Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > June 2014 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--Organically Healthy Soil

BONNIE'S GARDEN--Organically Healthy Soil

I was talking with a customer a few years ago who asked, “What, exactly, is organic gardening?”  We chatted for a while about different organic fertilizers and pest controls, but the question stuck with me. I finally decided that it’s trying to minimize my impact on natural resources while leaving the environment in the same shape—or better—than I found it.

It’s not just using compost, organic fertilizers or pest controls.  Organicgardening.com says “When you garden organically, you think of your plants as part of a whole system within Nature that starts in the soil and includes the water supply, people, wildlife, even insects.  An organic gardener strives to work in harmony with natural systems and to minimize and continually replenish any resources the garden consumes.” 

One of the first things I need to do, then, is to look at the soil.  Soil is not an infinite supply of plant nutrients.  They get used up.  In a natural setting, debris, such as leaves, twigs, insects, even animals, decay and replenish the soil.  Since most of us can’t allow our yards and gardens to rebuild the soil this way, we must rely on soil amendments.

Healthy soil is alive with microorganisms.  These microorganisms rely on a careful balance of natural ingredients—not found in old used-up soil that’s only been fed an occasional handful of 10-10-10.  Some of these microorganisms are:

            Bacteria—bacteria are single-celled organisms that recycle nutrients in the soil.

            Nematodes—while there are bad nematodes most are good—helping to structure soil and recycling nutrients into more accessible forms.

            Fungi—some are useful in breaking down organic debris while others form mutually beneficial relationships with plants to provide nutrients in a simpler form.

            Insects—from soil mites to earthworms, insects build soil structure and aid in breaking down debris.

So what soil amendments should I use?  Animal-based products (blood meal, fish meal or emulsion, crab meal, poultry or cow manure) contain micro-nutrients but don’t have as much carbon as plant-based products.  Carbon is necessary to maintaining good soil structure.  Plant-based or “green” manures improve soil structure so should be used in combination with animal-based amendments.

Add 1 to 2 pounds of both kinds of amendments per one square foot—usually a two to three inch layer.  Do it in the fall and allow it to sit undisturbed over the winter.  Every time it rains, nutrients are washed down into the soil.  Top-dress again in the spring and work it in.  Keep in mind that improving your soil does not replace fertilizing your plants.  Plants that are actively blooming and fruiting (most of our vegetables and flowers) need to be fed to replenish the nutrients that they use up.

I know that if my soil is healthy, that’s half the battle.  I’ve increased the chances that my plants will be more vigorous and disease-resistant.

Posted: 6/9/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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