Although some gardeners are blessed with perfect soil in their gardens, not all of us have that privilege. The success of your garden all depends on the quality of your soil. Luckily, rejuvenating your soil isn’t difficult to do once you understand healthy soil’s components!
Having healthy soil in your garden is important for growing vigorous plants that can resist diseases and pests. Soil is alive and is made up of mineral particles, water, organic matter, microorganisms, and air. Like all living things, the soil needs to be fed to provide the highest quality crops.
It doesn’t matter whether you are starting with fresh soil or gardening in your existing soil; improving your soil is a continuing process that will benefit your plants. By reading further, you will discover a step-by-step explanation of rejuvenating your garden soil, the benefits, and so much more!
The Basics Of Healthy Soil
Healthy and fast-growing plants usually have healthy garden soil. Your soil feeds your plants, so it has to be fertile to support their growth. Your soil should be loose enough to allow air circulation, enough drainage, and space for root growth.
If your garden soil is full of organic matter, minerals and nutrients, you have healthy soil! Organic matter is the most important particle in your soil, as it provides nutrition, promotes bio-diverse sub-culture in the soil (which benefits the plant life), and promotes drainage for your soil. But what exactly is “organic matter“?
Organic matter is anything in your soil that contains carbon compounds that were created by living organisms. These are things like shredded leaves, animal manure, and grass clippings. Organic matter plays one of the main roles in supplying your plants with nutrients and improving your soil structure.
Having sufficient amounts of organic matter in your soil also provides your plants with binding pollutants and aids in soil buffering. The organisms in your soil will break down your organic matter and convert it into nutrient-rich humus.
While feeding on the organic matter, these organisms create tunnels and pockets to lighten your soil, allowing air and water to reach your plants’ roots.
What Makes Good Soil?
A good soil depends on the plants growing within it and what has occurred to that specific soil over the years. Good soil is soil with minimum friability and enough nutrition with minimum drainage.
You will immediately be able to identify a healthy soil by looking at specific aspects, like soil that drains freely, is fertile, holds moisture, and is loose, friable, and easy to dig.
Another way to test your soil is with a soil testing kit. If your soil’s PH is between 6 and 6.8, it means that you have the correct nutrients for your crops to grow at a healthy rate.
Importance Of Rejuvenating Soil
The whole world depends on the top 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of soil. In the world we live in, the soil is neglected because it doesn’t indicate stress in an obvious way. Plants and animals will show physical signs of sickness, whereas soil must be monitored and tested more carefully.
The average human treats soil like “dirt,” where an agricultural farmer would take care of the soil to invest in its future. Soil that is rich in nutrients is fertile. The reality that plants have to take nutrients from their soil to flourish should be more closely looked at, as it influences livestock’s expectations.
Replacing nutrients is the goal of fertilizing soil efficiently. The improper fertilization of soil has caused some controversy in the past, but the basic premise of fertilization is replenishing the soil entirely.
Soils feed the plants, which ultimately, in turn, feed the animals that feed us. If you have nutrient-rich soil in this chain, you will help guarantee its success. This is because soil provides the support and foundation for plants and most of their nutrients.
Soil is accumulated decomposed animal and plant matter with aging parent material. As all these soil components break down, elements are released and become available to plants as nutrients. This process naturally takes a long time, and the soil’s result will depend on the parent material, climate, living organisms, topography, and time.
What is made available to a growing plant at a specific time may not assist fully with what the plant needs. This is why fertilization is supplementing the existing soil with additional, needed nutrients. Fertilizing wisely will increase your yield, quality, and profits.
There are three common ways to replenish your nutrients removed from the soil. The first way is to focus on recycling nutrients by using animal waste. Recycling nutrients is a vital method when discussing pastures.
The second way to replenish soil is to apply and obtain fertilizer. The third method is through microbial action, such as the fixation of nitrogen. Forage-livestock producers have to understand and utilize all three of these methods from the maximum fertility with the minimum cost and the minimum damage to our environment.
