How to Improve Soil for Gardening

Improving The Soil

You can’t pick the soil you live on but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your soil for happy and healthy plants all year long.

The soil in your garden is alive with microorganisms that help to feed your plants with nutrients but they need to be fed themselves.

Plants that grow in soil share a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms that live in the soil. The roots of plants give off chemicals and they shed cells that feed the microorganisms.

They in turn feed the plants by decomposing plant matter allowing the roots to take in the nutrients provided in the soil.

COMPOST

Compost is a rich source of organic matter that contains a balanced mix of nutrients. Good compost should smell earthy, and be a rich dark brown color, but if it smells like urine, it likely contains too much nitrogen.

While homemade compost is ideal, commercial compost can also be used in your garden. The nutrients in this organic soil blend help plants utilize nutrients more effectively.

If needed, remove the first few inches of soil and replace it with compost, this will help improve the lower soil and feed deep roots with the microbes and nutrients in the compost.

Compost is very easy to make and maintain, to start the pile add a lot of organic material that is green and let sit to decompose.

The pile should be turned about every 4 to 5 weeks to ensure that everything is properly decomposed.

It will also need the proper amount of water to help keep the decomposition on track, to do this water should be added every 3 to 7 days.

The amount of water will vary depending on the humidity level and wind.

The compost should not be fully decomposed when it is added to your garden instead, let the decomposition process finish in the garden. Organic matter helps to hold water in and therefore all soil needs to have a healthy amount of organic matter in it.

Another option is making a liquid fertilizer with the compost. When it is fully decomposed put the compost in a five-gallon bucket making it about half full.

Fill the rest of the bucket with chlorine-free water and let it sit for at least 24 hours. Using a cheesecloth or paint strainer and another bucket, pour the liquid compost through the strainer and into the other bucket.

This liquid fertilizer can be bottled for later use or added to other liquid fertilizers with a dilution ratio or one quart of fertilizer with one gallon of chlorine-free water.

THE pH LEVEL OF YOUR SOIL

With a pH test kit or pH meter, you can find out the pH levels as well as keep track of it because it will take time to increase or decrease the pH level of the soil.

The pH level of the soil is important for plants because the acidity levels of the soil will depend on the amount of nutrients that can be dissolved in the soil.

The pH level of the soil is a method of measurement with pH being an abbreviation that means potential hydrogen.

Therefore a pH test is checking the amount of hydrogen that is in the soil’s water as well as the activity of hydrogen ions.

All plants thrive in a specific soil pH, for example, azaleas and conifers do best in soil with a pH between 5.0 and 5.5, while vegetables do best with a pH between 5.8 and 6.5.

Plants have spent a tremendous amount of time in a specific area of the world with specific growing conditions. Matching those conditions as much as possible will help with happy and healthy plants.

ROTATING CROPS

Ancient farmers started rotating crops in 6,000 BCE to allow the soil to be replenished with nutrients that plants need.

Over the years this method of farming has evolved into a proper system that takes care of the soil’s ecosystem by adding organic material back into the soil, nutrients but more importantly the three main nutrients for growth are nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium.

The grain crops grow shallow roots and when they rot they keep the top part of the soil from becoming too compacted, turnips do the same but when the leaves are tilled into the soil they help to deter pests in the soil as they decompose.

As they decompose they are also releasing phosphate, and potassium into the soil. Legumes fix nitrogen to the soil when they have an established root system and all of these crops will add plant matter back into the soil when tilled.

TWO FIELD METHOD

With the two-field method, the land is divided into two fields and only one-half is planted for food production.

The second half is left without sowing anything and allowing the land to rest for one or more growing seasons. This process is reversed the following growing season or two.

The land that is left to fallow or grow wild will help to put organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.

THREE FIELD METHOD

The three-field method started in Europe in the late 15 century, when farmers would divide the land into three fields.

The first field grows a grain crop, the second field grows peas or legumes, and the third field is left to fallow.

FOUR FIELD METHOD

With the four-field method, the land is divided into four fields, with the first field growing a grain crop, the second field growing turnips, the third field growing legumes, and the fourth field left to fallow.

