Combine compost and mulch because these two methods are very easy and cheap. The ingredients are natural and you can make it yourself at home.
Soil is an integral part of agriculture and gardening. It offers nutrients, microbes, and water for crops and plants that grow on it. Unfortunately, erosion causes soil quality to decline due to the nutrients on the surface being flushed down with water. In addition, excessive harvesting without providing balanced soil nutrients, such as bio-fertilizers or fertilizers in general, also causes the soil to become stressed and lack nutrients. At this point, how to improve soil quality naturally so that it can grow abundant and healthy crops?
We can apply several natural soil improvement techniques to restore its quality, such as introducing crop rotation and crop diversity to attract earthworms and grow soil microbes, thus, offering nutrient cycling to the soil. You can also try understanding the importance of water management, using compost to improve soil quality and have scheduled soil testing for natural soil improvement.
If you are wondering which one is the best to apply in your agriculture or garden soil, let us walk you through each section below to learn more about how to improve soil quality naturally!
Table of Contents
- Understanding Soil
- How Do You Turn Bad Soil Into Good Soil?
- Methods for Improving Soil Quality Naturally
- Easy Steps To Fertilize Soil Naturally
- Enhancing Soil Health Through Biological Means
- Crops That Repair Soil
- Importance of Regular Soil Testing and Monitoring
- Final Thought
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Forest clearing and agricultural farming, which are increasingly massive to meet human food needs, make the soil condition less fertile. Many soil nutrients are lost due to the harvesting process, lack of maintenance, and periodic addition of soil nutrients.
Therefore, we will invite you to explore the world of soil to know what soil needs to thrive, and how we can discover soil enrichment methods to improve its quality.
1. Soil Composition and Soil Structure
Talking about improving soil structure naturally will only be complete with having insights about what composition makes up the structure. In general, soil composition consists of five main materials: minerals, organic matter, microorganisms and other living organisms, water, and gas. These materials are crucial to support crops and plant growth.
Meanwhile, soil structure refers to the assembly of sand, silt, and clay in the soil along with the pores within. They are important in forming a strong soil structure to resist erosion. One of the causes of damage to the soil structure is farming. It can break the pores and remove organic matter on the soil’s surface. Hence, it would be wise to have no-till farming to maintain the quality and structure of the soil to continue to be cultivable and prevent erosion.
2. Soil pH
As the name goes, soil pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the soil. Soil pH is essential for plants because it affects nutrient availability for them to thrive. Some nutrients will be easier to access when the pH is acidic, while the rest is alkaline. This knowledge is also critical when applying fertilizer which is one of the natural ways to balance soil pH.
In general, dry areas will have a pH that tends to be neutral to alkaline, around 6.5 to 9.0. Meanwhile, soil pH in regions with wet climates and high rainfall intensity is slightly more acidic to neutral, around 5.0 to 7.0. However, the natural soil pH is usually close to the range of 3.5 to 10.0, depending on what climates you have in your area. Alkaline soils are usually high in sodium and lack minerals like zinc and copper.
In addition, the natural soil pH is also influenced by the composition of the rocks in the soil. The combination of rock and weathering processes, along with vegetation, climate, and weathering period, can produce variations in soil pH. Moreover, the acidification process may also occur, especially in agricultural lands. Hence, soil testing for natural soil improvement is crucial to check what we need to boost its quality.
3. What Are Signs of Unhealthy Soil?
Like humans, soils need the care to remain available for planting plants and crops. When you pay less attention to their health, soil can alert you by showing signs of unhealthy soil.
One of the signs is your soil cracks because of the low soil moisture and nutrients. This can be caused by heavy rains and winds, which remove organic matter from the soil due to erosion. Contrary, the lack of rain intensity can also cause cracks in your soil so that plants struggle to grow on it. In this case, good water management is necessary.
Furthermore, cracked soil usually leads to difficulty in digging due to being too compact soil. This phenomenon can cause the roots of your plants to lack oxygen and water. In the end, if conditions persist, they will eventually die.