The fertilization and rejuvenation of soil are essential because it allows farmers to produce enough food for the increasing population worldwide. Cultivated land is decreasing, and too much or inappropriate use can be harmful to the environment.
There are endless discussions about “man-made” and “chemical fertilizers” compared to “organic fertilizers.” There are many misconceptions about all these terms, and a broader understanding will lead farmers to much better results when it comes to the importance of fertilizing.
Ten Tips On Rejuvenating Your Soil
If it has come to your attention that the quality of your soil might not be what it should be, you have completed the first step of the process and can now begin to take action! Below are nine steps you can follow to rejuvenate your garden soil to maximize your crops’ quality:
- Feed your soil an organic diet. Your soil helps your plants thrive by recycling nutrients, improving soil tilth, capturing water, and fighting all sorts of pests and diseases. You need to feed your soil during the year by feeding it and caring for it.
Your soil has the exact basic requirements for living as we do– Water, food, air, and shelter.
The best time to start feeding your soil organic materials is during Autumn. You already know that organic materials are the critical ingredient for healthy soil. Adding fallen leaves, garden debris, and kitchen scraps would help feed your soil sufficiently. You should already start feeding your soil organic materials in Autumn because it usually decomposes slowly. This process can take up to three to four months if the conditions are ideal.
How? Place your organic material directly into the top two inches of your soil with a hoe. Cover with mulch. It would be ideal to add concentrated manures, potassium fertilizers, mineral phosphorous, and lime to your organic matter.
By doing so, you give your soil time to break down these materials for use when your plants need them.
- Use worms in your soil. Using worms to do the tilling of the soil for you is a brilliant idea; it saves you time and effort. Let the worms do the tilling for you by using sheet mulching techniques.
Sheet mulching is the process of building compost on the top of your soil layer. Sheet mulching will take some planning in advance. It is ideal to start sheet mulches for s new garden a year before you plan to plant your crops. For existing gardens, it’ll only take a month.
How? add a smothering bottom layer of cardboard to kill any existing vegetation. Next, add a 2-4 inch green compost layer.
This will invite worms to come to your soil as they transplant food. In the worms’ process, they will improve your soil structure while depositing worm manure in your soil.
Sheet mulching will build new garden soil instantly. It will maximize nutrients, smothers any weeds, and keeps soil life undisturbed and intact.
- Plant cover crops. This step can be seen as the most valuable step in gardening correctly. Growing cover crops will feed your soil, make it more fertile and improve the structure with each season.
The channels opened up by the freshly killed cover crops, and the decaying roots permit oxygen and water to penetrate and flow through the soil.
Using legumes (peas, beans, clovers, and alfalfa) is the most valuable cover crop, as they fix nitrogen into forms plants can use to their benefit.
- Buy a soil test kit. As a gardener, whether you grow crops on a small or larger scale, a soil test kit is an indispensable garden tool. It is advised to buy a soil test kit when you start a new garden or when you start to notice your garden deteriorating.
When you notice a drastic change in your crops’ health, an essential nutrient is most probably missing, and your soil health will suffer.
Take your nutrient tests in late summer or early Autumn for the best and most accurate results.
- Supply your soil with what’s missing. After testing your soil, you will have determined your gardens’ fertilizer needs. In most common cases, purchase an organic fertilizer mix and use it as recommended—place fertilizers into the topsoil of your garden. Spread your fertilizer evenly around your plants, water, and cover with mulch.
Over numerous seasons of building your soil, your soil will recycle and retain most nutrients, eliminating or reducing the soil’s needs. Test your soil regularly for the best results.
- Nitrogen is crucial. Though a healthy, living soil will continuously recycle and retain most other nutrients, it often lacks nitrogen, even after tears of building your soil. Nitrogen is not only an essential plant nutrient that feeds your soil plants. It also feeds soil organisms.
Because of this factor, your garden growth and long-term soil health depend on nitrogen.
