How To Improve the Quality of Your Garden Soil

Growing healthy plants requires healthy soil. But, as you may know, the quality of the produce that comes from industrial and agricultural installations is falling. This is because of sub-optimal farming practices, chemical fertilizers, and more.

To have the best chance of getting nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, you need to grow your own food. You’re probably already on board with that idea if you’re reading this.

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But even home gardeners working on small plots need to be careful about depleting the essential nutrients in the soil. Fortunately, there are simple ways to return valuable nutrients to your garden soil and boost its health.

Here, we’ll share some of the most effective and sustainable ways you can do this.

How To Improve The Nutrient Density Of Your Garden Soil?

As you read through these tips, it will help to keep in mind that healthy garden soil is very much a living thing. It needs food, water, shelter, and care to remain in tip-top condition. Now, onto the tips.



For Improved Soil Structure, Have Your Soil Tested

Running a simple soil test will give you lots of useful information on the soil quality and the nutrients for plants available before adding any organic amendments.

First, it will tell you what your soil quality is lacking. It can tell you if there are any toxins or anti-nutrients (substances that prevent plants from absorbing nutrients) that you should be aware of and possibly mitigate. You will learn if the type of soil is acidic or alkaline.

If conditions are introducing harmful materials to your garden plants or invasive roots are depleting them from below, you could waste your time without the information soil testing kits can provide.

Usually, adding soil amendments to fix problems is easy. You might need to add Alfalfa meal for nitrogen, use rock phosphate or bone meal, or add potassium (by composting banana peels), for example. But you won’t know what to do if you don’t run a test. 

Use Organic Mulch

Mulch is a nutrient-dense layer of soil made of organic materials you put down on top of your garden bed or soil surface. It reduces evaporation, smothers weeds, and helps regulate the temperature.

Mulches come in a variety of flavors: Shredded leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, pine bark, cypress, and more.

It’s a bit like skin, protecting the carefully curated soil beneath it. It will also save you valuable time and energy fighting weeds, battling pests, and watering.

The two primary types of mulch are organic and inorganic.

Organic is best because it lacks chemical stabilizers that will reduce its value over time. Those chemicals are just one more stressor your plants will have to survive, and you’re better off without them.

Avoid mulching with fresh wood chips. The chips pull nitrogen from the soil to break the wood down.  

Develop A Composting System

A compost pile may be the most important thing you can do for your garden beyond the obvious. It gives you a handy way to use plant debris and kitchen scraps in the compost you would otherwise throw away to build rich soil.

Plus, you would be astonished at the number of valuable nutrients in organic materials, such as eggshells, banana peels, and other common kitchen waste.

Not only will your plants enjoy the extra organic fertilizer nutrients, but your soil structure will become more resistant to erosion. After all, the soil itself is very much like a living thing, and nutrients make it stronger.

Adding or planting green manures like oats or rye will help improve soil fertility when tilled into the soil.

Avoid Compacted Soil

Compacted garden soil is very easy to improve. Many people are unaware that it is a problem. But it happens naturally as water and materials move in and through it. This is what tilling is for.

The microorganisms living beneath the surface with their microbial activity make it alive and need room to function and grow. The more compact the soil is, the less able those microbes will be to perform mutually beneficial life processes. Lifeless soil makes it difficult for root systems to grow.

Properly aerated soil also lets oxygen enter (difficult in clay soil), which is good for almost everything we like and bad for many things we don’t. Also, planting your rows a bit further apart may be a good idea.

It will give you a lane for foot traffic to walk in and avoid stepping on your carefully tended soil. Read about Soil Porosity and Why It is Important.

Leverage Cover-Crops For Soil Health

Here’s a beautiful idea that vanishingly few gardeners do effectively. In their defense, it can be complicated. But using broad-leaf plants that cover and shelter smaller plants and protect your soil structure simultaneously is a wonderful way to shelter your garden naturally.

Grass clippings, broad-leaf greens, a legume cover crop, and clover are examples of plants that make great cover crops. The best cover crops are especially resilient to the elements.

Of course, there is also the ultimate cover crop you might enlist in your overall gardening plan, any nearby trees.

Use Animal Manure

Using high-quality, aged animal manure is an excellent idea that no one will argue with. But there are a few pitfalls you should be aware of. Avoid fresh manure.

Aged manure from predator animals like pigs will often contain parasites that can harm your garden or even make the food it produces hazardous. Learn about Steer Manure in the Garden.

The best animal manure is from plant eaters like horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, and bats.

Chicken manure is good, too, although they sometimes eat mice which poses a small risk of parasites.

Cycle In Rest Periods

One of the reasons agriculture is depleting the soil quality is that the soil is never given time to rest. Ideally, with crop rotation, different crops are not grown in the same spot season after season, year after year, depleting the soil health.

At the least, we should switch what plants go where when we replant. But better still is to have a roving plot that you leave uncultivated.

Change its position each season and let the spot recover nutrients and beneficial organisms. If possible, it should be at least 10x10ft in size. But even a little rest is still better than none.

Consider Vermicompost

Vermicompost contains earthworms. These beneficial soil organisms are one of the best friends any poor soil garden could have. They create their own fertilizer, and they aerate the compact soil at the same time.

The worms are also decomposers. They will eat fallen flora and speed its transformation into nutrients. Unfortunately, worm castings can be expensive. But there are ways to build them yourself for very little money if you’re creative.

Build Raised Beds

If you start from scratch with totally neglected soil, you have your work cut out. This is especially true if a lawn has been growing in the location for years.

Instead of planting directly in the ground, consider building your own raised garden beds and filling them with new, fresh loose soil free of weed seeds. This might make soil testing unnecessary, and it will help protect your garden from hazards lurking beneath your feet.

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