This awesome guest post was written by Aamar Khwaja, Inventor of modgarden (Mod Garden). Aamar is a health advocate and on a mission to see everyone eat healthily!
Last year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, paying tribute and bringing awareness to the importance of healthy soil in its impact on human life on a daily basis (1).
According to the FAO, “the function of supporting food and agriculture worldwide is fundamental for the preservation and advancement of human life on this planet” (1).
We know healthy soil makes healthy food which, in turn, directly contributes to our own health. For all the backyard organic gardeners out there, let’s talk about why soil is such a crucial building block, not only for growing quality crops but also for our own health.
What is Soil and What Are Aspects of Quality Soil?
So, what is soil? Generally, the soil in your yard is a mix of inorganic and organic components. Inorganic compounds include a combination of rock, minerals, sand, clay, air, and water. The organic parts of your soil include plants, animals, and micro-organisms.
All healthy soil contains micro-organisms. The number of life-forms that are found in soil are numerous and essential. Micro-organisms include nematodes, protozoa, fungi, and bacteria, all of which are incredibly beneficial to your soil quality.
However, gardening organically is essential to their growth—if the soil is chemically-fertilized, many of the micro-organisms cannot be sustained. They rely on actively decomposing organic matter of food and energy. Micro-organisms also need oxygen and water for sustenance.
A good exchange between the soil and the atmosphere is necessary for maintaining a healthy climate for microorganisms to live. These tiny critters are responsible for converting plant material into humus, a stable form of organic matter.
The texture of your soil is immensely important to creating healthy soil conditions. Even though sand, silt, and clay particles seem very small, they are a major contributing factor to the overall soil quality. Without human intervention, soil becomes texturized. Frost, wind, earthworms, rodents, and other natural forces create soil texture.
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For those of us who are gardening at home, soil texture is important as it provides both aeration (giving the roots the oxygen they require to survive) and drainage (so the roots can breathe). In addition, textured soil provides freedom for plant roots to reach down into the ground.
If your soil is primarily sandy, chances are there are many sand particles which are generally larger than other types of particles. Therefore, it can be difficult for sand-based soil to effectively hold water and support the growth of roots.
In contrast, clay particles are very tiny and attract to each other when wet. Although clay soils can hold large mounts of water and nutrients, it can be difficult to have effective drainage and growth due to the tightness of the particles.
Common Problems With Soil
With many backyard gardens, the surface soil has been disturbed by construction and other events and has not been restored for plant growth. Therefore, for many gardens, giving your soil a little bit of help to ensure that it is of top quality is an important first step.
It is also necessary to determine whether or not your soil is naturally favorable for gardening. Some soils may be too sandy to hold sufficient water and nutrients or the pH levels may be too acidic to allow for healthy plant life. The first step to any successful garden is learning about the natural characteristics of your soil.
There are many products available that test the pH levels as well as other aspects of your soil so now is a great time to purchase a product to determine the natural characteristics of your soil and what you will need to do to improve it.
For primarily clay-based soils, it is important to add considerable amounts of compost in order to improve the vitality of the soil. Some gardeners may choose to add some small amounts of sand to a clay-based soil in an effort to grow crops easier, however this is not necessarily the best solution as it can cause the soil to harden even more.
Therefore, adding compost and organic matter to a clay-based soil is the best solution even though the results may not be immediate.
How to Improve Your Soil
Unfortunately, there are no overnight or even one-season solutions for imbalanced soil. Rather, organic gardening takes time and effort and many organic gardeners spend two to four years working on creating rich soil conditions. However, there are several things you can do to aid with your soil’s overall health right away. Here area couple key tips.
- Adding organic matter (compost) to your garden is one of the most important things you can do. By doing this, the overall soil structure and biological activity will improve almost immediately. Organic material helps to stimulate growth and reproduction of microorganisms, creating a vital and rich soil.
- Compost is typically a mix of decayed organic matter, such as aged manure, leaves and grass clippings, straw, peat moss, and other materials. It is not only an excellent addition to your soil, but it also provides nutrients to plants as well as naturally adjusting your soil’s pH.If you don’t already have a compost heap in your backyard, this summer is a great time to start one. With materials from your kitchen waste, place them in a covered compost bin in contact with the earth. Over a few weeks, microorganisms from the soil will digest and compost the materials. Earthworms will also be attracted to your compost pile and help to break down the materials.When autumn comes around, place any fallen leaves and grass clippings into a pile and let nature do the work. In the spring, you will have great compost to spread on your soil. There are many compost units available for purchase from various retailers, so if you’re interested in composting more seriously, it might be a great idea to look into these products.
Because your fruits and vegetables are grown directly in your soil, it comes as no surprise that by improving your soil quality, you are directly impacting your own health. This summer, get out into your garden and take a look at your soil. If you haven’t determined your soil quality yet, purchase a soil testing kit.
Once you know the challenges that your soil faces, you’ll be able to deal with these issues head on. And don’t forget, a compost pile is never a bad idea. Happy growing!
- Rodale’s All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
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