Healthy soil is a living thing filled with billions and billions of micro-nutrients such as fungi, bacteria, algae,protozoa and yeast. In fact, experts at the University of Ohio Extension say a tiny spoonful of soil holds more microbes than there are people on earth. The soil is also home to beneficial nematodes, mites and, of course, the friendly earthworm.
Great garden soil holds moisture,provides nutrients for plants, and remains loose and well-aerated. With healthy soil, you can grow beautiful, lush plants with a high degree of resistance to pests and disease. The question is, how can gardeners maintain healthy soil?Read on for five simple secrets to great garden soil.
1. Provide plenty of organic matter.This is one of the best things you can do for your soil. Dig in plenty of organic material such as rotted manure or compost, preferably at least 2 or 3 inches (5-7.5 cm.) of rich organic matter every year. Be sure to mulch around plants to keep the soil cool and moist. Good mulch includes bark chips, pine needles, straw or chopped leaves.
2. Plant a cover crop. Growing cover crops needn’t be complicated, and the plants will replenish nutrients, break up compacted soil and help keep weeds in check. Useful cover crops, depending on your particular climate and growing requirements, include peas, vetch or other legumes; grass such as rye or buckwheat; brassicas like radishes or mustards; or a combination. Plant seeds about a month before the last frost, then till the plants into the soil in spring.
3. Start a compost bin. Add green materials such as grass clippings or kitchen scraps (no fat, bones or meat) along with an equal amount of brown material like paper, dead leaves or twigs. Compost may take a few months or a few years, depending on the type of bin, temperature and aeration. The result is a rich material that improves moisture retention,decreases pests and disease and reduces the need for harmful chemicals.
4. Introduce worms into your soil.For example, purchase red worms and start a worm bin. You may be surprised how easy (and fun) growing with worms can be. You can also add worms to your compost bin, or directly into the soil. Be sure the soil has plenty of mulch and organic material to provide nutrients. Worms break down organic matter, increase the amount of air in the soil, improve drainage and leave rich manure (castings)that benefit plants.
5. Be gentle with your soil. Let the soil dry in spring. Never work the soil when it’s wet, as you risk damaging soil structure and creating hard, compacted ground with little air and no space for roots. A simple readiness test is to squeeze a handful of soil, then try again in a week or so if the soil drips or forms a tight ball. Avoid walking or driving over damp soil whenever possible. Loosen the soil with a fork and avoid excessive tilling.