Ensure sufficient nitrogen by counting all the nutrients you’ve added before planting each year. Sources of concentrated nitrogen include blood, seed, or feather meal. Manures or grass clippings, which are incorporated as amendments, provide nitrogen to your soil as well.
Remember, compost does not supply enough nitrogen for your garden. Compost is excellent in improving your overall soil health, but additional sources of nitrogen are needed.
- Get rid of weeds. Weeds compete with garden plants and steal organic food your soil needs to flourish. This usually happens in spring, and before you can start planting, you need to get the weeds under control.
How? Pull weeds that emerge in the spring as quickly as possible, while they are still small and can be managed easily. After pulling the weeds, lay them back on the soil surface and cover them for 2 to 4 inches with organic mulch.
Covering your garden beds instantly gives you a jump start on weeds while feeding your soil with organic material at the same time!
- Recycle perennials. Chipped yard debris and small pieces of tress make very effective mulch. They also provide a source of nitrogen when green.
If you have fruit trees, hedges, or woodlands in your garden, then you have the perfect materials to amend your soils. Prunings made during winter, and early spring can feed your soil when recycled back into your garden.
- Let your soil dry. Before planting a spring garden, it is of utmost importance that you let your wet soil dry firstly. Avoid digging, walking on, or driving a rototiller over your soil when waiting for it to dry, because it compacts and damages your soil structure.
When you damage your soil structure or compact your soil, you squeeze the air out of your soil, only leaving a little space for soil organisms to breathe or for your roots to grow.
You might want to know how to tell if your soil is ready to work with. To check if you can start working with your soil, take a handful and squeeze.
If water is coming out, postpone planting for a week and repeat this process until your soil is barely moist.
How To Know If Your Organic Material Is Ready
Material that has already decomposed completely will have a crumbly texture and will be brown of color. It will also have a fresh, earthy smell. The pile of materials will not heat up when you decide to mix it. When you have tested the pile and have reached the point described, it is ready to be used in your garden.
A few factors will affect how quickly your organic material will reach the point of being sufficient to use. If you added organic materials that contain sawdust or wood chips, they would decompose slowly because of the high carbon content. Consider layering your material with grass clippings, a good source of nitrogen to speed up your process.
Organic matter that is merely piled and left alone will also decompose slower. It could take a year or more if your starting material contains a wide carbon to nitrogen ratio. (When your material contains wood chips) if you pile your material and aerate it by sticking pipes in your material and turning it often, you can reduce your time to as little as eight weeks.
The aerated process is commonly called composting. By composting, you will have several advantages, like using your product sooner, the heat generated will kill most weeds, seeds, and pathogens, and your end product will ultimately be much more consistent.
Indicators That Your Soil Is Bad
Often, gardeners are so excited about planting their seeds and imagining the day to come where their vegetables are ready to be harvested. They rarely consider the soil they are planting in and may be getting themselves and their new garden in problems they didn’t know existed.
Giving your soil the same attention as your growing seeds or vegetables is just as important. Know the signs of deficient soils and what causes them before planting your garden:
- Low Nitrogen: If your plant’s leaves are discoloring while falling off, your soil is most likely low in Nitrogen.
Adding some more compost to your soil is an organic way to fix it.
- Low Phosphorous: If you start to notice your plants turning purple, they are likely low in phosphorous.
This usually happens because of the temperate of your soil. Your soil may have phosphorous, but because of your soil’s temperature, it could be unable to be released to aid your plants.
It is advised to use mulch to increase your soil’s temperature and get the phosphorous to release.
- Too much Nitrogen: if you have lush foliage but little to no fruit, you could have too much nitrogen. Another sign of having too much nitrogen is when your leaves start to wilt.
You can quickly fix this problem by adding mulch or planting vegetables that will bring down your nitrogen levels, like corn, cabbage, or broccoli.
- Pollination: It is vital to keep in mind that even vegetables need pollination to grow fruit. If your plant is in bloom but not producing, you could need more birds and bees.
