We have two questions for you:
Want a nice garden? and Where does your food come from?”
Both these questions can be answered by looking at the soil.
Soil is the source where many foods in our diet are grown. Soil is also responsible for producing and maintaining a healthy-looking garden with lush flowers and plants that thrive.
To work out why something is the way it is, we usually have to get to the root of that thing (no pun intended). Soil is no exception – as the foundation of many different industrial production methods, soil is essential.
This warrants an in-depth look into why soil health is so important, and how it can be maintained.
Why is Soil Health Important?
Before we get into our 5 tips for soil health, let’s answer the question: why is the health of your soil so important?
Michelle Honeyager of Recycle Nation discusses this. She explains that soil health inadvertently plays a vital role in our lives. Michelle says that this is because one of the most significant roles of soil is successful food production.
Healthy soil is a small powerhouse of both minerals and dead matter. These two features of soil turn into vital plant nutrients over time.
The benefits of having healthy soil are limitless. One lesser known benefit of soil health is to help prevent drought. If your soil is healthy, it can effortlessly absorb and store water, which can be used as a reservoir during dry spells.
Organic matter derived from plants and other natural materials play an essential role in maintaining soil health. This is because organic matter helps soil to form stable aggregates or soil crumbs. These soil crumbs can then be used to store water.
Another lesser known fact about soil is that it can help to fight infection. Certain types of bacteria found in soil can be extracted and used in the production of antibiotics.
Soil is used in a variety of different industries, from kitchenware to beauty products. With all the benefits of soil, it’s no wonder that soil health is so important.
Now, let’s take a look at 5 tips on maintaining good soil health:
Chemical-Free Soil Health
Without further ado, let’s get into our first tip on how to maintain good soil health. There are typically three main categories that soil can fall into. These are clay, sand, or loam-based soil.
The Micro Gardener says that one thing that these three different soil types have in common is that none of them do well when exposed to chemicals. There is no exception to this – exposure to any kind of chemical is a surefire way for your soil to be stripped of healthy nutrients.
Harmful chemicals include weedicides and herbicides that are commonly sprayed over lawn and grass. Fungicides used on plant diseases and pesticides for bugs also fall into this toxic category.
The list goes on and on. Even recycling water that’s been used to do your laundry may have harmful chemicals in it.
The best way to avoid the harmful effects of chemicals on your soil is to implement a blanket ban on all chemicals. This includes chemicals that you may use in other parts of the garden. If it rains frequently, these chemicals can run through into the soil and cause lasting damage.
If you want to have a high level of soil health, throw out all your chemicals and go organic.
Avoid Digging for Soil Health
Most of us associate digging with gardening and growing. It’s an essential part of the planting process, right? When it comes to soil health, digging proves to be more harmful than beneficial.
Garden Organic suggests minimizing the amount of digging you do in the soil if you want to maintain its health. This is because digging can interfere with the complex soil life. One way that digging does this is by disturbing dormant plant seeds.
In the germinating stage, nature sleeps until something disturbs it enough to awaken it. Interfering with your soil by digging may cause your seeds to germinate prematurely.
The only time you should use your spade is when you're planting something that requires a bit of elbow grease, like a fruit tree. Otherwise, let sleeping things lie, and your soil will maintain optimal health.
While it's not recommended that you dig deep down into the earth with gardening tools, it is okay to use your garden fork lightly on the surface. Gently aerating the surface of your soil can help to improve its structure, enhancing your soils overall health.
Use Organic Matter for Soil Health
We’ve looked at a couple of things to avoid to maintain good soil health. Now, let’s look at three things you can do to improve it actively.
Sare says that organic matter is inherent to soil health. It may only make up a small percentage of the soil's composition, but without it, good soil can't develop. Organic matter is at the heart of healthy soil.
The best part about organic matter is that you can use everyday resources you have in your own kitchen and garden. The key to organic matter is to make sure it hasn’t been contaminated with chemicals.
Organic matter comes in many different forms. These include kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, coffee grinds, pruned branches, and manure.
Having your own composting system is a great way to build up a rich organic matter for your soil. Another way to naturally develop healthy organic matter is a worm farm. The worms can do the work for you and produce a byproduct called worm castings.
Once you’ve successfully grown your organic matter, simply layer it on top of your soil. The nutrients will slowly release and seep down over time, resulting in optimum soil health.
Cover Your Soil for Soil Health
Our next soil health tip works well alongside the distribution of organic matter. Farm Haven says that covering your soil is essential to ensuring the nutrients are contained and allowed to thrive.
Whether you are growing in a garden bed or container, the rules regarding soil health and growth are the same. No earth should be exposed at any time.
This is because bare earth attracts weeds. Weeds come along when there is earth to grow in, and they will end up doing your job. They cover the ground to protect and nourish it, taking the place of your homegrown organic matter.
If your organic matter isn’t quite ready, you can use a living ground cover to protect your soil. This will prevent weeds from growing in the interim.
Whether you're covering your soil with mulch, a living ground cover, or your organic matter - your earth will thank you for it. This is because a cover will help to stop moisture from evaporating and create a healthy environment for your soil to do its job.
A cover can help to reduce the need to water your soil, and it will also help to prevent the loss of nutrients.
Moisture Matters in Soil Health
Are you struggling to grow your plants? The moisture levels in your soil may be to blame. The Micro Gardener continues by explaining that dead, dry soil is plant life’s worst enemy.
All plant species need water to survive and thrive. This is especially the case if you’re growing plants for food.
This is because fruity crops like cucumbers, zucchini, and fruit trees have higher water requirements than hardier plants like herbs.
If you remember one thing, it's this: having a good level of soil moisture is inherent to soil health. If you live in a particularly dry climate, you may need to consider this before choosing which species to plant.
The less rainfall your garden gets, the more you'll need to water it. Thankfully, the key to moisture levels lies in a tip we’ve already discussed – organic matter.
The more organic matter you cover your soil with, the more moisture your soil is capable of absorbing. Because some of the year will have little to no rain, you need to ensure that your organic matter can carry your plants through this.
The aim is to have continually moistened soil. It’s simple – if your soil is too dry, your plants won’t be able to access the nutrients they need.
This works the other way, too. If your soil has too much moisture, your plants can experience root rot and not have a way to aerate their ecosystem.
Looking at 5 Tips on Maintaining Good Soil Health
Soil is the foundation upon which most of our food is grown. This means that soil health is essential to the quality of the food we eat.
The more you maintain the quality of your soil, the better your plants will grow. There’s a science to it that’s easier to achieve than you may think.
Follow our 5 tips for maintaining optimal soil health and watch your plants thrive!