In addition, stunt growth can also be a sign of poor soil health. Plants cannot grow healthily due to a lack of nutrients and water. You can notice it from the withering flowers, dead back leaves from your trees or shrubs, and the green parts of the grass that turn brown. So, you better know the importance of water management, like scheduling watering, to prevent such a thing from happening to your soil.
4. What Causes Poor Soil Quality?
Several factors cause poor soil quality. Some of them include loss of soil biodiversity, erosion, and acidification. Soil biodiversity is the relationship between the soil and its various life forms, including insects, microbes, and earthworms.
The damage is generally related to erosion which causes the organisms that inhabit the soil to gradually decrease due to the unavailability of sufficient organic matter to survive. As a result, the land is no longer cultivable.
Of course, this is very worrying, knowing that soil is a growing medium that offers life to plants, insects, and various beneficial microorganisms. In addition, the use of chemical pesticides instead of biopesticides makes the soil condition even worse. Fertilization with massive chemical fertilizers also worsens poor soil quality.
Therefore, enhancing soil biodiversity for better soil quality is crucial to restoring healthy soil. In addition, you can introduce biopesticides and natural fertilizers to your organic gardening, which are more environmentally friendly for the sake of your soil.
5. Benefits of Improving Soil Quality Naturally
Having healthy soils is very beneficial for the agroforestry industry and your organic gardening. It provides a steady supply of water, minerals, nutrients, and oxygen for your plants to thrive and produce plenty of harvests. Not only that, but healthy soil also attracts earthworms to inhabit.
The role of earthworms in soil improvement is to create spaces that provide better oxygen access for the roots to breathe. In addition, the holes within the soils will offer good drainage. So, the risk of root rot will be smaller. Also, the excretions produced by earthworms can nourish the soil.
Furthermore, healthy soil also reduces the risk of plant damage due to bad weather, such as excessive rain and extreme drought. This is because the soil structure can hold the plants while the nutrients remain there without being eroded. Now, it’s time to discover soil enrichment methods you can try at home!
How Do You Turn Bad Soil Into Good Soil?
There are many benefits to enhancing soil biodiversity for better soil quality and providing good water management to ensure moist soil to prevent cracking and compacting. But how do you naturally turn your bad soil into good soil?
The first thing to pay attention to is the use of chemical materials, such as NPK fertilizers. Well, they benefit your plants as they provide adequate nutrients to boost their growth. However, they can pollute the soil and interfere with the survival of soil microorganisms.
Consequently, they also reduce natural nutrients available in the soil. So, you better replace them with bio-fertilizers made from natural ingredients. It also applies to herbicides or pesticides. You can choose bio-pesticides instead to kill the culprit in your agriculture farm or garden.
Furthermore, you can try cover crops. Some benefits of cover crops for soil health include reducing the impact of erosion, suppressing weeds and pests, controlling disease, and improving biodiversity. You can also apply companion planting to improve soil and repel pests. One example of implementing companion planting is planting Italian ryegrass with alfalfa.
In addition, we must catch composting and mulching as one of the most popular organic ways to improve soil quality. We recommend plant-based mulch, such as wood chips, to retain moisture while also being useful for organic soil amendments that can feed soil microbes.
Regarding composting, we prefer to apply vermicomposting for healthy soil. We have discussed the role of earthworms in soil improvement, and this vermicompost contains several types of worms which certainly play a role in restoring soil quality.
Methods for Improving Soil Quality Naturally
You now know the importance of soil quality for plants and the other organisms that live in them. Therefore, we would like to provide some insights into the popular methods on how to improve soil quality naturally. They are relatively easy to follow and are commonly practiced by farmers in agroforestry. Let’s take a look!
Compost has been popular for promoting healthy and vigorous plant growth. It provides essential nutrients that support your plants. Besides, compost is one of the great organic soil amendments for loose compact soil. Thus, your plants will have better oxygen access and aeration.
Furthermore, it balances soil pH as most compost has a neutral pH of around 6 to 8. Among all types of compost, we recommend trying worm castings and vermicomposting for healthy soil.
It contains worms, like earthworms and white worms, and the excretion will fertilize the soil by increasing porosity, water retention, and aeration. You can apply vermicompost when planting new plants in pots by mixing them with soil.
