5 WAYS TO LOVE YOUR SOIL
Welcome to 2021 and my first article of the year for the Gardening with Nature newsletter. We wanted to get started with the newsletter because we know many of you are itching to start gardening. As you may remember from last year, the purpose of this newsletter is to offer ideas on how to grow productive and beautiful gardens while having a positive impact on plants, birds, animals, insects and natural ecosystems. The topics are far ranging from native plants to organic pest controls to building better soil. Feel free to suggest topics as we go along and I'll be happy to write about them.
All About the Soil
My first article is about soil. In my newly released book, The Complete Guide to No-Dig Gardening, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of healthy soil, not only for your garden plants, but the whole environment. I thought I'd kick off this year's Gardening with Nature newsletter with a fun, and hopefully, educational, topic of 5 Ways to Love Your Soil.
In our gardens, the soil is more than just a vessel to hold nutrients and water for your plants. It's a living entity with billions of microbes and many minerals that enable plants to grow and life to exist on this planet. So, let's love our soil this year by practicing these 5 soil gardening practices.
First, Do No Harm
The first way to love your soil is to treat it with respect. Just as the Hippocratic oath says to medical doctors, first do no harm. The best way to do this in your garden is to minimize tilling, turning and digging the soil. These age-old gardening techniques may make the ground look nice, but they destroy the natural soil layers which help water, air and nutrients move in your soil. Also, they destroy some of those billions of microbes that are responsible for exchanging water and nutrients with your plants. Not turning the soil also keeps weed seeds buried, so they can't germinate.
Build Soil through Layering
Another tenet of healthy soil is to build fertility. The best way to do that is by layering organic materials and compost on your soil. By using layers of organic materials such as straw, chopped leaves, untreated grass clippings, composted manure and compost, you'll be mimicking ecosystems in forests and grasslands by creating fertile layers. Soil creatures feed on these layers releasing nutrients for plant growth. If they thrive, your garden will thrive. There's no need to work these materials into the soil and it's easier for you.
Keep the Soil Covered
Soil in Nature is rarely exposed to wind, water and the elements. If it is, it often is quickly covered by living or dead plants. Even in dry climates, rocks and stones can protect the soil. In your own garden, always strive for keeping the soil covered 12 months of the year. This can be done using techniques such as succession planting veggies, herbs and flowers, mulching, and growing cover crops. Keeping soil covered preserves the soil life and structure.
Enhance Soil Life
Instead of using conventional fertilizers, consider enhancing the soil life with various plant and compost teas. These teas are easy to make, using local materials. They feed the fungus, bacteria, protozoa and other soil creatures. The healthier and more diverse the soil life is, the less likely certain harmful diseases and insects will take over. A simple compost tea that adds lots of microbes can be made using the humus-rich, leaf mold layer from under native trees. Fill two socks with a handful each of this leaf mold, add a rock and small potato in each sock and hang them in a 5 gallon bucket filled with water. Cover for a few days until foam appears. Then make a 10% diluted mixture with water and apply to your beds.
Leave Roots in Place
When harvesting or cleaning up a bed of vegetables, flowers and herbs, if possible, leave the roots of the plants in place. After cutting heads of cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower and kohlrabi, cut the plant back to the ground and use the leaves as mulch. When cleaning up plants such as basil, parsley, tomato, pepper, cucumber and squash, do the same technique as long as the plants weren't heavily diseased. Even when harvesting root crops, such as carrots, beets and parsnips, try not to disturb the soil. As your soil gets healthier, it will be easier to pull these plants out without disrupting the soil life.
So, treat your soil with respect. For more information, I'll be offering a Webinar on Ecological Gardening and Companion Planting on February 23rd at 7pm Eastern time. Check out the details on my website.
Until next time I'll be seeing you in the garden.
About Charlie Nardozzi
Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.