Beginning your organic garden begins with a quality soil. Many people will begin their garden by stepping into their backyard and breaking up the dirt, or by purchasing bagged soil from their local hardware store. However, before you begin planting, it is important to recognize that while every soil is unique, it holds the key to your gardening success. You’ll want to start with the natural dirt you find, add a few amendments (such as compost), tweak over time to get your plant’s ideal pH and prepare to reap the benefits!
One of the first steps in building your garden is to analyze your soil. Ultimately, our goal is to build the best quality organic environment using existing natural components as a guide. And, as always, adding compost to increase nutrients and promote microbe growth. We do not recommend tilling methods, but instead, strive to maintain the internal structure of the soil undisturbed.
Finally, once you have successfully amended your soil, planted your crops, and discovered the bounty your own backyard can provide, remember to respect the land and allow it to regenerate. One way to do this is to plant a “cover crop” – cereals (rye, wheat, barley, oats), red clover, forage grasses – which helps with weeds, pests, disease management and soil erosion.
Building a Quality Soil
Healthy soil can be interpreted to mean creating an environment that allows your plant’s roots to thrive, and which is full of the minerals that your plants need and would typically find in their ideal natural habitat. We never want our plants stressed, searching for what they need, or conversely, feeling “force fed.” Feeding your plants “at the roots” will help with their growth, and ensure that any beneficial nutrients are not washed away with the first rain or watering. This means we never use store-bought bottled “nutrients.” We always want our plants to have superb air flow, water retention, and appropriate food sources – and we want to see dense, complex root growth throughout our soil.
Testing Your Soil
Beginning with your own backyard – or wherever you plan to garden – analyze the quality of your soil. If you are working with primarily sand or dirt, you’ll need to invest in a quality topsoil first. Bear in mind, purchasing soil can be a gamble, there is little way to ensure that what you are buying is free from weeds or disease.
Making Your Own Soil
On the other hand, it is always safe (and good for the environment!) to use your own kitchen scraps to make compost! This process takes a few months but can be sped up with the use of worms, which is called vermicomposting or thermal composting. Since adding compost to your soil is a highly beneficial way to add to the soil’s nutrients, it can help nearly any type of plant thrive! If you plan to garden in a container or raised bed, “building” your soil using the BEST possible ingredients is the best investment you can make in your garden, as a well-maintained soil will flower plants for years.
Testing The pH Levels
Also important to maintaining healthy soil is regular checking of the soil pH. These test strips are inexpensive and readily available. You’ll discover that each plant has it’s own preferred pH range under which it thrives, absorbing maximum nutrition. Abandoning chemical fertilizing and instead choosing all-natural soil amendments that Mother Nature provides is key to achieving this balance and maintaining soil and plant health year after year.
Tips for Success
- It is important to make sure that your soil has aeration. This is the space within the soil necessary for air movement. Now, while we do not recommend tilling your soil, we do recommend the inclusion of 30-45% aeration additives. These include pumice, rice hulls, and/or bio-char.
- MULCH: ALWAYS use mulch to cover the top layer of soil, keeping it moist. A good mulch can be made from wood chips, straw, or a cover crop. By holding in moisture, you will cut down on the plant’s watering consumption. Also, the protective layer will make your garden less susceptible to weeds.
- “Top Dressing” your garden can boost your results. After adding a small amount of your chosen amendment, cover it up with compost or worm castings.