Our success in gardening is in direct proportion to the health of our soil. Healthy soil is teeming with life. We may not see it all — since most of it requires powerful microscopes to see.
In order for us to have life in the soil — we have to provide food for it to feed on. The soil life feeds on any organic materials we add to our gardens.
Kitchen scraps, leaves, straw, grass clippings, pine tags, and biomass from cut cover crops are but a few.
Plant residues — like the decomposing roots of winter killed cover crops like oats — are an excellent source of food to attract an even greater diversity of soil life.
Even actively growing roots of perennials give off secretions that are an energy source for soil mircroorganisms (soil life).
Without organic material on which to feed, soil life dies. That’s why we need to continually refurbish the organic material in our soils — so that the soil life will have food and habitat to live and multiply. Keeping the soil life active, growing, well fed and well protected— means that our garden will be healthier.
As the life in the soil feeds on and breaks down the organic material we’ve supplied, lots of good things happen.
- Our soil structure is improved.(For example: red compact clay soil over a period of time can become rich black soil.)
- Compaction and crusting is prevented. (In soils with less compaction, plant roots can penetrate and flourish more readily.)
- Minimizes or prevents erosion .
- Water holding capacity is increased.
- Drainage is improved.
- Nutrients are recycled and made available to our crops.
- It even allows the soil to be “ploughed” (prepared/ cultivated) for planting by the earthworms. (When earthworms do the cultivating — it does no harm to other soil life.)
Once decayed – the end result (also called humus) will hold onto the nutrients in the soil and keep them from draining away to deeper soil layers. (Although definitions can vary — for our purposes finished compost is humus.)
Other Functions of Soil Life
If our soil life is healthy enough — it will protect the roots of our plants from diseases and parasites and even produce hormones that help our plants grow.
Most of us think in terms of the plants feeding themselves, but actually the living organisms in the soil help feed the plants. Sometimes they even take nutrients to plants that the plants can’t reach without their help.
Soil’s Ability to Recover
Even soil that has been badly abused by over-tilling and left uncovered and exposed to the elements has the ability to restore its life-support processes.
Organic matter (humus) concentrated in the topsoil can even detoxify and absorb herbicides or pesticides that may have been used before you arrived on the scene — or that were used on straw or mulch applied to your garden. (You still want to be careful what you put in your garden — but if you did get some bad stuff — decayed organic material, given time, is going to really help you out.)
Free from Disease and Pests
Soil organisms perform all the functions necessary to keep your garden in good health: disease and bug free.
I know, I know — you’re probably not quite there yet. And neither am I. But every year that we continue to improve our garden soil —and provide an environment for increased soil life by adding lots of organic material to our soil — the organisms in the soil can perform their work even more efficiently.
Soil organic material that decomposes to organic matter (humus) is the key to soil life and therefore the key to a healthy garden and your great success.
Organic Gardening is easy, efficient, effective — and it’s a lot healthier.
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