Saturday, 4 June 2016

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Soil and Grow Better Food

There are of course many ways to improve soil and each climate and soil type offers it's own particular challenges and opportunities, however if we do these five things, I think we can make a huge difference to soil health and fertility, and therefore the quality of our food.
  1. Open the Soil
  2. Feed the Soil
  3. Add Organic Matter to the Soil
  4. Mulch the Soil
  5. Water Deeply

I mulch very thickly in the subtropics.


I know that in some places it's not possible, but wherever you can, grow in connection with the soil. Get your gardens into the ground and keep your veggie gardens in contact with natural soil - activate it!  Do this and growing food will:
  • become easier (living soil supports healthy plants which are less prone to pests and disease ), 
  • be cheaper (less external fertilisers and amendments) and 
  • be more nutritious (healthy plants in good soil are more nutrient dense)

All in all it becomes a far more laid back, peaceful and healthier way of gardening. It really doesn't even take that much effort or time to do these five things.


1. Open the soil

I regularly walk around with my garden fork and open the soil amongst the plants, and on the upper side of a garden bed (if on a slope). This ensures that any moisture falling on the garden has far more chance to penetrate than runoff. By opening, I simply mean plunging in the tines of fork and gently levering, not lifting or turning the soil.

Opening the soil with my favourite old garden fork.

2. Feed the Soil

Concentrate on feeding the soil and activating the soil life, rather than feeding the plants.  A healthy soil will be the best environment for flourishing veggies. A few good ways:

  • grow comfrey - chop and drop leaves around the garden, make a natural fertiliser - they draw nutrients and minerals from deep down.
  • add compost when making new beds, and top-dress regularly
  • install worm towers to keep improving the soil from below.

Quick sketch of my little worm tower - an upturned pot on the top helps to keep out the insects and animals.

3.  Add Organic Matter to The Soil

Organic matter in the soil acts like a sponge. Typically Australian soils are low in organic matter, and as plants grow and are harvested, vegetable gardens need it replenished. Compost is one of the best ways to add organic matter to the soil, so is regularly adding mulch and doing the 'chop and drop'.

Have compost systems everywhere throughout the garden.

4. Mulch the Soil

Mulch protects soil life - it helps soil to stay alive right to the very top. It also keeps the soil temperature stable, prevents erosion and diminishes the loss of soil moisture through evaporation. Bare soil has a dry crusty top that is devoid of life. In the subtropics, mulch is vital all year round. Mulch gets drawn into he soil so rapidly, it need to be replenished often. As soon as there is a patch where I can see some soil, I give the whole area some fresh mulch. I grow lots of living mulches too around the food forest areas.


5. Water Deeply

Water your plants less often and more deeply. This way the soil moisture stays more constant and the plants are encouraged to search more for their food and water, helping them to strengthen their root systems and become more resilient to variations in temperature and moisture. Deeper root systems also access more minerals and nutrients deep down in the soil. Healthy plants need more than a cursory spray with a hose.

Your plants will be healthier, more resilient and more nutritious.

12 comments:

  1. Excellent advice and great pictures :)

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  2. Point 1 reminds of something my father used to do when turning over garden beds - he would turnover a row of soil and bank it up to one side leaving a trench then he would go back over with a fork a drive the fork into the bottom of the trench and loosen the soil there (not turn it over) before placing the turned over soil back on top. He claimed this encouraged root growth in new crops and allowed moisture and minerals to rise up easier. It seemed to work as he could make anything grow anywhere.

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  3. I really like the idea of having compost sites throughout the garden. I have two compost bins and a worm farm (in our garage) but I think I'm going to try some worm towers in an area of my garden where the soil is less friable and drier. Will be a good way of getting more organic matter in there. Thanks for great posts. I love visiting your blog because I always learn something! Meg:)

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  4. I love reading articles about ways to improve soil. The soil on our property is sandy, lifeless, and water repellent to boot (our orchard soil is better and absorbs water). I have been adding compost, mulch and watering deeply to improve and have seen worms and other soil life move into the garden areas. My raised keyhole garden is a source of fascination for me at present, as it creates beautiful, moisture holding humus. I even had a dream recently where I was standing in that garden (it is about two foot high) digging around in the beautiful soil and marveling at its richness. I guess I am a bit soil obsessed :-)

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  5. Great post. I need more compost sites!

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  6. I love love love the Worm Tower idea!

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  7. Thank you for this I love getting ideas from everyone. Must try worm towers in my new beds.

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  8. My favourite method is to let the weeds grow. They attract birds and other animals (they'll leave a little manure for you) and the roots of the weeds mine nutrients for you. When you're getting ready to garden, just heavily mulch over the whole lot. You can turn some of it over to make the surface rougher if you like but it's not essential. If you're planting tubers or big seeds you can scatter them under the mulch. If not, wait about four weeks for everything to settle in and then plant out. This method traps the nitrogen and other nutrients in the weeds and returns them to the soil. I use mulch that has stood long enough to be colonised with fungus, which further improves the soil. The result is highly productive gardens that I rarely water. Work with nature!

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    1. Love it!! Weeds are so useful and can add so much to the soil, also give you good information about how your soil is going. Weeds that are seeding go into my liquid fertiliser bucket to make use of their nutrients but neutralise their seeds.

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  9. I use buckets to make similar worm towers, and then I can move them around as needed, and harvest the castings. I noticed how much more fertile the soil is in those areas that have had the worm bucket treatment.

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  10. I'm located in NE Texas (USA) and although I've always had trees & plants all around me, for some reason the location we decided to build our home when we moved here to the country is what I've termed the 'botanical hole of death'. LOL Grass grows ok until the heat of summer, but anything with deeper roots simply doesn't survive. Recently my hubby bought me a Red Oak tree and we're babying it, determined to make it thrive! We staked it on 3 sides and now I'm focusing on just what you're talking about here - feeding the soil. I've heaped the hay mulch in a large circle around it, being careful to keep it away from the actual trunk. My hope is that as the hay decomposes it will activate the microscopic life in the soil. Fingers crossed! I'm so glad Rhonda @ Down To Earth suggested I check out your post, love it!

    ~Taylor-Made Homestead~
    Texas

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    1. Thanks for writing and good luck with all your soil building. Sounds like you are on the right track in supporting the soil life.

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