Managing Soil Organically
To the uninitiated, gardening seems to be all about plants. It's easy to forget about the soil when there are seemingly infinite variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables and grasses to think about.
However, you need to remember, it all starts with the soil. Gardeners continue to strive to improve its structure and ability to nourish plants. Recently, more and more gardeners have been taking and organic approach to maximize soil potential.
An organic approach requires a drastic change in thinking. You don't use commercial fertilizers where synthetic chemicals like nitrogen are an ingredient. No herbicides or pesticides are used, either. Everything is natural. The objective is getting organic matter into the soil in order to get biological activity (beneficial bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms) moving.
Why do we need biological activity in soil?
To give plants the nutrients they need.
There’s a symbiotic partnership between fungi and plants. Beneficial fungi protect the roots of plants from potentially harmful organisms always present in the soil. Plants roots leave behind carbohydrates for the fungi to consume. In turn the fungi give back water, phosphorus and other minerals plants need. Bacteria also consume carbohydrates, and they are then eaten by protozoa and other creatures that convert the bacteria’s protein into nitrogen, which feeds the plants.
Without good drainage, water and air cannot be properly absorbed by plant roots. Microbial activity aerates the soil, creating space for water and air so plant roots can breathe.
How do we get biological activity in the soil?
COMPOST and compost tea is a great way to get the biological community growing. Compost is decomposing plant matter through aerobic decomposition. View selection of composters. The result is a nutrient-rich black soil, an environment for beneficial bacteria, fungi, and protozoa that can be applied directly. Compost tea is a liquid solution made by steeping compost in water. Start with a compost pile, grass clippings, pruned branches, leaves and other material. That's the easy part. Once your plant material has been composted. Build a compost tea brewer, and brew teas particularly suited for grass, perennials or woody plants.
Harvard has posted a kind of mini-course on this. It includes simple directions for building a compost pile hot enough to eat weed seeds, building a compost tea brewer, and brewing teas particularly suited for grass, perennials or woody plants.
Benefits of managing soil organically
1. Go organic and save water. The single most effective way to save water is to go organic. Organic soil management give plants a greater ability to absorb and hold water, thus reducing irrigation needs. Soil with 5% organic matter can hold almost 200 pounds of water in every 100 pounds of dry soil. A similar soil with only 1% organic matter can hold only 30 pounds of water in the same soil. Therefore, for every 1% increase in organic matter, the same 100 lbs. of soil is able to absorb and hold 30 - 40 more lbs. of water. In addition, the roots of plants in healthy organic soil are dramatically larger and more efficient. Water Saving Tip: Plant native plants that adapted well to your area conditions so you don't need to water as much. Mulch all bare soil with shredded native tree trimmings to conserve moisture.
2. Grass clippings, pruned branches, leaves and other material don't need to be bagged and trucked away to you local landfill.
3. Everything is natural. Don't worry about people or pets walking or laying down on the grass after a treatment.
4. Save money. It might cost you some to get started, but after a few years you'll see the savings.