I wouldn’t know how to begin a discussion on gardening without beginning with a discussion on how to improve soil fertility. When I teach a workshop, I ask students what they think of when they think “garden”. Most often, the answer has to do with the harvest.
And, of course, we wouldn’t garden if we couldn’t look forward to a bountiful harvest. But, I always encourage my students to build soil because healthy, fertile soil will result in a healthy, nutrient-dense harvest.
A garden with poor soil may produce fruit, but that fruit can’t possible contain the nutrients, or taste as good, as fruit grown in fertile soil that has provided all that is needed for its health.
And plants grown in healthy soil have less problems with disease and pests.
Components of Healthy Soil
So, what makes soil healthy? Soil is so much more than dirt. One of the components is, of course, weathered rock. That is where our garden plants will receive many of the minerals that they need.
Good soil also contains organic matter – things like worm castings, decomposed leaves, and even the remains of soil organisms like insects, fungi and bacteria.
Replenishing organic matter is essential to improving soil fertility.
Air and Water
Soil also needs air and water. Soil without air spaces is compacted and neither roots nor soil organisms will have the space they need to grow and breath.
Earthworms, as they build tunnels, help to aerate the soil. And we can help by never stepping on the area where plants grow, but rather maintaining paths or building raised beds.
And, of course, plants would not survive without the water in soil which is used in the process of photosynthesis and for transporting nutrients through the roots and up into the plants.
Finally, the texture of soil – the size of its particles – has a direct effect on how well your garden will grow.
Sand, of course, is composed of large particles, and water will pass through it quickly. Clay, on the other hand, is made of extremely small particles. Clay is sticky when wet and has few air spaces and drains poorly.
What I want to do is teach you build a garden in a way that the original soil that you have to work with won’t be what determines your end result. This type of garden takes it cue from the forest floor with its layers of organic matter. In the forest it takes many years to build new soil. In the garden, you can do this quickly.
Improve Soil Fertility
If there was only piece of advice I could give to improve your soil, it would be to compost. This dark, crumbly, “black gold”, is made up of decomposing organic matter which builds your soil and keeps kitchen scraps and yard debris out of landfills.
One method of composting – sheet composting – is simply composting in layers on top of either an existing garden or on top of turf with the purpose of building a new garden or improving the fertility of an existing garden. This is really easy and will revolutionize gardening for you.
Build Layers to Build Soil
Setting up a garden this way does require work, but it’s so much easier than tilling a garden (which damages garden soil). And once your garden is prepared, yearly maintenance is simple.
A lasagna garden is built by layering organic materials which eventually will decompose into wonderful garden soil. While it is preferable to build the garden several months in advance, it is not totally necessary to wait until that decomposition is completed to begin planting in the layers.
Build your lasagna garden right on top of the ground; there is no need to dig first. If you’re building on top of grass, this will decompose, too, and add nutrients to your garden.
First, put a layer of cardboard or newspaper down to choke out weeds. And then add more layers using materials such as leaves, manure, coffee ground, grass clippings, and hay. (Here’s why I prefer hay over straw).
For more instructions on building a lasagna garden, see my post Lasagna Gardening – An Easy and Productive Way to Garden.
A Garden with Healthy, Fertile Soil
I had been gardening for 30 some years before I began using this method of gardening which builds healthy, fertile soil. My gardens went from good to great overnight with delicious, healthy produce as my reward.
To learn how to build a garden that builds healthy soil, be sure to check out my eBook The Art of Gardening: Building Your Soil.
You really can become a better gardener, and you really can grow healthy, nourishing produce. It’s all about the soil! Click here to learn more.
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