Improving Your Garden Soil by Linda A. Williams
Today I have the privliege of posting an article from a guest writer and gardening expert! Linda Williams is the ower of Windrush Farm here in Farmington, MO.
I met Linda for the first time at a local farmer’s market and she stood out because of her wonderful display of unique products – all created or grown right on her farm. Everyone at the market had the standard tomatoes, potatoes and other garden veggies you would expect – but Linda always had unique things that no one else had. And what was even better was her knowledge of ALL things that grow, and her loving way of being willing to share that knowledge. What a shame when such knowledge is not appreciated and shared through the generations! Part of the mission on our farm is to share what we are learning so that future generations can have develop their own ability to have food liberty! Linda fits that goal so well and we are blessed to know her and learn from her. And so I asked if she would be willing to occasionally write a guest blog post for our website. Here is her first post – We hope you enjoy it!
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "The history of every nation is eventually written in the way in which it cares for its soil."
Today we're going to talk about caring for the soil. Not just taking care of it, but also caring about the soil. There are around seven billion humans on earth today, and we rely on food grown on just 11% of our planet's land surface. Of that 11%, three percent of that soil is classified as highly fertile or highly fertile at-risk. The remaining 8% is marginal soil, which means that it can become wasteland very quickly if it is not nurtured. We need to care about this.
What is soil? Everyone knows what soil is, right? It's the stuff that holds plants upright in the garden. It keeps the wind from blowing plants away. It’s usually some shade of brown in color...
That's about the limit of what many of us know or care about soil. As long as it's doing its job (holding plants upright and in place), there are a lot of other things in the garden that need our attention. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, right? Remember your first garden - wasn't that great? Breaking the ground for the first time; making the beds straight as an arrow; setting the plants in the soil exactly 8" apart... Everything grew and produced so much that you were sneaking zucchinis into people's unlocked cars, right? And the next year, it was still a great garden, wasn't it? Plenty of produce, a few bugs, but nothing you couldn't handle. And in the following years, well, maybe not so many peppers, maybe a few more bugs, maybe a fungus took out the zucchinis, but heck, I guess I was just really lucky that first year. Is this sounding familiar to anyone? Those bugs, that plant disease, the reduction in crop production - if you have had these experiences, your soil is talking to you. It is communicating with you that something is wrong. Soil understands that its purpose is to provide nourishment to plants, and it wants to fulfill that purpose. If soil is healthy, the plants growing in it will be healthy.
Healthy, living soil feeds plants everything that they need in order to thrive and to resist and recover from pest insect and disease pressure. This doesn't mean that you won't have some bug bites on your lettuce. But, if your soil is healthy, your lettuce crop won't be decimated by those bugs. The bugs will simply eat their fair share and move on. Living soil is composed of about 45% minerals (sand, silt & clay), 5% organic matter, 25% air, and 25% water. Living soil also contains billions of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa, and small animals such as nematodes, earthworms, and insects, all of which serve to affect plant growth and health. When we harvest plants or the fruits of those plants and take them out of the garden, we remove from the soil the nutrients that those plants used in their lifetimes. If that's done often enough without replacing those nutrients somehow, the soil will soon become marginal, and finally barren.
There are 16 nutrients that plants use in order to survive and to thrive. More than 90% of the dry matter weight of a plant is made up of the nutrients Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H), and Oxygen (O), all of which are supplied mostly by air and water. The remaining 13 nutrients are supplied by soil. These nutrients are divided into three categories: Macronutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients. The macronutrients are: Nitrogen (N) Phosphorus (P) Potassium (K) Sulfur (S) The secondary nutrients are: Calcium (Ca) Magnesium (Mg) The micronutrients are: Iron (Fe) Manganese (Mn) Boron (B) Molybdenum (Mo) Copper (Cu) Zinc (Zn) Chloride (Cl) (Please note that even though these are called micronutrients, don't underestimate their power. Too much of any of these micronutrients may be toxic to plants and to the soil's microorganisms. Get a thorough soil test done and strictly follow its recommendations for any organic amendments!) Nutrients in soil are made available to plants in two ways: through the breakdown of soil minerals and through the decomposition of organic matter. Nutrient release from organic matter breakdown can begin within a few days and can last for centuries. Nutrient release from soil mineral breakdown is much slower: depending on the mineral it may take many, many years for a significant amount of nutrient release to occur. So you may not see an immediate benefit from adding some minerals to your soil. But if your soil test says that they are needed and you add them today, someone, someday, will benefit from your efforts.