I always wanted to know what good and healthy soil is and why it’s so important for growing plants. I recently had a chance to get in touch with a lovely gardener who is enthusiastic about sustainable gardening and growing food organically. Today’s article is about organic garden soil and it’s benefits she has taught me.
I hope you can learn something from this!
Soil is one of the most important resources we have. Unfortunately, all too often, we treat soil like dirt. You may think of garden soil simply as the dirt below your feet. But organic garden soil is so much more! In organic gardening, one of the most important things to recognize is that soil is not inert – it is a thriving, living ecosystem – a complex web of life essential to almost all our gardening and growing.
Topsoil in our gardens and on our farms is essential to successful home growing. Without the soil, we would not be able to grow most of the food we eat. Flowers would not bloom, trees would not flower, and forests would not flourish.
It is vitally important that we protect our soil.
On the land we manage, we should always choose organic, sustainable methods and practices. When we pollute the soil with harmful pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, we damage the fragile soil web. We risk not only degrading the soil itself, but also threaten all lives, including our own, that depend on it.
What is Organic Garden Soil?
Understanding how to preserve and protect garden soil begins with understanding what it actually is. Many tend to think of soil as a mix of mineral particles and organic matter. The size of the particles, and the amount of organic matter will vary, depending on the soil type and conditions in your area.
A clay soil will have small particles, silty soil larger ones, and a sandy soil larger ones still. A perfect loam – ideal for gardening, will have a combination of two or more of these types. A rich, fertile soil will have plenty of organic matter.
But it is important to understand that when we talk about soil, we are not just talking about these inert components. Organic garden soil is also made up of a wide range of beneficial creatures. Some, like earthworms, we can see. Others are invisible to the naked eye. Most important in any soil ecosystem are the fungi and bacteria that help break down organic matter, transport nutrients, and build soil over time. Without this complex web of life, soil would not exist, and neither would much of life on Earth.
The Benefits of Organic Garden Soil
Organic garden soil is a soil in which there is plenty of organic matter, no harmful pollutants, and in which this complex web of life is able to thrive. In an organic garden, we work with nature rather than fighting it. Each element in every natural ecosystem is allowed to do its job, as undisturbed as possible by human intervention.
This brings a range of benefits, both to the planet and people in a broader sense, and to you, as a gardener.
A thriving garden soil can sequester (trap) more carbon than one which is damaged or degraded. (This means that caring for and improving the soil can be an important strategy in combatting our climate crisis!)
A well cared for garden soil can store more water, helping to preserve fresh water. Much of the water stored on your property is stored in the soil, and in plants. So caring for your garden soil is an important element of water-wise gardening.
Organic garden soil can support more plant life, and create a thriving ecosystem above ground level, as well as below it. This can help to boost biodiversity, not only in terms of plant life, but also when it comes to the wildlife that shares your garden.
When the soil is left as undisturbed as possible, and left to function as it should, water and nutrient transmission goes more smoothly. All the essentials plants need are more readily available to them, with less intervention needed from you. So soil care is essential for a lower-maintenance garden.
Organic garden soils are rich in nutrients, which is not only good for plants but also good for you. The food you grow in a good quality organic soil will have higher nutritional content, and be better for those who eat it.
How To Care for and Improve the Soil in Your Garden
A good quality organic soil is not something static – like any ecosystem it evolves and changes over time. It takes a long time to create new topsoil, but just a short period to destroy it.
Our role, as organic gardeners and growers, is to care for the soil over time, and improve it rather than depleting it as we progress with our land management practices. Implementing ‘no dig’/ ‘no till’ gardening methods (disturbing the soil as little as possible) is a good place to start.
Here are some of the measures we can take to care for and improve the soil we tend:
- Avoid digging, tilling or compacting the soil by stepping on it whenever possible.
- Take care to minimise areas of bare soil whenever we can. (Bare soil is more easily eroded, it loses water more quickly, and its nutrients are more easily washed away.)
- Mulch regularly with organic matter, to add nutrients and improve soil structure.
- Use cover crops/ green manures. Cover crops protect the soil and avoid bare areas. Green manures are chopped and dropped to add fertility and improve the soil below.
- Plant polycultures rather than monocultures – creating diverse planting schemes that balance nature’s systems rather than depleting the soil too heavily (and incorporating plenty of dynamic accumulators and nitrogen fixing plants).
- Considering perennial planting schemes, that will remain in place and feed soil over time.
- Rotating annual crops to avoid depleting the soil, and the build up of soil diseases.
- Returning surplus to the system from an annual growing area by composting fruit and vegetable scraps and other organic matter, and using that compost on garden growing areas.
These are just some of the main things you can do to care for an improve the soil in your organic garden. Whatever you do in your garden, don’t overlook the benefits of organic garden soil.
Make sure you don’t treat the soil like dirt!