Healthy soil is the fundamental element to a healthy crop. Whether you are gardening as a hobby in your small kitchen garden or on a bigger piece of land, you want your soil in great condition.
Now, achieving this might not be a walk in the park, it will need a little bit of patience and involvement but will be well worth it.
Below are tips to guide you in achieving that healthy, rich soil with plenty of nutrients for your crop.
Getting your soil analysis is an important step in determining the soil’s pH levels, nutrient content as well as composition. This will ultimately guide you on the methods you need to apply in your soil improvement. The government’s agriculture department often offers these services to the farmers, or you can purchase a soil test kit for your own testing.
Once you have determined what your soil is lacking, it’s now time to embark on methods to enrich and improve your soil structure.
Adding compost to your garden is an excellent way to improve the soil organically. Not only does compost helps retain moisture, but it also absorbs and stores nutrients for the crop while supplying food for beneficial microorganisms.
Adding compost can also be a good way to reduce diseases in your crop.
An easy and convenient way to make compost at home is by recycling your kitchen scraps and yard waste. Vegetable and food waste, crushed eggshells, ground coffee, and plant prunings are great as they provide nitrogen, while things such as paper, cardboard, and leaves will provide carbon and important fiber to the soil.
However, you must be careful what you put in your compost. Things such as dog poo, meat, dairy products and human waste may attract pests. Other things that should be avoided include plastics, diseased plants, and perennial weeds
Remember, you should apply compost that has already finished decomposing for it to take effect.
Mulching involves covering the soil surface around your plants using both organic and inorganic materials. Organic materials include things such as shredded wood, leaves, grass clippings, hay, bark, and many more. Inorganic ones include rocks and pebbles, black plastic sheeting, and landscape fabrics.
Some of the benefits that come with mulching include reduction of moisture loss, soil conservation, moderates the soil temperature as well as deterring weed growth.
Now, I must add that here we are looking to improve the soil structure, and with inorganic mulching, you will not achieve this as it will not give any organic matter and nutrient content as the organic mulch does while breaking down. In fact, you might not be very pleased when things like plastic sheeting start breaking down into non-recyclable pieces. Therefore, our safe bet would be to go the organic way.
The best time to apply organic mulch is mid – to late spring when the soil has had a chance to warm. You should avoid putting down mulch when the soil is too cold or when it is too dry, these are the winter and summer seasons. It is also advisable to always pull out any weeds before applying your mulch.
Manure compost is a great contributor to soil fertility since it adds organic matter and is full of nutrients, such as nitrogen. Manure feeds your plants and keeps them healthy, and is great for soil aggregation as well.
Commonly used are cow, chicken, goat, sheep, rabbit, and horse manure.
There are two ways to use manure in your garden. One is by composting it. This is the preferred method as it breaks down, eliminating hot manures that might burn the plants. The second method is by directly tilling in fresh manure into the soil, preferably in the fall, allowing it to sit all winter prior to planting in spring. This is also a good method since the manure slowly breaks down in the soil adding nutrients in readiness for planting.
One thing to note, it is important to give at least a three-month space between the time you apply the manure and when you harvest to avoid contamination. This is particularly with your greens and root crops.
Cover crops are an important part of adding fertility to the soil. They are planted temporarily to help reduce soil erosion, improve drainage, deter the growth of weeds and attract organisms that are beneficial to the soil. These crops act much like mulch and give similar benefits.
Cover crops are better planted at the end of a growing season and eventually become green manure when they are turned into the soil.
Plants commonly used as cover crops include legumes such as velvet beans, cowpeas, soybeans, alfalfa, and berseem clover make for great cover crops as they add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Grasses such as rye, oats, barley, and wheat are also a good option for cover crops.
Crop rotation refers to growing a set of crops in the same area in a regular sequence of seasons. In doing so, the soil retains its fertility, disease-causing organisms are controlled, growing of pests and weeds is prevented and soil erosion is reduced.
Crops require different nutrients, so growing different crops in different periods helps utilize other nutrients, giving time for the previous nutrients to replenish themselves.
In the past, most farmers would leave their land bare to rest before the next crop but in recent years, crop rotation is being practiced since it’s more productive whilst replenishing soil nutrients. Doing this will make a big difference in the health of your soil and the production of your garden.
Your garden soil is the core and arguably the most important component in your garden. This is why you should pay close attention to it for increased yields and the protection of natural resources.
Whichever gardening method you are using, they all apply the same principles we have shown above and are a start to improving your garden soil. Using even a few of these methods will go a long way.