We are only just learning about the magic of our soil I am so excited to learn more!
Healthy soil is made up of mineral particles, organic matter, air, water and living organisms. These ingredients interact with each other in amazing ways to form one of the earths most incredible resources. We need soil for nutrient dense food, to filter water, regulate the earth climate, and store carbon.
The living organisms- the worms, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoa in our soil play a vital role in getting nutrients to plants. They also move around in our soils creating air, pooing and eating and doing their good work. There are over 6 billion wee wee critters in one teaspoon of healthy soil!!
It is our job as Gardeners to help build and protect soil and restore the natural cycles to maintain this precious treasure.
Fortunately for us it’s not very hard to do this and is mutually beneficial. All it takes is a change in thinking and a bit of our presence and thought-fullness.
We can start by limiting mechanical tillage. This messes with the clever natural structure of our soil and is a massive "disturbance' event to our soil, disrupting all the natural systems already in place and ultimately causing compaction.
We can kill off any grass or weeds by using cardboard sheet mulching or by laying down tarps, polythene anything that limits light for a few months.
Instead of mechanical tillage like rotary hoeing we can aerate and open up our soil with a deep tined fork like a Broad Fork rather than turning it over.
The next thing is to give nature a helping hand by returning all the organic matter we have taken away! We can do this by adding heaps of compost, animal poo, leaves, straw, anything to help add particles of different sizes. Think about what the forest floor looks like, no dirt there! We want to emulate this.
Using a natural rock dust mineral fertiliser like Fodda or Environmental Fertilisers "Natures Garden" and Kiwichar biochar and seaweed, comfrey, fish and other liquid fertilisers we put the minerals back into the soil. So, the biology can use it and break and it down and get it to the plants so that they are strong and healthy. Synthetic fertilisers bypass this process and plants become reliant on it.
We need to provide enough water for our soil and also design our gardens so that water is held within them. We do this through shaping our beds (swales) to stop run off and also, again adding organic matter and carbon which act like sponges, storing water underground.
The most important stage to all this is to then cover our beautiful soil! We need to Mulch Mulch and Mulch again!! With just about whatever you have got…. I love to use old baylage/silage as the weed seeds have been fermented and don’t germinate like hay does. We can use pea, oat, barley straw leaves, cut up green waste from your garden, corn stalks, oats stalks, cut back trimmings from your herbs, weeds that haven’t gone to seed, non-permanent weed matt, woodchip, sawdust on your paths and around your fruit trees.
If we cover the soil the biology isn’t damaged by the sun, rain and wind, it will hide away deep in the ground where our vege roots don’t get to if left exposed. If we cover it all the clever magic will be happening right at the top of the soil right where we need it!
We can also cover the soil of course by closely planting lots of plants- called biointensive planting! Then we get lots food and protect the soil as well! It is important for soil to have plants growing in it as this provides the needed sugars for the soil through photosynthesis.
So as you can see, soil is our friend, we need to grow build and protect it to not only easily grow healthy nutrient dense food but to help save the earth and ourselves!