Monday, November 28, 2016

Best Organic Gardening Tip To Build Your Soil



Browse the products in a seed catalog, attend a garden expo, or visit your local nursery and you will see endless products that claim to build your soil or guarantee a bountiful, healthy garden. Then add all the tips and tactics available to you on the internest and it suddenly becomes overhelming.  What works?  What doesn't work?  What do plants really want?

Plants want uninterrupted growth from the time the seed germinates until harvest.  A gardener does that by trying to meet all a plants needs.  That includes water, light, temperature, and nutrients.  And protecting plants from anything that interrupts growth like pests, disease, weather, or moisture fluctuations.

Sounds simple yet it can be challenging for even that most experienced gardener.  So where do you start and focus your efforts to ensure uninterrupted growth.  I believe you focus first on building your soil.  

A healthy soil is the key component of an organic gardener.  If you take care of your soil; soil biology takes care of your plants.  Soil is much more than dirt.  It is composed of minerals, organic matter, water, air, and is teeming with life.  This soil life is critical to the organic gardener.  Organic matter is critical to a healthy soil life.  Healthy bacteria and fungi are decomposers and organic matter is on the menu.  Garden soils should have 6% organic matter.  This organic matter feeds the microbes and suddenly you have a living soil capable of supporting the demands of your plants. 

  Utah soils, where I live, have less than 2 % organic matter.  Soils with higher levels of organic matter still need to have organic matter replaced because they are continually broken down by microorganism.  A healthy soil life means a healthy, happy plants.

Organic matter comes from living materials, such as manures and plant material, that are decomposed.  Organic material is not the same as organic matter.  Organic materials are not decomposed and should first be put in the compost pile.   

The easiest way to add organic matter is to add compost or an aged manure to your garden in the fall after the beds are cleaned out  or  in the spring when you are preparing your beds.  Compost can be added to the planting holes of transplants and then used as a mulch when seedlings come up.  If you have already been building your soil you can just add the compost to the surface but if you are just starting out then you will need to work the compost into the soil. Also if you have a raised bed or area that is not performing well then work the compost into the ground.   In raised beds, a shovel or broad fork works great.  If you are planting in the ground then roto-tilling compost will be necessary for the first couple of years. 
A rutabaga thriving in organic matter.

Organic matter does not take the place of using an organic fertilizer.  Compost and manures do have nutrients but not a guaranteed analysis so using an organic fertilizer is recommended.  Dry organic fertilizers are added in early spring.  They are granular and broadcasted on top of the soil and worked in or covered with compost.  They can also be added to transplanting holes.

Dry organic fertilizers include meals such as:  blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, kelp meal, bat guano,  or alfalfa meal.  I use what is easy to get in my area.  In a 5 gal bucket I mix 1 part blood meal to 2 or 3 parts bone meal.  This provides the major nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium plus some trace minerals.  I also add some azomite or green sand which are both good sources of trace minerals.  This is the fertilizer I use for everything:  vegetables, berries, herbs, landscape plants, potting soil fertilizer, and even on turf grass.  I broadcast it in early spring and add it to all planting holes.  

Organic fertilizer is food for microorganisms.  The microorganisms in turn supply the plants with needed nutrients.  This is a simplified version of this amazing relationship between the soil food web and your crops.
Cabbage with buckwheat interplanted.

Liquid fertilizers such as fish emulsion and kelp can be used at important growing cycles such as when you transplants or true leaves appear, when buds breaks, and when fruit first starts to appear.  It's important to remember that organic fertilizers without organic matter does not build your soil structure and should be used along with adding organic matter.

So the best way to build soil is to add organic matter on a regular basis.  Expensive products that promise amazing results while they may be useful are not going to do much to change your soil without organic matter.  Healthy soil has a healthy soil food web and a good soil structure (the way soil particles are bound together to create pores for air, water, and roots to penetrate)  Both of these are accomplished by adding organic matter.  



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