Balanced Soil is the Foundation of Organic Gardening
Healthy Soil, or Dirt if You Prefer, Contains a Mixture of Organic Matter, Water, Minerals, Air, and Living Organisms
This is true whether you have a garden in your back yard, work a raised bed, or go for container gardening on your patio. Where you live and what you grow has some effect on the exact makeup and pH of your soil but the concept remains the same.
Components of Healthy Soil
- Organic Matter. This is critical to making nutrients available to your plants. Healthy dirt in a natural setting generates its own organic matter in the form of humus, decomposed bits of old roots, leaves, decomposing wood, and yes, even dead animals. Sorry to break that to you vegetarians; its that whole cycle of life thing.
Gardeners usually boost this content by adding compost and other amendments. Mulch from the previous seasons crop will add to the content when you till it under. Spreading mulch is very important for water retention, but it is important to avoid dyes and that awful ground-up rubber that's becoming popular.
- Air and Water. Obviously, it is critical to maintain enough moisture for proper plant growth. How much is enough? Again, it depends on location and plant selection. That said, an organic garden requires far less watering than chemical fertilized gardens because the soil is balanced.
- Minerals. These include native rock particles and the trace minerals like copper, iron, calcium, boron, chlorine, carbon, magnesium, sulfur, and many others. Each of these minerals have their own purpose, and like the musicians in an orchestra, all work together for the proper synergistic effect.
- Living Organisms. These include microscopic flora and fauna like algae, protozoa, germs, and yeast, as well as macro-organisms such as earthworms, grubs, and ants.
Organisms are the heart of organic gardening for many reasons. On the other hand, chemical synthetic fertilizers, poisons, pesticides, and synthetic plant treatments discourage and even kill them. One of their jobs is to break down the organic matter (which becomes a natural fertilizer and feeds your plants).
Macro-organisms have various duties. Earthworms tunnel through the dirt tirelessly, keeping it aerated rather than compacted. This allows air to flow which is essential for the organic matter to break down. You know this if you make your own compost at home. It also allows roots to grow and spread freely so the plants to find and uptake the nutrients.
The Cycle of Life
As you can see, all the elements work together in a cyclical nature. Ideally, its a self-sustaining system. Just take a walk through the deep woods or a rain forest. Nobody is out there dispensing Scotts® Bonus S Weed and Feed, which by the way contains atrazine, a toxic chemical herbicide that will kill your trees and shrubs. But you wont know that unless you read the fine print. And who does that?
How Should You Initially Prepare Your Soil?
Once again; location, location, location. Your state should have an agriculture office that can tell you whether your local soil is sandy, is a clay gumbo, or if you are fortunate, is ideal. This will give you some insight into which amendments you will need. Next, have your dirt tested for pH and other factors.
Lava sand will improve all types of soils, from sandy to clay. It also helps retain moisture which is important if your garden drains too quickly. It is also a good choice if you need to lower your pH.
The bottom line? Get organic right away. Your soil will continue to improve over the years, will require less work from you, and will boost the quality and nutrition of your crops.
Do you have an experience to share on things you tried with your soil that worked or didnt? Share your opinion with a comment below!
- Howard Garrett (1993). Howard Garretts Texas Organic Gardening Book. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company
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- Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
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- Container Gardening for Small Spaces Using Recycled Materials