Growing a garden is one of the best things that you can do for your health and for the environment. And one of the most important keys to growing healthy fruits, vegetables and flowers is supporting the health of your soil.
Ready to get started? Try out some of the tips below!
1. Feed Your Soil
Soil is comprised of organic matter, consisting primarily of decomposing soil organisms and plant matter such as lichens, mosses, and leaves, and minerals derived from weathered rock. Although organic matter only makes up roughly 5-10% of the soil, it is a vital component of a thriving garden ecosystem. By holding in moisture, storing nutrients, and feeding important soil organisms, high levels of soil organic matter (SOM) is one of the best indicators of a healthy garden.
Adding amendments such as compost, animal manures, green manures, coffee grounds, and/or mulch to your soil can help build up SOM. Turn your leftover food scraps or garden trimmings into nutrient-rich compost for this purpose. You can also buy worms, add them directly to your compost bin, and collect their casings (a very pure, nutrient-dense form of compost). Contact your local coffee shop to see if you can collect their coffee grounds. And if you know a friend who has animals, see if you can utilize some of their manure pile!
The soil lifeforms that you are feeding with these amendments include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and worms. Many of these organisms are important for retaining good soil structure. Mycorrhizal fungi, in particular, play an integral part in sequestering carbon and building soil. Together, these organisms help convert organic matter and soil minerals into the nutrients required by plants to grow and thrive.
2. Cover Your Soil
Protect your soil from wind, rain, and UV radiation by keeping it covered year-round by plants, cover crops, and/or mulch.
Mulch helps to hold in soil moisture, and as it breaks down, it gradually adds organic matter to the soil. Cover crops can also help protect the soil, balance the soil’s nutrient profile, and enhance biodiversity. A kind of “living mulch”, cover crops discourage the growth of weeds, ward off disease, and attract beneficial birds and insects. Common cover crops include buckwheat, peas, phacelia, alfalfa, vetch, daikon, and clovers. Once you’re ready to plant your fruits, vegetables, and herbs, simply mow down the cover crop and allow it to decompose, or plant directly into the mulch.
3. Test Your Soil
It is important to understand which nutrients are plentiful in your soil and which nutrient levels might be low. To determine what your unique soil profile is and how can you improve it, get a home soil test or have your soil professionally tested by a garden lab or university. Once you know which nutrients to supplement your garden with, you can make the necessary adjustments and tailor your cover crops and composts to best meet your needs.
Growing a garden isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly rewarding. Don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. Connect with your local master gardener community, check out books, and find other blog posts online to help you along your journey. We also invite you to enroll in our upcoming Regenerative Gardening and Living course with Rishi Kumar to learn first-hand how to apply Regenerative principles and practices into your backyard!
Regenerative Gardening & Living Course
Introducing a Lifestyle Course from Kiss the Ground ―Regenerative Gardening and Living with Farmer Rishi Kumar. You’ll learn how to apply Regenerative Principles and Practices to your home garden and lifestyle. Our winter online session begins January 22, 2020.