Healthy soil is key to a healthy and productive garden. When soil is healthy it becomes home to worms, pill bugs, centipedes, bacteria, mycelia and many more beneficial macro and micro organisms. Healthy soil retains just the right amount of water so roots of the plant can soak it up but not get too moldy. Healthy soil also provides just enough support for roots to take a foot hold and grow big and tall. Whether you’re starting a garden new or have been gardening in the same place for years, maintaining healthy soil takes some time, energy and knowledge.
In the recent New York Times article about renown farmer Eliot Coleman, Coleman explains that the first thing he did after acquiring his farm land and building shelter was start building his soil. He used seaweed, horse manure, hay and compost. Land that started with 3-inches of topsoil now has over a foot of “black gold” that support intensive vegetable cultivation. Coleman is known for growing gorgeous produce all year-round in Maine.
Learning to compost productively will prove to be just as important for your gardens success as watering, sun exposure, and spacing between plants. Youth can be a great help with compost bin building and taking temperature and moisture recordings of the compost as its breaking down. You can find some compost resources through our web site and feel free to contact us if you have questions.
Another great way to build soil, and a method often overlooked in the home garden, is cover crops. Cover crops help to retain the soil, lessen erosion, and decrease the impact of precipitation on the garden by slowing the runoff of water. They also reduce mineral leaching and compaction, and suppress perennial and winter annual weed growth. The top growth adds organic matter when it is tilled into the garden soil. The cover crop’s root system also provides organic matter and opens passageways that help improve air and water movement in the soil.