2. Cover Cropping
Cover crops or green manure crops are grown to cover the soil instead of being harvested, hence the name. Even though its function seems to only decorate empty land, it turns out that cover crops hold tons of advantages for your soil.
One of the main benefits of cover crops for soil health is to make the soil resilient to climate change, which often results in frequent erosion and extreme weather. Not only that, but the cover crops also help improve soil quality by enhancing water infiltration.
Suppose you plant it near a water source. In that case, you can prevent nitrogen from leaking into the water, which often causes pollution. To grow cover crops, you just need to spread the seeds on the land you choose. Then, rake the soil to bury the seeds.
3. Crop Rotation
Like its name suggests, crop rotation is a method of rotating different types of crops during the growing season. Knowing that each plant has different nutritional needs, this practice is useful so that your soil stays healthy and doesn’t depend on just one type of nutrient.
In addition, crop rotation also stimulates and encourages microbial diversity in the soil. Thus, increasing soil fertility. In addition, it benefits soil structure because every plant has various root systems, from shallow to deep. By having better soil structure, the risk of erosion is also reduced. You can check the planting calendar to find out what types of crops you can rotate the plantings for.
Mulching is generally done just before winter when soil temperatures drop and potentially freeze. This method is useful for maintaining environmental temperatures so that roots can absorb nutrients properly. In addition, mulching also prevents excessive moisture loss.
Not only that, but plant-based mulch, whose material is wood chips, leaves, pine needles, straws, and tree barks will also break down and provide additional nutrients to the soil. If you wish to boost mycorrhizae, the fungal roots that help enhance water and nutrient uptake, you can use natural woody materials such as wood chips. We love to apply mulch in the spring to suppress the growth of weeds and fall to prepare the plants for winter.
5. Using Natural Fertilizers
Unlike chemical fertilizers, natural or organic fertilizers ensure a steady supply of nutrients as they release slowly. In addition, this process is also beneficial because your roots will avoid fertilizer burn, which generally occurs after the use of NPK fertilizers in plants.
Moreover, natural fertilizers improve soil quality as it enhances water-holding capacity, prevents erosion, and optimizes water absorption, keeping the soil moist.
Since they are organic, this kind of fertilizer also boosts soil microbial growth, which is beneficial for plant growth. There are many types of natural fertilizers on the market, including foliar fertilizers.
This foliar-feeding type allows you to spray fertilizer on the leaves so nutrient absorption is faster. Apart from foliar-feeding fertilizer, you can also apply soil fertilizer which is generally added and mixed with the topsoil.
6. Using Green Manure
You may be confused between green manure crops and cover crops. Well, they are basically the same plants. However, green manure crops cover crops that are turned into soil to provide extra nutrients. Thus, improving soil quality. They are rich in minerals and organic matter, which benefit plant growth.
Some examples of green manure crops you can plant are oats, rapeseed, buckwheat, and annual ryegrass. You can sow the seeds in the fall or late summer with low rain intensity. So, the beneficial nutrients will not be washed away by the rainwater.
Easy Steps To Fertilize Soil Naturally
Now, you know the methods to answer the question how to improve soil quality naturally. In this section, we will provide step-by-step to fertilize soil naturally. Our favorite method is to combine compost and mulch because these two methods are very easy and cheap. The ingredients are natural and you can make it yourself at home.
Curious about how to boost nutrients in your soil? Check it out!
- Prepare your compost. You can make it your own from eggshells, banana peels, bones, rock dust, twigs, leaves and more.
- Don’t forget your mulch! We prefer to use grass clippings, wood chips, and leaves as they are widely available and you can simply collect the fall leaves from trees around your house. Wood chips are great to stimulate mycorrhizae. If you want to mulch your vegetable garden, remove the grass clippings and replace it with straws.
- Add one layer of compost on the soil. Make sure you only add 1-3 inches so as to not overwhelm your soils with nutrient boost. We recommend adding 3 inches to improve sandy soil. Reduce it to 1 or 2 for heavy clay.
