). Then put it in your garden. You can till it in with a tiller or just with a shovel if you wish. Or you can just layer it. Patricia Lanza wrote a whole book about this called Lasagna Gardening*. It’s very informative and a way to start a garden fairly easily.
If you don’t have large amounts of grass clippings, shredded newspaper and leaves laying around, you can purchase all or part of the ingredients you will need. Peat Moss, Vermiculite*, Composted Cow Manure*, and purchased compost or worm castings* all work well. Many municipalities sell compost from the yard waste they pick up. You can learn how to raise your own worms.
Now that you have your organic material all assembled put it in or on your garden. This is better to do at the end of your growing season in order for it to start breaking down and be ready for your plants to use the nutrients.
However, If you didn’t put it on or dig it in then, do it now. Better late than never. And this will need to be done every year. You have a hungry garden and the organic material continually decomposes and needs to be replenished. Your garden will thank you and you will thank you. Because after a few years of doing this you will have a beautiful, healthy garden with
While your at it check out these Sloggers. Your feet will stay dry, They have “all day comfort” insole, and you’ll look good too!
Here’s hoping you have a ducky day!