Soil feeds the plants; if the soil is unhealthy the plants will be also. Healthy soil also uses less fertilizer and will produce plants that will need less pesticide.
Improving soil health is an easy process but it is a process. Creating and maintaining soil health is an on-going process because plants use the nutrients and they must be constantly replenished.
It’s a never-ending labor of love that allows you to grow healthy plants and promote a healthy environment.
You won’t know what is in your soil or what it’s lacking without a soil test. This is a simple DIY test you can do with a test kit or you can gather soil samples and take them to your county extension office for testing.
Take a tablespoon full of soil from 5 different locations in your garden so you can get accurate test results. The test will let you know the pH balance and several other factors about your soil and which amendments need to be added to improve soil health.
What To Look For In Healthy Soil
Healthy soil should be dark, crumbly and moist. If it’s a light brown/gray color, has a powder-like texture or is soggy it’s not healthy.
The dark color and crumbly texture indicate it contains organic matter, and so does the moisture content. Soggy or dry soil does not contain enough organic matter to make it fertile for supporting plant life.
How To Improve Soil Health
Follow the recommendations given by the soil test, and add compost, lots and lots of compost.
Compost feeds the soil, improves soil structure, promotes good drainage while retaining enough water for plant health, prevents soil erosion and compaction, promotes microbial activity below soil level and promotes air circulation to plant roots.
If you add nothing else to your garden soil, add compost. Compost can transform heavy clay soil, sandy soil or barren soil into healthy soil that can grow plants. Mix 2-4 inches (5 – 10 cm) into the soil before planting, add a scoop of compost to planting holes, and side dress or mulch with compost during the growing season.
Other Ways To Improve Soil
- Avoid walking on soil to prevent compaction.
- Rotate crops.
- Use a rototiller or plow as little as possible. Deep tillage disrupts the eco-system underground and kills earthworms. healthy soil doesn’t require deep tillage, only a light turning by hand to incorporate compost and other amendments.
- Grow a cover crop during the winter.
- Grow plants that improve soil health. Nasturtiums, field peas, and fava beans add nitrogen to the soil and root crops like radishes, carrots, and turnips help prevent soil compaction.