Most people think of soil as a basic concept and with a simplistic lens. They may not realize that there is an incredible biological richness to soil that varies according to location, land use, climate, and other factors.
When it comes to soil preparation and soil amendments, you should try to emulate nature rather than improve the original formula. Below are some of the best techniques for building soil organically and creating an environment for your plants to thrive.
There are three particle types in soil: sand, silt, and clay. Each type and its combinations are best suited for growing certain plants. However, you can adjust the soil composition with amendments and use different growing methods to take advantage of the characteristics of your soil.
Depending on what type of land you’re trying to cultivate, you’ll have to approach soil building in different ways.
For market gardens:
● Don’t disturb the lower layer of soil by heavy tilling. Instead, let worms and microorganisms do the work.
● Add high-quality organic compost to your soil to inoculate it with beneficial microorganisms.
● Lay down a layer of mulch to maintain organic material in the soil.
● Utilize crop rotation to mimic biodiversity and preserve nutrient balances.
For pastures or croplands:
● Avoid tilling and keep your soil covered with perennial cover crops. This prevents erosion, and feeds microorganisms in the soil, which make nutrients available to the plants.
● Use planned grazing to replicate natural ecosystems and increase biomass.
For food forests and permaculture orchards:
● Use green manure and transitional ground cover.
● Improve your soil with mycorrhizal fungi.
● Plant functional plants such as nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators and plants that produce biomass for chopping and dropping
Weeds & Overgrowth
Contrary to popular belief, weeds are not bad. Most weeds can even benefit your garden by protecting and conditioning the soil, accumulating nutrients, and attracting beneficial insects. If you see the following weeds in your garden, hold off on uprooting them;
● Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major)
● Chickweed (Stellaria media)
● Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
● White Clover (Trifolium repens)
● Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Instead, consider trimming them back and using the cuttings as mulch or fermented tea. Weeds are often medicinal and act to heal the soil. Leaving their roots intact will help accumulate nutrients and enrich the soil by attracting a multitude of beneficial organisms.
Sometimes, gardeners will complain that they can’t get anything to grow in their garden, no matter what tips and tricks they try.
The reality is, many soils are not ideal for planting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and other desirable plants. It often takes the proper soil amendments to achieve the right balance of organic material, minerals, clay, sand & silt that supports plant growth.
Before adding any soil amendments, it’s recommended to conduct soil sample tests to determine your soil’s natural composition. Only then can you identify the appropriate soil amendments to use.
Most soil amendments can be broken down into three categories:
are derived from animal products and can increase the population of beneficial microorganisms living in the soil. You should apply animal-based amendments at least two weeks before planting.
correct mineral imbalances or deficiencies. However, since these can be over-applied and don’t break down quickly, you should always conduct a soil test before application.
are often used to improve soil structure and supplement soil nutrition. Always ensure that you use plant-based amendments from herbicide-free sources.
Here are some of the best organic soil amendments that you can find in each category;
● Worm compost
● Bat guano
● Bone meal
● Blood meal
● Rock dust
● Cover crops
● Leaf mold
● Wood ash