Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Soil Health - the Cornerstone of Life

Beginner Gardeners have come to my attention.  Many do not know where to begin, but they know they want to begin. A friend bought a few acres with the plans to 'garden'.  She also is raising chickens.  While I was reducing our garden beds, I potted up extra plants and gave them to her.  But the focus has been on the plants, and I'd be amiss if I do not give her some other information that will make a world of difference in her new garden.

That information is how, and why the soil is so critical to, not only her garden, but to the environment, and, as far as that goes, the planet. Here is why.

Millions, and billions of microorganisms reside in healthy soil.  The eat organic material, and the enzymes they excrete allow the roots of plants to take up nutrients as needed.  The problem I see as an organic gardener is the media blitzes proclaiming the praises of chemical fertilizers (Specifically, liquid fertilizers). Advertisers do not tell of the harmful effects on the soil.  Chemicals kill microbes and leaves the soil dead. Synthetic fertilizers will feed the roots of plants while it is liquid. However, the soil cannot retain nutrients, so more and more applications of synthetic fertilizers are needed to keep lawns or gardens growing. No amount of chemicals can make up for the benefits of good organic material re-introduced into the soil.

Soil structure that is less than optimal can prohibit roots from taking up moisture and nutrients. Also,sandy soil is so porous that water runs through it rapidly.  So fast that roots have minimal time to take advantage of the moisture.  Clay soils, on the other hand, are so dense, that air and water cannot get down into the roots, thereby suffocating them.

By adding compost to sandy soil, moisture is slowly moved through enabling roots to stay moist longer.  Compost added to clay soil open up the pores and allows air and water to move through the soil.  The diagram above indicates that air and water are vital to good soil, and as little as 5% organic matter can make a weak soil into a healthy base.

The term 'friable' may be used in this instance.  Making the soil crumble-able.  Good organic soil will do this easily.

Nature has a way of building rich organic soil.  The forest is a good example of allowing debris such as leaves, bark, and microbes to return to the earth as organic matter.  This decomposing is Nature at her best. Mimicking Nature is the best way to return to a way of living that many have forsaken.

Adding compost to the lawn and garden will go a long way to reestablishing the balance that nature intended.

Healthy soil improves water-holding capacity reducing runoff of surface water and drawing moisture down. 

These roots indicate that air and water are deep into the soil making for a more robust plant.

Organic soil can maximize plant growth by giving the microorganisms in the soil food.  They decompose the organic matter and return available nutrients to the plants.  Plants thrive and provide food, lodging, and oxygen to the world above.

The message I've tried to convey today is that we need to feed the soil, not the plant.  Healthy soil will take care of the plant's needs IF we take care of the soil. 

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