Plant some flowers around the border of your garden, inviting birds and bees to explore your garden and begin to pollinate your plants!
- Clubroot: Clubroot lives in the soil and does horrible things to the roots of your plants. Clubroot affects cabbage, turnips, radishes, and all plants, including the Brassicaceae family. Your roots will look swollen and knobby when you examine them. Clubroot will not only affect your roots, but it also causes under-developed vegetables.
If you suspect or confirm that you have clubroot in your garden, do not plant anything susceptible to clubroot for seven years.
- Water: Standing water in the form of puddles are extremely bad for your garden. If you live in an area with lots of rain, you have a disadvantage.
Test that your soil isn’t too damp by taking a handful and squeezing it. If water drips from your hand, then it is time to aerate your soil.
- Crumbling: If you find that your soil is crumbly and hard or dry and cracked, water will run off and not absorb into your soil. Not enough water will make it to the root system and allow your plants’ roots to grow down in your soil.
It would be best to deal with dry and cracked soil by adding organic matter and adding it often. Also, remember never to compact your soil in this state.
Repairing Damaged Soil
Whether your soil turns hard as a rock, cracking in the summer heat, or is composed of hard pieces of dirt, it means that your soil is damaged and will need more than just rejuvenating.
To repair damaged or dead soil is not incredibly hard or expensive, and with the proper care, your plants will be able to flourish in rich soil in no time!
The first step to repair your damaged soil is to add nutrients and get the structure back into your soil. You can use easy soil amendments like compost and aged manure. You can also buy pre-made compost or aged manure to add to your damaged soil.
Secondly, you want to keep your soil in a better condition with mulch. In nature, bare soil will never exist for long periods. If a patch of your soil becomes in contact with animals or is flooded, weeds will quickly emerge and take over the bare soil.
By imitating this natural process in your garden by heavily mulching any bare soil in between your plants, your soil will soon be healthy again. The best mulch to use would be materials such as seaweed, straw, and chopped leaves.
Mulching will keep weeds from growing aggressively, retain moisture and prevent your soil from washing away during heavy rain. Make sure to continue your mulching season during the “off-season” or gardening or grow a cover crop to act as a fertilizer.
Lastly, you want to fix your soil’s PH. If you have used any form of lawn chemicals on your soil, you will need to test its PH levels. It is also possible that your soil can become too acidic if you are using chopped leaves of oak or pine trees.
If you tested your soil’s PH and your soil is on the acidic side, an inexpensive organic garden lime application will quickly and effectively balance your PH out. Lime is excellent to use in your garden because it not only has properties that break your acidy down, but it has other beneficial properties.
Lime assists in conditioning clay soil; It turns smaller particles into bigger particles, creating larger air spaces, which causes improved drainage. Adding lime will supply calcium to your soil, which is required for plant growth, especially for fruiting or flowering.
Lastly, lime will improve the availability of phosphate. Phosphorus is an essential element required for plant growth. When phosphate is used in the forms of fertilizer, it binds with other elements in your soil. This means that your soil will use most of its nutrients, wasting little to none.
After applying your organic lime application, you will immediately find your soil more easy and fruitful to work with.
Remember to apply the same principles each growing season, and your soil will continually increase in nutrients! Eventually, you will have repaired your damaged soil entirely without leaving a trace.
Soil is often overlooked, even though it is the core of a successful vegetable garden. Growing vegetables on a small or larger scale can be challenging and demanding, as vegetables need all the nutrients and minerals in your soil to produce the best harvest.
After growing and harvesting your crops, your soil is left tired, used, and almost useless for growing crops again. This is why you need to rejuvenate your garden soil and continuously work on your soil structure if you want healthy soil for your plants to flourish in.
Human life is directly dependent on healthy, nutrient-rich soil, as it is the only source of nutrients and water for plants. Not only does this provide humans one of their primary and most important sources of food, but it also reserves water and oxygen, which are two things humans cannot live without.