Growing Healthy Soil
Feed The SoilThe single most important thing you can do for a healthy garden is to feed the soil with compost and other organic amendments. These materials nourish plants and feed an intricate web of soil life that keeps the soil loose and fertile, and help fight plant pests and diseases. They also purify and store water so that it does not run off and pollute or damage streams and wildlife.
- “The Dirt” — The mineral portion of the soil supports plants, supplies nutrients, and stores water. The size of soil particles affects how the soil does these jobs. Sand particles feel gritty and are large enough to see with the naked eye. Sand drains quickly, but does not store water or nutrients for plants. Clay and silt are sticky when wet, and dry into dense chunks or fine powder. They hold nutrients and water well, but drain poorly and clay is hard to dig. Loam is a mix of sand, silt and clay–plus organic matter. Loamy soils are generally loose, well-drained, and are able to store moisture and nutrients for plants. See soil types on next page.
- Air & Water— These essential elements transport nutrients to plants and carry away wastes. Together they make up about half of the volume of healthy soil. Compact or infertile soil may not have adequate pore space for air and water to move freely to plant roots.
- Organic Matter & Soil Life—The “Soil Food Web” of dead plant parts plus the soil life that decompose them make up just a small part of the soil volume, but they are the “glue” that hold soil together. Soil life ranging from microscopic bacteria to earthworms need a steady supply of organic materials to keep the soil loose, moisture holding and well drained. This soil life keeps plants healthy by:
- Supplying balanced nutrients
- Fighting plant disease and pests
- Storing fertilizers for gradual release, and preventing them from washing into streams
- Storing water, reducing runoff and irrigation needs
- Making clay soil better drained and easier to work
- Trapping and breaking down pesticide residues and polluted runoff
It’s Easy To Feed The Soil!Growing healthy soil is as easy as adding compost and other organic amendments to the soil. Use the methods that work best for your garden, and read the rest of this fact sheet for details.