- Now, add the mulch on top of the compost. It is essential to create a preferable environment for the plants, inhibit weeds and pests, and reduce evaporation. You can only spread 2-3 inches of the mulch. Too much mulch will prevent oxygen access to the roots, leading to root rot.
- The best time to fertilize your soil naturally is in spring or fall. Generally, both seasons do not have high rainfall intensity, ensuring the soil nutrients stay there and are not being washed away.
Enhancing Soil Health Through Biological Means
Apart from efforts to improve soil health and quality by mulching, composting, covering crops, growing green manure, and crop rotation, you can also enhance the soil using biological means like microbes, soil organisms (worms), and biochar. Curious how? Let’s dive in!
1. Beneficial Microbes
Soil microorganisms include bacteria and fungi. They are extremely crucial in soil improvement as they break down biomass, making it available for plants to absorb. Interestingly, they are also involved in the mineralization of phosphorus to fertilize the soil.
Not only that, but soil microbes can also recycle nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon. Thus, plants can easily utilize them to support their growth. In addition to mineralization, you can expect these microbes to break down chemical impurities in the soil through microbial inoculants.
Microbial inoculants are various microorganisms applied in the soil that synergize with the soil to help improve the quality. They consist of algae, bacteria, and fungi and are a sustainable method for enhancing soil fertility. By reducing the impact of chemicals on the soil, these microbes increase the growth of crops and harvest, eventually. Generally, microbial inoculants are available in bio-fertilizers products.
2. Encouraging Earthworms and Other Soil Organisms
It is common knowledge that earthworms are useful for improving soil drainage and aeration through the spaces they create while living in the soil. Apart from that, those holes also create spaces for roots to breathe and develop properly.
There’s a simple method to find out if your garden soil is healthy and a favorite habitat for earthworms.
Dig the soil around 12×12 inches by about 6-7 inches deep. Then, count how many earthworms you managed to get out of the ground. If the number is 9-10, you have excellent soil quality. But if it’s not enough, you need to put extra effort to encourage them to your soil. How to do it?
- Leave leaves on the soil surface. They will break them down into organic matter that will fertilize your soil.
- Reduce tilling. It will injure worms that live under your garden soil.
- Add compost, mulch, or manure. They are abundant in organic matter that will be further utilized by worms.
- Check on soils. They love moist, loamy soil with a pH of around 5-8.
- Water your garden regularly. This is one of the most important aspects of water management! It is very important to maintain the soil moisture that worms like. But make sure not to overwater because they will drown due to their slippery skin and being unable to move above the waterlog.
3. Using Biochar
Biochar is a product of combustion from forestry and agricultural waste, which looks like charcoal with a black color. People usually call it burnt biomass. The use of biochar is quite popular in boosting crop production. It can reduce nutrient leaching and lower fertilizer use because biochar is already rich in minerals beneficial for crops, thus improving plant yields.
In addition to crops, biochar also has several advantages for soil, including enhancing water-holding capacity, promoting soil microbes growth, improving soil aeration, reducing soil compaction, and enriching nutrients in the soil. Using it to fertilize your soil is very easy. Mix biochar 50:50 with compost, potting mix, or manure. Then leave it for 10 days to activate the biochar. Then, just sprinkle it on the ground, and you are all set!
Crops That Repair Soil
We know that cover crops can improve soil quality because they can withstand extreme weather impacts, reduce the risk of erosion, and suppress weed growth. But what crops can repair soil? There are two kinds of cover crops: legumes and non-legumes. Let’s break it down!
Leguminous Cover Crops (LCCs) are crops planted to reduce the impact of erosion. Most of them are edible and nutritious, like lentils and peas. Apart from lentils and peas, other legume cover crops that you can plant to improve soil are crimson clover, red clover, and vetch. Amazingly, these legume crops can help you lower soil loss by around 38-69%! Not only that, they can also fix nitrogen in the soil, making the field ready for the next growing season.
In addition to legume cover crops, non-legume cover crops are also great for growing if you want to restore your soil fertility. They are mostly grasses and cereals that can reduce soil loss by about 31-100%! Nonetheless, the 100% only applies to land that has never been planted.
