by Juan Jardinero
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
— Wendell Berry.
It has taken me a few years as a gardener to really understand the importance and significance of soil. Soil is a mixture of many things collected over time. Rocks, living and dead plants and animals, mostly of microscopic size, air and water and other organic matter make up soil. Soil plays a big part in the way that plants grow. Many modern farmers believe that they don´t grow plants, they build fertile soil and this soil is what grows the plants. Though plants obtain some of the raw material for their growth from the air, they depend totally on the roots to gather most of the necessary moisture and fertility. Roots make use of it not only for anchoring plants and holding them in place, but also as storage for food elements and water.
Ideal soils are somewhere between heavy (clay-like) and light (silty or sandy) soils, called loam soils. These soils contain enough sandy particles so that porosity and drainage are good, and yet sufficient organic matter to hold fertility, nutrients and moisture abundantly. Such soils are happy environments for beneficial microorganisms that will help grow great food. However, changing the texture of your soil will take time and effort.
Therefore here are some important steps that can be taken to improve the nutrient content in your soil, which will allow you to grow better grub anywhere you are:
-MULCH: Mulch is any type of material that is spread or lain over the surface of the soil as a covering. Organic mulches include shredded leaves, grass clippings, straw and compost that will improve the fertility of your soil as it decomposes. It also retains water so that the plants are kept moist longer and aren`t at risk of being dried up from the hot sun. Laying mulch right after you have planted seedlings will reduce the amount of water that evaporates from your soil, greatly reducing your need to water your plants. Mulch will also prevent weeds from growing which steal nutrients from your plants. So mulch and mulch again!
– GREEN MANURES: Green manures are a great way to add nutrients to the soil. Growing green manures during the off season will add nitrogen to your soil while preventing your top soil from getting washed away. Green manures include Alfalfa, clover and soybeans, which are legumes, and non-legumes like Ryegrass, Buckwheat and Oats. This is an inexpensive way to fertilize your soil while possibly enabling you to get a second yield.
– COMPOST: Compost has the ability to regenerate poor soils. The compost process encourages micro-organisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) which in turn break down organic matter to create humus. Compost has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, and promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
All these tips are cheap organic ways to improve your soil, so before running off to the store and buying synthetic fertilizers, improve your soil by adopting these simple practices.