Do you know it can take nature 500 to thousands of years to make one inch of soil?
When one thinks in those terms, people should feel very guilty dumping toxic materials or even simply discarding debris.
It takes a long time because much of soil starts out as rock. Weathering breaks down the rock over long periods of time. Even though rock is largely responsible for soil makeup, vegetation breakdown, climate weathering, topography and time are other factors in its makeup. In the northern US, we were lucky to have glaciers do the crushing and weathering for this area creating layers of topsoil.
Organic gardening is really all about taking care of the soil for healthy plants. Healthy soil is made up of around 50% porous spaces, 45% pulverized rock and 5% organic matter. Surprised?
This year I added compost and manure like every year, but I added peat moss to help with moisture retention. This also helps the heavy clay soil in my area. Drought has been happening for quite a few years running. I make my own compost, but purchase manure.
Compost is how we can best help with soil building. Our area is already facing a dry summer having lacked rain for weeks. As much compost as I add, it really is hard to keep up with what nature throws our way. Moisture is needed for healthy soil too, and plants need it to live.
Do You Think Soil Adds to the mass of Trees?
Do you think soil is the material making up plant mass and weight? Does the mass of a tree come from the soil? How about water. Water weighs a lot. Ironically, it is air, more specifically carbon dioxide that contributes most of the material making up plants. Trees are largely made out of air, 95% of carbon dioxide. Don’t believe me? See this funny video by Veritasium.
But to grow any plant, plants need more than carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. See my previous post on soil for more information.
Organic gardeners condition the soil, yet soil fertility is only one component of soil quality. Soils can be deficient in needed nutrients, or have poor soil structure. The pH may be too high, or too low. Unless you’ve been blessed with perfect soil, you’re going to have to work to make it great for plants. Gardening is a lot more work without great soil.
Many folks feed the plants directly. While chemical fertilizers accurately meet a plant’s needs, they are not the best for building soil health. In the last century, scientists determined how to make fertilizers from synthetic chemicals to give plants just what they need, but at what cost? There is no fundamental difference in nutritional quality between organic and inorganic fertilizers, at least not to the plants. To the soil and soil organisms it makes a big difference. One shovel turn and at least a dozen worms, robins love my garden. I let the little ones go. Robins hurried in for the buffet.
Soils treated only with synthetic chemical fertilizers eventually lose organic matter and the all-important living organisms that help to build a quality soil. They grow plants but do nothing to sustain the soil. Salts build up in the soil by repeatedly feeding plants with chemical fertilizer, and salts damage the living organisms. Soil that has good quality resists wind and water erosion and if erosion occurs, soils do not support plant growth. Falling rain on good quality soil moves into the ground to be easily used by plants.
If you garden organically, you probably use some of these products to add nutrients, like bat and bird guano, composted chicken manure, blood meal, chicken-feather meal, or fish meal for a source of nitrogen. Bonemeal is a good source of phosphorus, and kelp is an organic source of potassium. Fish emulsion is a good fertilizer. But when you consider the time and money of these additives, it really does get to be work.
At one time I used all these additives regularly, but realized my plants are doing fine with compost and manure and limited additives every few years. I found building and maintaining stable nutrient levels in the soil using natural materials was the way to go, and what is more natural than what is already there? This is because clay soils, for all the problems they present, hold a good amount of nutrients necessary for plant health.
If you want the science behind this as to why, see this Cornell article. Clay soil needs the help of good organic matter to increase particle size, porous spacing and even and balanced moisture retention.
So what do you add to take care of your garden soil? How often do you use soil additives?
Next post, Divide Me Please.