Green Gardening – The Soil


It doesn’t really matter what you’re planting… the soil has to be right.  In fact… the wrong soil will doom your plants, regardless of what you might try to do to save them.  It’s important to remember that soil has 2 primary components… organic and inorganic elements.  The living elements in the soil include… viruses, yeast, and bacteria.  While some of these can be harmful to the plant… most are not… and under the right conditions, actually help stimulate plant growth by breaking down nutrients so the plant can use them.

Non living elements in the soil are primarily mineral based.  Soil types most commonly used and that exist naturally in the environment… include; Clay soil… where the inorganic material is densely packed.  Silt… where medium sized inorganic material is less dense… and Sandy soil… where large inorganic material is loosely packed.

Each type can be beneficial based on the transfer rate desired for water and nutrients to get into the plant system.  Each soil type has its’ benefits and drawbacks.  Check with your local Agricultural Extension agent about what soil type(s) you may have in your yard or garden.

Since most plants thrive best in an environment that balances water and nutrient retention, most, if not all organic gardening specialists recommend mixing humus (decayed organic matter such as tree bark or peat moss) or compost into the soil. Soil mixing creates loam, the goldilocks category of soil, not too dense, not too porous. Having the ability to balance plant water and nutrient requirements, loam’s the organic gardener’s number one choice as a growing medium for plants.

Soil tests also provide gardeners with two additional soil facts or properties, pH level and nutrient content. The pH scale, is a chemical scale that measures the relative acidity or alkalinity of the soil. The scale is set between 0-14 with 0 meaning totally acidic (sour soil) to 14 meaning totally alkaline (sweet soil). A 7 means the soil is neutral. Of course the majority of soil falls somewhere in between. Knowing your soil’s pH level helps during the garden planning period because different types of flowers and vegetables are suited to different types of soil. For example, many garden references place common garden vegetables in the 6-7.5 pH level.

Adequate pH level does not automatically ensure healthy plant growth in your garden. Because plants require proper nutrition to thrive, soil nutrient levels are also important. Although there are 16 nutrients that plants need, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium commonly receive the most attention. A good rule of thumb for remembering the value of each nutrient says that nitrogen helps leaves and stems, phosphorus contributes to root development and potassium encourages more productive plant flowering.

Organic remedies for nutrient deficient soils abound. Soils with a low pH level (acidic between 0-6.9) can be treated with lime. Sulfur can be added to soils that are too alkaline (between 7.1-14). The necessary amount to apply depends on both your soil type and pH level. Organic fertilizers, including compost and manure, can be applied to the soil during the off season to help build back some of the nutrients lost during the growing season.

Gardeners should take note that organic choices such as these are time sensitive. It takes at least three weeks before applied organic material such as compost and manure disperse their nutrients throughout the soil.

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