NatureFirst USA

The Importance of Soil for an Organic Garden

By Kat Yares
Gardening Know How

A successful organic garden is dependent upon the quality of the soil. Poor soil
yields poor crops, while good, rich soil will allow you to grow prizewinners.
Here are a few steps to help you provide the nutrients your soil needs for an
abundant harvest.

It doesn’t matter which article you read or which organic gardener you talk to,
they will all tell you the same thing; an organic garden begins with compost.
Compost is simply deteriorated, rotted organic matter. It can be made with
household cooking scraps, leaves, grass clippings, and bones. The longer your
compost bin cooks, the better the resulting compost will be. Most gardeners
recommend at least a year.

Compost is worked into the existing soil before spring planting and can be added
later in the summer if you plan a fall garden. The nutrients from the compost
will help assure strong healthy plants. Healthy plants are less likely to be
devastated by bugs or disease.

Manure is another popular fertilizer among organic gardeners. The droppings from
cows, goats, rabbits, and chickens are all considered to be viable manure for
your garden. Manure can be purchased from garden centers, or if you are lucky
enough to live near a rural area it can be purchased directly from the
stockowner at a more reasonable price. Beware of putting fresh chicken manure on
your garden space as it can burn the plants. Chicken litter is best applied in
the late fall after all plants have been harvested.

Fish emulsion and seaweed extract, while expensive, can do wonders for your
soil. Bone meal is another, somewhat cheaper, alternative. All of these options
provide much-needed nutrients, especially if compost or manure is not available.

After your soil has been prepared, you are ready to plant. If you are like most
gardeners, you will already have many plants started, like tomatoes and peppers.
Once you have them spaced the proper distance in the garden, your next step is to mulch.

Mulching is the practice of using straw, hay, or even shredded newspaper around
the plants in order to keep weeds from overtaking your garden. Most gardeners
apply a layer of mulch all around the plants and in the walkways to deter the
growth of unwanted plants.

For plants you start directly from seed in your garden, you should wait until
they have broken the ground before you mulch. This makes it easier to thin the
plants to the proper distance apart and can allow you to see which plants ppear
to be the strongest. Once thinned, apply mulch as you did for the seedlings.
At the end of the growing season, after the harvest, till the mulch directly
into your garden plot. Tilling will help the soil retain much needed moisture
and keep the soil workable.

The soil in some locations can be so poor that topsoil will need to be purchased
in order to even begin a garden. You can have your soil tested by taking a
sample to your local county extension office. They can tell you what nutrients
your soil is missing and give you further guidance on how to improve what you
have. Generally, there is no charge for this service.

Keeping your soil healthy and nutrient-loaded without the use of chemical
fertilizers is a bit more work. Yet, at the same time, you know exactly what is
in your garden, and the results will be quality fruits and vegetables that you
can eat without worrying about chemical residue. Trust me, nothing tastes better
than biting into a red, ripe tomato right off the vine when you finish your
morning weeding.



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