Nurturing Your Soil

By Paul Staley

Spring is here! The sun is shining and your garden is calling you. As you step out to heed that call, I’d like to offer a few basic reminders about the greatest resource we have, our soil.

Few of us are blessed with top quality soil. In our area we have the usual clay soil to contend with. However, by composting and mulching you can improve the quality of your soil.

Soil is a complex web of life forms, and is a reservoir of biological diversity that likely exceeds that of aboveground ecosystems. Adding organic matter in the form of compost is one of the very best things you can do to feed your soil. It is full of the life forms that help supply the nutrients your plants need. It improves tilth, loosens clay soil, helps retain moisture and it smells great!

Apply up to 1” of good quality compost per 100 sq. ft. and work it into the top 3-4 inches of the soil. As a very general rule, the following can be added to 100 sq. ft. of poor soil: 16 lb. of Alfalfa Meal, 6 lb. of Phosphate Rock, 1 lb. of Kelp Meal or 2 lb. of wood ash. A soil test is the only way to know precisely what your soil requires. This is especially true for Gypsum, which is touted as a painless way to “fix” clay soils.
Turning over clay soils is tricky. They change from being too wet to too dry in a surpris¬ingly short period, usually a few days. Check your soil daily by doing a test dig with a shovel. If the soil sticks to the shovel, it is too wet to work. Wait a day or so and check it again.

Mulching could be considered composting’s first cousin. It does the same kind of work from the top down rather than from the bottom up. It stabilizes the soil temperature and moisture level. Mulching creates an area of microbial activity at the junction of the soil and mulch that enhances the soil structure and fertility.

You can mulch with almost anything, and mulch does not always need to be purchased. Straw bales are often available, free for the hauling, after public outdoor events. Most arborists are happy to give you a pile of shredded tree trimmings.
Good soil will grow good plants. Take the time to make your soil the best it can be.

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