Soil! It’s the answer to everything. I’m going to share some ideas here, and I hope you will too. Let me start by saying that in my garden, we prioritize this way: 1) Earth 2) Insects and other life 3) Plants 4) People. I do this because I’m lazy.
I say this because if you are trying to grow the perfect tomato, then you probably are putting your needs/wants first, the tomato second (because you want to eat it) and earth and insects last. That’s the hard way!
Rich, healthy soil has lots of microbes, insects, worms and fungi. A plant grown in healthy soil will be practically bulletproof. A healthy ecosystem will self-correct for almost any conditions.
To create that healthy ecosystem, we start by understanding the magic of the system. Below ground, fungi and bacteria are breaking down and transporting nutrients and water into forms that the plant can uptake. Above ground, plants are sending chemical signals to attract or repel different other life forms, and to warn other plants. Nearby, humans like me are wandering around marveling at how beautiful it all is. 😊
It is a perfect system. Occasionally we can offer it help or tilt it towards something we want to make happen, but the more we interfere, the more dependent it becomes on our interference. The more we support the system, the more we become plant stewards who harvest, trim and encourage but don’t have to do much else.
Soil depletion is a major planetary issue. Here in America, we are using up soil at 10 times the regeneration rate, while India and China are using it at 30 times the regeneration rate. It is estimated that we have less than 60 years of topsoil left.
Despite what you see in the big box stores, we can’t keep buying soil. How you soil build depends on your current soil, location, conditions and resources. If it came from the earth, it should go back to the earth.
Soil can be dead or alive, and dead soil can’t grow vital plants. It is much like a processed food diet. It may keep you alive, but you’ll never thrive. It’s the same with unhealthy soil. You may keep the plant alive and even get a decent harvest but the true essence of the plant, the aliveness, the micronutrients and antioxidants won’t be there like they should.
Now that I’ve gotten that out, let’s talk about some specifics for soil building:
Here are the two most important things you must do:
Encourage bacteria and fungi growth.
The rest of it is all meaningless without these two things. Everyone has different ideas on soil building. Mine is slapdash and as unscientific as it can be. That’s because I know that the bacteria and fungi will make up for any of my mistakes. Did I mention that I’m lazy?
Bacteria can be encouraged in many ways. Having the raw materials for it to feast on is important, so diversity in the things you compost will help. You can buy something to inoculate your soil with microbes, or you can cultivate your own. A simple recipe: In a big bucket: add rainwater, some high sugar fruit going to rot (preferable one you’re growing) and the tips of a fast-growing plant. I use sweet potato tips because I have so many. Throw it all together and stick it in a corner for a few weeks. When it stinks, spread it around. You can also add molasses. It’s high in minerals.
NEVER, EVER, EVER USE CITY WATER on your plants. It can kill your bacteria and make the system work harder.
You can encourage fungi by making sure there is a lot of woody material in your soil. You can buy inoculants or farm your own.
TO TILL IS TO KILL – remember that the soil web flourishes when undisturbed.
Some other thoughts:
Compost! – Whether it is kitchen scraps, manures or garden/tree clippings, everything goes back to the soil. I’m lazy. I throw the food scraps to the chickens and let them mix it all up. You can get as fancy as a kitchen composter that stirs the compost for you all the way down to a basic pile in the corner of your yard.
Animal manure gets composted separately. If it’s a meat eater, you compost for a year. If it isn’t, google how long. Rabbit manure can go directly on the soil because it’s mild, chicken manure will burn unless it’s composted usually at least 6 months.
Green manures are great in Florida. Moringa and comfrey are my favorites.
When I started, I got a lot of tree mulch from tree trimmers.
To cover grass I use the lasagna bed method. Cardboard, manure, tree mulch. Layer in that order and give it 2-3 months in the hot summer rains and you’ll have a good start on a bed.
Straw bed gardens are a fun and lazy way to grow greens and soil build.
This is how I do it. You can find many, many different thoughts and methods of soil building. Find one you like and go out and make more earth. It’s your superpower!