invest in soil for a successful garden: compost, bio-char, mycorrhizae, worm castings, mulch
Originally seen on theHomestead.Guru
When gardening funds are limited, however–you may constantly be asking yourself,
“What’s the best thing to invest in?”
Should you invest in concrete blocks to build raised beds, or spend money on creating a drip irrigation system?
Is a greenhouse worth the extra expense? What about shade cloth? Heated seed-starting mats? Better garden gloves and tools?
The list can seem endless, and when you just need to grow and eat your own food already, it’s overwhelming.
So maybe you don’t have money for everything. What do you focus on?
Every pro gardener I’ve ever met who’s doing things the natural way, avoiding chemicals and pesticides, will tell you:
Great gardens start with great SOIL.
You can dig a trench and fill it with compost, and grow right in there. Heck, you can even buy bagged compost and make holes in the bag to plant your seeds, if you really need to simplify!
Growing plants that are naturally pest- and disease-resistant is easy–and it’s mainly a function of the quality of soil they are growing in. You’ll get better harvests, and more nutrients bite for bite, too.
One of the most pressing global problems is soil depletion–and we can each work on healing our own patch of land by mimicking the forest floor.
Nobody rakes up the leaves in the forest. Nobody removes the fungi and dead trees that fall down.
There’s a thick, rich layer of organic matter on the forest floor at all times. This layer acts like a sponge AND a blanket of mulch–it holds moisture in the soil and protects the delicate soil microbes and mycelium.
Healthy soil is alive with microscopic action!
So how do you amend your soil?
There’s so many ways–but for starters, use compost. You can buy bagged compost to get started, and after that, start making your own.
A newly started compost pile may only take as little as 18 days before it’s ready to use in your garden–and it’s an excellent way to recycle not only your kitchen scraps and chicken manure, but all those Amazon boxes, too. Here’s how to make great compost (instead of a rotting mess!).
If you’re in an area that’s very dry, consider adding peat moss or coconut coir to your soil. It will be very dry and compacted at first. We use a plastic kiddie pool to soak ours in water thoroughly before we mix it into our beds.
If you’re in an area with poor drainage and compacted, clay soil, you might decide to add sand to your soil, but really–compost alone will improve the drainage significantly, while adding crucial nutrients and microbes to the soil.
If you’re wanting maximum impact with minimal finances, COMPOST is king!
You might have heard that you need to test your soil before adding anything, but that’s NOT TRUE when it comes to compost. Adding organic matter is never a bad thing. You can’t use too much or cause any sort of harmful buildups (like you could with excess fertilizer, for example).
Think of compost like a fruit smoothie for your garden. You can’t ‘overdose’ on fruits and veggies–because it’s just food. Compost is not like a ‘medicine’ for your soil, but a diverse food source that will help it to thrive!
What if you could just put together a compost pile in an afternoon, walk away–and harvest your own excellent compost later?
Self-described survival gardener David Goodman shows us how to do exactly that in his latest video! He uses no commercial products to build the pile–even the ‘bin’ is harvested from his land! Check it out on Marjorie Wildcraft’s fantastic website, The Grow Network.
In order for compost to break down property (instead of decay into a rotting mess), we need a balance of carbon and nitrogen, or browns and greens.
Ideally, you need more brown matter than green matter for your pile to compost-in-place properly. Brown matter is simply defined as something that is already dried out and lifeless.
Dried leaves, cardboard and paper, and DEAD grass clippings are all brown matter.
Food scraps, freshly mowed grass, and still-living brush clippings are all defined as green matter.
The bottom line is, gardeners don’t grow vegetables or even plants–they grow soil.
What is bio-char? It’s charcoal that’s activated with living microbes - and it drastically improves soil health.
Microbial action is what heats up a good compost pile, making it active, and even producing steam when you stick a shovel into it.
However, microbes are like little wanderers who need a place to stay. Powdered charcoal is very porous and gives the microbes a home base where they can be safe and protected.
Adding charcoal to your compost pile is like offering the microbes in there a fantastic apartment complex to live in! You’re giving them a more permanent home than the soil itself; a place to thrive even in extreme conditions.
Great compost, like great soil, is ALIVE–and that’s what bio-char is all about.
Raw charcoal is great to add to your compost pile, but it takes a very long time to become activated with living microorganisms–around fifty years in many cases.
Activated charcoal is also called bio-char or terra preta, and you can create it yourself in weeks instead of years!
Composting doesn’t have to be complicated, labor-intensive, or even smelly–so get out there and make a no-turn compost pile
Once you’ve got your compost, two other things that you can add that will only help, and won’t cost a lot, are mycorrhizae and worm castings.
Mycorrhizae are fungal filaments in the soil, and they act as extensions of plants’ root systems.
They increase the surface-absorbing area of roots up to 1000 times, which improves the ability of the plant to access nutrients in the soil. Several miles of fungal filaments can be present in less than a teaspoon of soil–so, a small bag of mycorrhizae will be enough to treat a very large area of your yard.
Worm castings are a nice way of saying worm poop.
This so-called ‘black gold’ is the crème de la crème of natural soil amendments, and a very small amount goes a very long way in improving the fertility and friability of your soil.
You can even create a mini warm farm in your kitchen or back porch, and get worm castings for free!
Now, a 6lb bag of worm castings can cost more than $30, but you’ll only really need 1 cup per every 4 foot by 4 foot bed to make a difference.
Don’t mix them in, just sprinkle your worm castings on top of the soil surface, then cover with….MULCH!
Mulch is crucial for soil health.
It slows evaporation and prevents erosion caused by water runoff. It keeps the root zone warmer in winter and cooler in summer. It also protects the mycorrhizae and provides a home for beneficial insects.
Remember, we’re trying to mimic the forest floor in our gardens, and you’ll never see a forest floor that’s NOT heavily mulched.
So this Spring, save the big bucks and get growing!
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