Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Taking Care of your Soil


If you’re gardening in the same soil year after year, you will want to do some things to keep it healthy and vibrant so that it continues to improve. In fact, a good farmer or gardener who’s using sustainable practices will see there soil steadily improving and even growing bigger with each passing year.

This is especially true if you take care to do the regular maintenance that good soil husbandry requires. Most of this is easy to do and a lot of it will come naturally with the gardening process anyway.

First and foremost, never leave your soil bare to the elements. If you plant from seed, this probably can’t be helped much for a part of the year, but for 10 of the 12 months of the year, you soil should be growing something or covered with something. Wind erosion, sun leaching, and other things can quickly degrade the soil’s nutrients.

In the spring, before planting, cover the bare soil with manure or compost and let it sit for as long as you can before you put plants in. If you live in the northern United States, you probably don’t begin planting until late April or early May. The snow will be off the soil by late March or early April, just before the spring thaw. This is the time to spread that compost or manure over the garden. Freezing won’t hurt it and it will create new nutrients as it works into the soil.

While your garden is growing and you care for it, don’t throw out trimmed leaves or pulled weeds. Instead, leave them in the garden rows and let them rot there. Additionally, a lot of the items you might have left over in the kitchen can be put right on the garden rather than the compost heap.

You can throw your used tea bags, pour your leftover tea and coffee, drained blood from meats, and more onto your garden directly without composting. These ad things to the soil immediately. The tea bags, for instance, we’ll leave in the garden as a bundle for a day or two and then remove them before we water again.

At the end of the year, if there is still a month or two of sunlight left, try growing cold-tolerant crops like some types of cabbage, lettuces, tubers, and so forth. A lot of things can grow in cold weather and even survive light frosts. This keeps your soil productive and keeps it working.

Before winter really sets in, though, you’ll want to either have a cover crop in (recommended) or have another layer of compost/manure ready to spread over the soil. Mulch doesn’t hurt either if it’s finely chopped enough to break down relatively quickly.

Cover crops can include clover, grasses, or any of a host of fast-growing pasture grasses. They’re easy to plant too, since all you really need to do is broadcast the seeds over the soil and let them do their thing. This cover crop stops wind erosion and can be shallowly plowed under in the early spring to provide compost.

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