Soils are the foundation of life. They serve as an anchor for plant roots. Plants need live, healthy, balanced soil for productive growth and protection against pests.
Gardens have one or a combination of soil types, including clay, silt, loam, sandy loam, sand, gravel, and rock. All soils have five major components: organic matter, minerals, water, air, and living organisms. The seldom-discussed living organisms and very important and consist of earthworms, insects, plants, algae, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms.
Healthy soils need a balance of mineral nutrients, approximately the following percentages:
– Calcium 65 to 70 percent;
– Magnesium 12 to 22 percent;
– Potassium 4 to 5 percent and other trace minerals.
The pH should be between 6.3 and 6.8.
Sometimes the healthy balance has been negatively affected by the application of harsh synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, and the regular removal of dead organic matter. What many of us are left with is dry, sterile dirt.
To best correct the soil, you may wish to determine its chemical characteristics by having it tested. The tester should be a company that will give you detailed information about your soil’s chemical composition as well as organic fertilizer recommendations. Local nurseries or Agricultural Extension Offices may be able to furnish this service.
One of the best soil tests is to dig out a piece of soil measuring 12″ by 12″ by 7″ deep and count the earthworms. If there aren’t several, you need more air and organic matter.
The structure of the soil at depths of 12″ and 24″ is important for drainage and deep root development, but the structure of the top 7″ is the most important. That’s where air, organic microbes, earthworms, and feeder roots are concentrated.
Composting for the Greenest Grass of All
Roughly one third of all waste dumped in landfills across the United States consists of garden clippings and kitchen waste. By following the lead of the recycling movement, individual homeowners can reduce, reuse, and recycle this material instead of throwing it away. With planning, you can decrease the waste to nearly zero.
Backyard composting replicates the natural system of breaking down organic materials on a forest floor. The decomposition process is essentially the same whether it takes place in the woods or a backyard compost bin.
Compost is the end product of a complex feeding pattern involving hundreds of different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. What remains after these organisms break down organic materials is the rich, earthy substance that gardeners value so highly as a soil amendment.
– Compost’s crumbly, fibrous nature fluffs up clay soils and helps sandy soils hold water.
– Compost provides a slow, even release of plant nutrients and stimulates root growth.
– Compost suppresses soil-borne plant disease and pests.
– Compost prevents erosion of our fast-depleting topsoil.
– Compost recycles tons of yard wastes.
– Compost balances both acid and alkaline soils, bringing pH levels to the optimum range for nutrient availability.
– Beneficial insects, worms, and other organisms are plentiful in compost-enriched soil.
Get a comprehensive guide to composting at CompostGuide.com.
Need a compost bin? Visit Clean Air Gardening for compost tumblers and other types of compost bins.