Every gardener instinctively knows that you need good soil if you want your garden to flourish. There is always advice handed out that if you buy some bag of this or potions of that it will solve all your problems and give you good soil. Let’s first look at what good soil is.
*Feels soft and crumbles easily.
*Warms up quickly in the spring.
*Does not crust over.
*Has few clods and no hardpan.
*Soaks up heavy rains with little run off.
*Stores moisture for drought periods.
*Resists erosion and nutrient loss.
*Supports high populations of soil organisms.
*Has a rich earthy smell.
*Does not require increasing inputs for high yields.
*Produces healthy high-quality crops.
Raise your hand if you have this kind of soil. Likely not unless you are blessed to live in a minority of places on earth or you have been taking good care of your soil for years.
Good soil is a thing to be treasured and managed. It is like a relationship that has to be nurtured because if neglected and abused it will stop giving and yielding the luscious crops you desire.
When I talk about soil in the garden I break it into two categories. One is the native mineral soil that you have on your farm or garden. It was there before you and is made from the minerals and rooks that have been breaking down for ages. If you are lucky it also has some organic material from living things that are now decomposed. Having 5% organic material in the soil is considered good, but very hard to get and maintain. The second category of garden soil is what I call potting soil. You usually buy this in a bag and it can contain things like peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, bag composted manure and ground or composted bark to name a few. I will discuss potting soil in a latter post but for now I will focus on Mineral soil.
In my part of the country the Piedmont of Georgia we or blessed or cursed with clay soil. How ever you choose to look at it. Clay contains many minerals and will hold on to nutrients for the plants to use but it is also can be hard to work with. Never try to dig it when it is wet because that will leave it hard as a brick and take years to recover. It is sticky as peanut butter when wet and cracks open when too dry. It can be so compacted that it lacks enough oxygen to support good plant growth and is usually very low in organic matter. This is the soil that I have gardened in all my life and the best thing that you can do to improve it is to add organic matter to it. If it is a small area you buy compost and cover the ground with 2 to 3 inches deep and till it in. The other way is to grow your compost in the form of cover crops like clover, iron clay peas, vetch, rye or oats. These crops can be cut down or tilled in to decompose there by adding there rich matter back to the soil. Animal manures and other organic byproducts like wood chips and leaves are also good sources of organic matter. Basically anything that was once alive and now is dead and decaying is good for the soil.
The good thing is improving the soil by adding organic matter works well with clay soils and sandy soils. There may be other adjustments you need to make so I encourage everyone to take a soil sample because you may need to adjust your Ph. Read more about taking a soil test in my post on Soil PH.
The soil is the stomach of the plant and all minerals and nutrients have to be digested in the soil so that the plant can take them up. Having good soil that is teaming with good microorganisms and the other attributes listed above is a joy to work with and will head off many other problems that gardens encounter. Pay attention to the soil and your plants will thrive.