Your soil is your life! The soil in your garden provides your plants with water and nutrients. Soil compaction is one of the gardener’s biggest obstacles. Soil that is compacted cannot breathe, does not drain well, and does not allow the roots of your plants to expand. Compost, earthworms, and plant residues are three essentials for a healthy garden. Each one helps contribute to soil that is loose and friable.
Compost is the life blood of your soil. It provides essential nutrients, adds texture and beneficial microbes. Another benefit is that compost is easy to make at home. By layering a variety of materials to your compost pile, providing water, and air circulation you can have a batch of quality compost every four months. Straw, grass clippings, animal manures, vegetable and plant wastes are all good for the compost pile. Strive to add at least a three inch layer of finished compost to your garden every year and work it into the top six inches of the soil.
Earthworms are a key indicator of healthy soil. The more earth worms the better. Dig a six inch deep hole in your garden with a trowel. If you find no worms then your soil is not fertile and the worms have left you to find food. Three worms and you are doing well. Six worms are fabulous. Earth worms help to mix and aerate the soil. They digest the soil and their castings or waste make nutrients more available to plants. All of those worm tunnels allow your plants to send out roots to secure themselves and take in more nutrients.
We don’t often think of plant residues as a positive element. But in organic gardening plant residues show us that we are adding and recycling those nutrients. Cover crops are a plant that is grown and tilled back into the soil to increase fertility and the amount of organic matter. Organic matter is important because it opens up the soil allowing the plants to spread their roots and take in water and nutrients.
Cover crops such as buckwheat, clover and ryegrass are all easy to grow and will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil. Using cover crops also helps deter pests and diseases. Red clover will fix nitrogen in your soil as it grows and when you dig it into the soil.
Soil compaction can also be caused by poor gardener habits. Remember you want to encourage nice light soil. Don’t walk in your planting beds. Build pathways so you don’t compress the soil around the plants. Don’t walk in your garden when it’s wet. Wet soil compacts easier. Use your tiller or tractor judicially. Heavy equipment has its place but does cause compaction as well.
Just remember, it starts and end with soil. Properly composted, earthworm friendly, nutrient-dense soil is the foundation to your plants looking healthier and happier!
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