If you are just joining me I recommend you read the articles that preceded this article. Here are the links:
Part 3 –
Organic matter is anything in the soil that was living and has decayed.
This act of increasing organic matter in your soil by adding organic material will be of great significance and value to your garden. It will have a profound effect on your garden’s success and the survival and well-being of your crops.
The study of soil has been extensive and the knowledge that organic matter is necessary to raise crops successfully is widely available. Yet, worldwide crop production has resulted in a decline in soil organic matter and thus, a decline in soil fertility.
The chemical companies greatmarketing techniques coupled with the fact that much of mankind is always looking for a quick fix and not at the long term results has, in my opinion, been responsible for this decline in organic matter worldwide.
Like the frog in the water that gradually came to a boil, mainstream gardeners and farmers have been duped into putting aside knowledge that was passed down through the centuries. It’s great to improve and to make progress and find easier ways to do things, but certain principles in the universe remain firm. The continual addition of organic material to the soil to replace what has been used is one of those core principles that has been lost by the majority.
It is amazing what is known about the complex structure of the soil. It must have taken a lot of people their entire life time to uncover the wonderful knowledge that is now available. Fortunately, we don’t have to spend our lifetime that way. Nor do we have to spend an exorbitant amount of time reading or studying the knowledge that has been documented.
All we have to do is add organic material and all the complicated stuff is done behind the scenes and without any help from us. How easy is that?!
Originally soil structure was in perfect balance. When man came on the scene to raise crops the balance was upset because the crops used certain nutrients provided by the organic matter already there. Thus, in order to continue successfully, the organic matter had to be replaced. I think it interesting that in many accounts ——our Virginia history comes to mind ——–man cut the virgin forest, planted a crop that depleted the soil — like tobacco or cotton — and then moved on to other land.
Healthy soil teems with life forms that are dependent on one another. Some can be seen and some are so small you would need a microscope to see them. Each has a function to perform to help keep your soil and crops healthy. They are responsible for providing nutrients for plants, making air and water available to plants, breaking down pollutants, and maintaining soil structure.
In modern conventional farming soil is treated with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, soil fungicides or fumigants. It is well documented that much of soil life — vital to healthy soil — is killed by these treatments.
The amazingly good news is that soil can restore its life-support processes if it is given sufficient time for such recovery. Organic matter is of course the driving factor in this restoration.
The Process of Building Organic Matter
Building organic matter is a continual and slow process. Only about 10% of the organic material added becomes part of soil organic matter. (For example, if 200 pounds of organic material is added to the soil, only about 20 pounds becomes organic matter.) Even in small amounts, organic matter is important. And encouragingly, beneficial effects of the change come long before the level of organic matter rises.
Bear in mind however, that the improvements will be reversed if the practice of adding organic material is stopped.
What Does Organic Matter Do? (The Short Version)
Once thoroughly decomposed:
# 1. It improves fertility because it contains all of the essential plant nutrients, since it is derived mainly from plant residues. Thus, accumulated organic matter is a storehouse of nutrients (minerals) for plants in a form they can use.
#2. It improves the physical condition of the soil (called tilth) by “gluing” soil together in a way that helps improve soil structure to encourage root development so your plants can grow bigger.
The soils ability to take in water (infiltration) and drainage is improved. In addition, organic matter acts like a sponge, with the ability to hold up to 90% of its weight in water. It then makes that water available to your plants. Because of this, your plants will be able to withstand drought better. (Clay for instance holds great quantities of water but most of it is unavailable to plants.)
#3. It provides food for the living beings in the soil that work to make your garden a success.
I’ll continue this topic of Organic Matter in the next post.
Still to come is:
- Repeated Tilling and Its Effect on Organic Matter
- Repeated Hoeing and Discing – Why its Bad for Your Soil.
- What is a “Plough Pan”?
- Organic Material Makes Organic Matter – So What Organic Material Do I Use?