Some examples of non-legume cover crops are oats, annual ryegrass, buckwheat, rapeseed, barley, mustard, and brassica. These crops mostly have strong root systems, making them easier to withstand water and wind erosion. Having this feature, no wonder they can maintain the nutrients, and thus, improve soil quality naturally.
Importance of Regular Soil Testing and Monitoring
In addition to methods on how to improve soil quality naturally, Soil testing is an inseparable part of efforts to improve its quality. Knowing whether the soil is healthy enough to be planted in the next season or needs some improvement is crucial.
Besides that, testing is also important to optimize crop production, enhance soil nutrients, check on fertilizer or chemical leaching, and save some money if we can detect the issue and handle it properly before planting.
There are several easy ways to do a soil test at home. Even though it may not be as accurate as if done by a professional, at least you can get an initial picture of the health of your soil before taking further action.
1. Earthworms Counting
The first and easiest method is earthworm counting. You can simply dig in the soil in your garden or field around 6-7 inches deep. Then, count how many earthworms you get. In case you manage to have 9-10 worms, your soil is perfectly healthy!
2. DIY Soil pH Testing
Another easy method is checking on pH. You can take about two tablespoons of soil from your garden or pots, mix it with distilled water, and mix well. Then, add ½ cup of baking soda and mix again. If you notice the mixture buzzes, your soil is acidic.
For alkaline soil, add the same amount of soil but skip the water. Instead, add ½ cup of vinegar and mix it. If you have bubbles in the mixture, your soil is alkaline.
If you are a farmer, gardener, or simply plant enthusiast, the soil is an important part of your life. It is a growing medium your plants need to thrive. So, knowing how to improve soil quality naturally means ensuring a healthy and happy plant. You can do this in several ways, such as composting, mulching, covering crops, growing green manure, and even using microbes to boost soil fertility.
However, we like to combine composting and mulching because the two work together well to improve soil quality, prevent erosion, and provide good nutrition. And most importantly, both methods are easy to follow at home!
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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Is compost better than soil improver?
Compost is a natural fertilizer made from several materials such as rock dust, worm castings, food scraps, grass clippings, leaves, twigs, plant stalks which are rich in carbon and nitrogen. These materials are great in improving soil structure naturally while nourishing soil with essential minerals.
By adding compost, the soil will be more porous making it easier for oxygen exchange, boost water retention, soil aeration, and nutrient absorption. Therefore, it is way better than soil improves.
Is there a way to restore soil?
Soil infertility may occur if you harvest plants excessively but do not feed your soil properly with adequate nutrients. Luckily, there’s a way to restore the soil. One way is mulching. You can layer green manure or manure on top of the soil. Plant-based mulches, such as cocoa hulls, pine needles, or grass clippings, are also excellent materials for naturally improving the soil.
Not only does this method increase soil aeration and moisture, but it is one of the best natural ways to balance soil pH. In addition, crop rotation and crop diversity are important to offer nutrient cycling and introduce diverse soil microbes that will nourish the soil. Plus, no-till farming is highly recommended as it can reduce soil erosion and thus maintain soil nutrients.
Can you put compost on top of soil?
Using compost to improve soil quality is a way that is much in demand by farmers to ensure their crops grow healthily. One of the easiest and most effective composting methods they usually do is adding compost on top of soil. Instead of sprinkling the compost and leaving it be, you better mix it with the soil to offer balanced nutrients for your vegetables.
What should you feed your soil?
There are several natural soil improvement techniques you can try to feed your soil. Some of them are by composting, mulching, adding green manure, or rock dust. The key point is providing abundant organic matter so that your crops or plants will flourish healthily. Those ingredients also improve soil naturally.
What is a good homemade fertilizer?
Homemade fertilizers are similar to natural fertilizers. They are made of natural ingredients, like eggshells, banana peels, coffee ground, and grass clippings. It is one of the organic ways to improve soil quality by boosting the nutrients. And most importantly, you can make these natural fertilizers by yourself at home, cutting your budget to buy one at the gardening stores.