COVER CROPS

Growing cover crops is an excellent way to reduce or eliminate the use of artificial fertilizers, add organic matter, prevent wind and water erosion, and increase the soil’s water-holding capacity.

For example, cover crops can improve sandy or compacted soils as well as helps with erosion from hilly sites.

If you’re looking for a way to improve your soil, try planting daikon radishes and red clover in the fall.

These crops will produce massive amounts of organic matter, as well as fixed nitrogen to the soil with the legumes, while the potassium, and phosphate will be made by the daikon radishes when they decompose.

Cover crops can also be used in the summertime to help keep weeds down and reduce soil erosion as well as fix nitrogen to the soil with legumes.

This process is also known as green manure.

MANURE

Aside from providing nutrients, manure also can help to hold in moisture and loosens compacted soil like clay.

It should be added during the fall to give it time to seep into the soil so you don’t burn your crop or plants.

It is also good for improving the soil for what is growing in it and is a process called soil amendment.

Without soil amendment, all of the nutrients in the soil will be used up if not replenished.

Manure gets better with age and will need to decompose for six months or longer before it is truly ready to fertilize plants or crops, therefore it can also be added in with the compost.

EARTHWORMS

Earthworms improve the soil’s ability to absorb water with the tunnels that make while eating organic matter.

Their casting or waste is also known as vermicast which is a great fertilizer, helps to hold water, and provides all the essential nutrients for happy and healthy plants.

Earthworms live in the top one foot of soil, therefore adding compost that is full of organic matter will help to attract them.

If you don’t have a compost pile then you can grow a cover crop to turn all that plant matter into the soil.

If you find it difficult to attract them in you can also buy some from a bait shop or the internet.

Another option is to start a worm farm. All you will need to do is take some topsoil from the garden and add some compost and/or plant matter.

After some time, separate the dirt from the organic matter and add the dirt to your garden.

If you prefer a liquid fertilizer then you can put the soil in a five-gallon buck and let sit for a least few hours.

Using a few paint strainers, pour the contents of the five-gallon bucket into another five-gallon bucket.

The soil that is collected in the strainer can be dried out and put back in the worm farm or garden.

The most common worm used in gardens and worm farms is red wigglers because of their size.

Rock phosphate

To make your own liquid fertilizers, you should consider using rock phosphate for increasing the amount of phosphate in the soil.

It contains 30% phosphates and 48% calcium while being a natural source of these nutrients.

It is also referred to as phosphorite and is found in clay deposits.

It is important to note that rock phosphate does not react with plants as synthetic chemical fertilizers do.

You should avoid over-fertilizing your crops which can cause leaf chlorosis and destroy beneficial microorganisms in your soil.

A moderate amount of rock phosphate is beneficial to your soil and some home gardens may already have adequate amounts of this mineral.

To increase your harvest or to produce more rose blooms add 10 pounds per 100 square feet but application rates may vary depending on the manufacturer.

Therefore it is recommended to check the bag before applying it to the soil.

AZOMITE

Azomite is a rock that comes from ash deposits of ancient volcanos and it is used as a natural fertilizer as well as for soil amendment.

This rock is mined in central Utah, U.S.A. where there is a large deposit that was formed by an ancient volcano that filled a small seabed with ash.

The minerals in azomite are known to produce a larger harvest as well as larger produce with more flavor.

The name azomite is an acronym meaning A to Z Of Minerals Including Trace Elements because it contains over 70 minerals and trace elements.

Azomite is a powder that is available in three granular sizes, it is applied by spreading it on the soil where it takes a few days to break down into the soil after being watered.

BONE MEAL

Bone meal is finely ground bones that come from livestock. The bones are boiled or steamed and then ground into a powder.

It is used to provide phosphorus and calcium to the soil for the growth of the plant and blooms.

Bone meal breaks down slowly therefore laying down a small amount will prevent the possibility of the soil being too rich in phosphorus and burning your plants.

It is spread onto the soil like any granular fertilizer at a ratio of 10 pounds of bone meal to 100 square feet of soil.

Some manufacturers include other nutrients in with the bone meal which may reduce the need for those nutrients. It can be purchased at any garden center, home improvement store, or online retailer.