5 Key Components of Healthy Garden Soil
Your most important job as a sustainable gardener is to create healthy garden soil. Here are the 5 components you need, and a few quick tips for soil building…
You can’t grow a great garden without good soil – it’s just a fact. Whether you are growing in the ground or in containers, healthy garden soil is a must!
Too heavy, and your plants will have trouble pulling up nutrients and may lack drainage – which means either too much water sitting in the soil, or not enough soaking in when you water. Too light/sandy, and you may have too much drainage – water draining away quickly and taking valuable nutrients with it.
It is important to find that perfect balance, and while organic matter alone can solve many issues, there are 5 components that all must be present in healthy garden soil.
Here’s a quick summary, according to Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm – along with a few tips for achieving healthy garden soil in your own backyard:
Typically, what we all start with is dirt. That is the hard-packed stuff that is primarily made of broken-down rock and, while it is a very important feature of healthy soil (it has lots of micronutrients), plants generally can’t use it as it stands.
Next, there is the air space needed in healthy soil. This allows the soil to breathe and lets water (the third component) percolate in. Animals (such as gophers) and bugs (such as ants) can help aerate the soil, but I prefer for the plants’ roots to do most of the soil breakup for me. So, whenever I have plants left at the end of the season, rather than pulling them up, I cut them off and let the roots rot in the ground, adding compost directly to the soil.
Organic matter is the next and most important piece of the puzzle to be added to your soil. In fact, this is what really solves your soil woes. Add organic matter. For the short-term success of your gardens, add only planting mixes and compost. What I typically do is add 6 inches or so of compost/planting mix to the top layer of my garden and plant—letting the roots do the digging for me.
And, number 5 (drumroll, please), you need everything that is alive in the soil. Microbes, bacteria, viruses, fungi, bugs, and so much more. This arrives with the organic matter. So, the good news is that the fix for unhealthy soil in just about every case is to add organic matter.