This article is a guide to making the soil in your garden as ideal as possible for what you are planning to grow. A good soil is the number one factor is creating a thriving garden.
GENERAL TIPS FOR MAINTAINING A GOOD SOIL
Regular addition of organic matter is the best thing you can do to improve soil quality. This will improve soil structure, improve water and nutrient retention, protect from erosion, reduce soil compaction, and encourage a healthy and diverse ecosystem within your soil.
If the soil is bare or has minimal growth, cover it with a tarp. This will prevent erosion from wind and rain, and avoid drying and crusting.
Prevent the soil from getting compacted from too much traffic. A compact soil reduces space for air, water, and roots to grow. This is hard to fix once it happens, so prevention is key.
Promote diversity in your garden. This will help reduce pest problems, and balance nutrients in the soil.
TYPES OF SOIL- AND HOW TO IMPROVE THEM
There are 5 types of soil you may encounter: silty, loam, sandy, clay and chalky.
Silty and loam are generally good soils for growing, and require less work.
Sandy soils don’t hold on to nutrients well, so you’ll need to constantly supply it with fresh organic matter in the form of compost/fertilizer.
Clay soils are very compact. The best thing to do with clay soils is add lots of rotting organic matter in the fall, and let it seep in over the winter.
Chalky soils are the worst for growing- they’re highly alkaline, which leads to mineral deficiencies. The best thing to do is add bulky organic matter to improve water and nutrient retention. You can also try techniques that will change the pH balance of your soil.
Techniques… such as these…
CHANGING pH LEVELS
Plants need a pretty specific pH level in the soil for them to prosper. Most will want a neutral soil, although some prefer a slightly acidic or alkaline soil. Luckily there are ways to change the pH of a soil to make it more accommodating to your plants. There are many soil testing kits available at gardening centers, so you can test your soil before planting.
If your soil is too acidic, adding ground lime will make it more alkaline.
If your soil is too alkaline, adding aluminum sulphate or sulphur to the soil will make it more acidic.
Remember that these effects are temporary, so you’ll need to constantly supplement your soil to maintain the pH level.
All soils need 3 nutrients- nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Organic fertilizers, compost and manure are high in these.
Calcium and magnesium may need to be supplemented as well. Adding a dolomitic limestone supplement will add both.
Trace nutrients such as iron, boron, copper, molybdenum, zinc may need to be supplemented as well.
Mycorrhize is a fungus that can be added and helps plants absorb more nutrients and water.
Worms are a gardener’s best friend. They eat organic matter, and distribute it throughout the soil. They also help speed up the composting process.
Chemical pest control is a double edged sword- it kills the bad critters, but also kills the good ones, too. They will mess with the balance of your soil, so it’s usually best to go organic unless in extreme circumstances.
Good luck and stay prepared!