The beginning of a new year always inspires us to make resolutions for change, most of which fall by the wayside within a few days, more often than not. However, if you’re a gardener there is one resolution that you should make (and keep). It’s the best gardening resolution you can make, it’s very easy to keep, and it will benefit you for years to come.
So what is this resolution?
This resolution is surprisingly simple, yet has a large impact on your garden. However, many people overlook it or don’t really pay much attention to it. So what is it really?
Well it’s this. Commit to feeding your garden soil regularly. The soil feeds the plants and if you want well-nourished, healthy, productive plants, you must first feed the soil.
Why Feed the Soil
The soil has a finite amount of nutrients and minerals. The plants use whatever the soil offers during the growing season and then the soil has nothing left to give, because it is depleted. Unless you have really rich soil (but even then), multiple growing cycles can and will deplete the soil; most areas are either poor to moderate at best.
It must be replenished before the soil can support healthy plant life again. If seeds are planted in soil, then it has been depleted of nutrients. The plants will be weak and unproductive. Eventually, the soil will stop supporting plant life altogether and not even weeds will be able to grow in it.
What to Feed the Soil
Any type of organic matter, especially compost or well-aged animal manure, is the ideal soil food. Organic matter will increase the fertility of the soil, improve the soil structure, help prevent erosion, and encourage the development of a bio-diverse sub-culture within the garden to continuously improve the soil.
What are good soil foods?
- Compost – Can easily be made from kitchen scraps and waste vegetable matter. To reduce acidity of the compost, you may add 1 pound of lime fertilizer to 10 pounds of dry plant waste like leaves, or a quarter pound to green leaves and stems that have not yet decayed.
- Manure – Not a widely available for the average gardener, but manure makes for excellent soil feed. Phosphate can be added to manure to improve the phosphorus content, which is typically low.
- Green manure/cover crop – By growing a short term cover crop which is plowed over later, the uprooted plants serve as fertilizer for the subsequent plantings. Common green manure crops include the cowpea, clover, soybean, groundnuts, and radish.
Synthetic fertilizers will only provide a short-term boost of nutrition to plants, and then it’s gone. It leaves nothing behind in the soil, except chemicals, that will cause more harm than good to the environment. It’s a bit like glucose drinks, which only provides sugar to the body for short term energy, but nothing else.
The main elements in fertilizer are the NPK protocol (nitrogen/phosphorus/kalium – otherwise known as potassium). Fertilizers are usually labeled in a numeric format like 12-12-12, which simply means it contains 12 percent nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively.
How to Feed the Soil
Fertilization should always be conducted before planting, and then later, additions can be added as needed. Most people won’t have their soil lab tested to determine the nutrient composition, but if you do, it can provide great insight into your soil and you will know what exactly to feed it. A simple soil pH test which anyone can do is also very helpful. Sometimes, the soil could be more acidic or alkaline then normal, and that is when you should apply either lime (alkaline) or sulfur (acidic) to adjust the pH.
The general fertilizer guideline is to add 1 pound fertilizer to each 100 square feet. You can add the feed to the soil right before plowing it. After turning the garden soil, add 2-4 inches of compost within the top 4 inches of soil, and lightly turn it under. Animal manure, wood ashes, shredded leaves, and other organic matter can be added at this time too. This will feed the soil so it can feed whatever you plant in the garden.
Continue adding more organic matter, like mulch and compost, on top of the soil throughout the growing season to keep it well-fed for your plants. And get ready to reap the benefits of feeding your soil!
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