Growing a garden often seems a little mysterious. One year the tomatoes thrive and you’re making sauce hand-over-fist. The next year you hardly get a blossom even though you went about growing them in exactly the same way. It’s a wonderful challenge figuring out how to get all the flowers, berries, vegetables, shrubs and trees to flourish given the ever-changing variables that come along with dabbling in the natural world of your back yard. The best thing you can do to deal with these variables is to raise resilient, sturdy plants and the best way to go about doing that is to pay close attention to the soil.
Soil is so interesting because it looks like a bland, brown, inert substance, but it’s really a living ecosystem teaming with billions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that work in tandem to create a vital living environment that’s able to sustain plants and animals, including us. These creatures living in the soil affect the structure and texture of soil, and therefore soil erosion and water availability. They can protect crops from pests and diseases. They handle decomposition and nutrient cycling which affects plant growth and also the filtering of pollution out of the environment.
All these little soil critters not only work hard, they also happen to be a large proportion of the world’s genetic diversity. And this genetic diversity needs food, shelter and water just like the rest of us. So, if your soil is poor it’s because it’s become inhospitable to these micro-organisms and if it’s inhospitable to them it’s also going to be inhospitable to the plants you try to grow in it.
One of the best ways to ensure these soil organisms can continue to thrive is to create healthy conditions for them. This includes keeping chemicals out of the garden, avoiding compaction and disruptions like tilling as much as possible, and endeavoring to keep the soil covered with growing matter or mulches to protect it from harsh weather conditions. And to increase its proportion of organic matter through the use of cover crops.
Organic matter is decomposed plant material that acts as a reservoir for soil nutrients and water that help all the microbial life in the soil thrive. It’s one of the most important components of healthy soil and the one we can have the most success in improving. Growing and incorporating cover crops is key to this process.
For more on building healthy soil, take a look at our post Organic Matter Builds Healthy Soil.
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