Healthy soil is critical to all life
Healthy soil. Healthy plants. Healthy people.
Healthy soil is dark, well-drained and loose. Once you’ve established your perfect garden, it is important that you maintain the health of your garden’s soil. The Natural Resource Conservation Service defines soil health as a soil’s capacity to function as an ecosystem that supports plants, animals, and humans. Indicators of healthy soil include loose granular structure, well-drained but moist soil, and a relatively dark soil color (influenced by organic matter).
Managing for soil health is one key step toward having a successful garden this summer. Avoiding compaction, covering with dense leaf mulch, applying organic matter, adding biochar, and keeping the soil covered are simple tips that will reap great rewards.
Add biochar to your soil
Biochar is an ancient soil amendment from Amazon civilizations. Carbon in decomposing plants which would otherwise escape into the air as greenhouse gases, can be sequestered by the biologically active charcoal in the soil. The charcoal is colonized by billions of microbes, fungi, earthworms, and other creatures which produce carbon-based molecules that stick to the charcoal, gradually increasing the soil’s carbon content. Every ton of this biochar in the soil is capable of capturing and holding at least 3 tons of carbon.
Biochar used in modern agriculture is spreadable organic fertilizer for lawns and organic garden beds that supports healthy soil microbes that feed the soil and the plants.. Sustainable, natural, and safe healthy plants start with healthy soil. Biochar mixed with compost and nutrients helps plants thrive by improving the efficiency of your soil.
The biochar added to the initial soil of a bed remains in the soil to increase fertility and water absorption while decreasing nutrient leaching. Biochar reduces water needs, aerates soils and reduces compaction, buffers pH, and increases nutrient uptake by roots. The biochar provides permanent homes for microorganisms, reduces the possibility of disease in your soil and captures and holds carbon in soil, thus reducing greenhouse gases. As the bacteria thrive so does the natural process that makes your plant grow.
If you use Deep Roots Super Growth Garden Soil blend, 10% biochar is already mixed into the soil. The biochar Deep Root sells has been “charged” with microbes by storing it with organic compost for a few months.
Amend your soil with organic matter every fall and spring.
Organic matter is a great source of slow-released plant nutrients. It encourages structure development by holding soil particles together like glue. It also attracts beneficial organisms, which also help develop soil structure.
Protect your soil
Keep moisture in the soil with dense leaf mulch. A deep raised bed (16-20 inches) is best since it allows room for 3 to 4 inches of dense mulch at the top. Plus, the mulch will decompose further into rich compost in a year or two.
Avoid soil compaction! First, never step or kneel on your garden soil. Compaction is the process of increasing the soil’s density by removing pores and damaging soil structure. This makes it difficult for roots to grow, and limits roots’ access to water, air, and nutrients.
Promote soil drainage. Your raised beds should be deeper than 12 inches.
Cover your soil. Naked soil is vulnerable to wind and water erosion that leads to soil and organic matter loss, reduced water infiltration, and structural loss. Cover crops provide additional nutrients to your soil. They can also be tilled into the garden bed before planting in the spring. Mulching with leaves or straw decompose relatively quickly, and effectively cover soil.
Core Gardening method reduces watering
By using the core gardening method you can go weeks without adding water to your garden. There is no waiting period to plant when applying the core method. You create a sponge of weathered straw down the middle of your raised bed. You do this once a year and avoid the hassle of watering every day during a drought. This is the definition of simplicity in gardening.
Since the materials in the core have already begun to break down before you apply them, you’re in the clear to plant as soon as you’ve completed adding the core. When you use other methods to retain soil moisture like hugelkultur, you have to wait for the logs, wood chips or straw to compost before you can plant.
The simple steps: Collect discarded straw used for decoration at Halloween and Thanksgiving. Let the straw start to decompose over winter. Dig a trench down the middle of our raised bed and fill it with straw to create a sponge. Ad some composted manure to the straw because extra nitrogen is needed while the straw decomposes. Cover the straw with your normal soil and thoroughly “charge” the straw with water. The bed is now ready to add seedlings and seeds.
Finally, using the core gardening method creates better soil. Not only does the core hold moisture for your plants, but it also loosens the soil up. In the process, the soil begins to drain better. This is ideal for plants. They all like loose soil where they can easily stretch their roots.
Human health is directly correlated to soil health.
The mass destruction of soil microorganisms began with technological advances in the early twentieth century. The number of tractors in the U.S. went from zero to three million by 1950. The "Green Revolution" was driven by a fear of how to feed massive population growth. It did produce more food, but the food it did produce was progressively less nutritious as the soil became depleted of organic matter, minerals, and microorganisms.
Just as we have unwittingly destroyed vital microbes in the human gut through overuse of antibiotics and highly processed foods, we have recklessly devastated soil microbiota essential to plant health through overuse of certain chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, failure to add sufficient organic matter (upon which they feed), and heavy tillage.
Half of the earth's habitable lands are farmed and we are losing soil and organic matter at an alarming rate. Studies show steady global soil depletion over time, and a serious stagnation in crop yields.
So, not only have we hindered natural processes that nourish crops and sequester carbon in cultivated land, but modern agriculture has become one of the biggest causes of climate instability. Our current global food system, from clearing forests to growing food, to fertilizer manufacturing, to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. This is more than all the cars and trucks in the transportation sector, which accounts for about one-fifth of all green house gases globally.
Soil health is key to a sustainable future
We need to restore our living soils for a sustainable and healthy future for the seven billion people on the planet. In a handful of healthy soil, there is more biodiversity in just the bacterial community than you will find in all the animals of the Amazon basin.We need these tiny partners to help build a sustainable agricultural system, to stabilize our climate in an era of increasing drought and severe weather, and to maintain our very health and well-being.
Scientific advances have now allowed us to take soil organisms from an eco-farming niche to mainstream agribusiness. Studies show that there will also be major savings from reduced need for chemical fertilizers and irrigation due to more efficient up-take of minerals and water. This also means fewer toxins and pollutants, particularly nitrogen fertilizers, leaching from agricultural lands into our public water system and rivers.
Get to know, then build your soil
Reintroducing microorganisms into the soil, together with the organic matter they feed upon, has the potential to be a key part of the next big revolution in human health -- the development of sustainable agriculture and food security based on restored soil health. Just as in the case of the human microbiome, the soil drugs of the future are ones full of friendly germs, and the foods they like to eat.
Edibles must have a nutrient-dense home to grow in in order to become nutrient-dense themselves. Soil that is lacking nutrients has nothing to give the plants that are growing in it, so it won’t. Most local nurseries sell inexpensive soil testing kits that will give you a good idea of what is in your soil. Once you know what’s in your soil, you can amend it using compost (https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/04/easiest-compost-tea-recipe/?_ct=rbew&_ctp=148369), manure or a variety of organic products found in your local nursery.
When planning an organic garden, you have to take this process one step further by doing your best to find out how the soil has been treated previously. If you can easily track who has planted what and whether or not it has been organic, excellent. If you cannot track it, your best bet is to proceed with raised beds so you can build up on top of the existing soil with organic soil and compost.
Lasagna gardening (https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/05/lasagna-garden-layers/?_ct=rbew&_ctp=148369) and hugelkultur beds (are two other fantastic ways to build your soil while knowing exactly what is going into it. These methods take a little more effort than simply pushing seeds into the existing soil, but will ensure that the vegetables you plant are growing in healthy, organic soil.
Adapted from an article on craftsy.com https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/05/how-to-start-an-organic-garden/) & (https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/04/hugelkultur/?_ct=rbew&_ctp=148369)