Soul Food For Soil
In order to keep your garden growing at its best your soil needs to be in good condition and adequately fertilized. Ideally your soil should have the following qualities:
- Good drainage
- A deep rooting zone
- Easy penetration
- Good moisture holding
- Balanced nutrients
- Resistance to erosion
Natural Soil Improvements
If you want healthy plants in your garden throughout the year you need to improve your soil from time to time so that it retains the ability to meet your plant’s demands for nutrients. As well as amending the nutrients, you may also need to periodically add texture to improve drainage or to help the soil retain more moisture.
The initial step to improving your soil is to figure out exactly what it needs. Although it might be pretty obvious to tell if you need to improve drainage, in order to assess if your soil needs nutrients, you will need to obtain a home test kit to find out if you need to adjust the soil’s acidity or alkalinity. If you want to test for specific nutrients you will need to send a sample to a laboratory or your local extension office.
The best time of year to test soil for drainage and pH is during the spring. You can add manure or compost during the summertime and add general conditioner during the fall.
You can easily correct soil problems by adding soil “conditioners.” There is a range of organic materials which may be added to your garden in order to improve the soil in different ways. Here is a rundown on some of the soil conditioners to provide natural soil improvement.
Leaf Mold: this blend of composted leaves is easy to make by raking leaves from your lawn and digging them into garden beds. Leaf mold contains potassium and nitrogen and will release these nutrients slowly.
Mushroom Compost: this, rich, crumbly amendment will add various nutrients to benefit any soil type. It will also increase the water-holding ability of the soil.
Poultry litter: this is a great way to add nitrogen to soil as well as adding texture and improving drainage. This amendment also reduced soil erosion caused by wind and water.
Builder’s Sand: this coarse-grain sand is good for amending clay soil as it will improve drainage.
Rice Hulls: this is a great amendment for heavy clay soil. By adding organic matter it loosens the soil so plant’s roots can develop more easily.
Peat Moss: this is a lightweight soil conditioner. It will improve the texture of heavy soils and help increase water retention.
Pumice: increase the drainage and aeration of your soil with this amendment. Because it’s inorganic it will not decompose over time.
Limestone: this chalky white mineral is comprised of dolomite lime, magnesium and calcium. It helps to reduce the acidity of soil.
How to Make Your Own Compost
Making your own compost is not as difficult as you may think. It’s a great way to recycle organic garden and household waste and it will provide you with a constant source of nutrients for your garden and indoor plants. You probably already have all the ingredients you need.
To make the richest compost in the least amount of time, you need to keep a good balance between organic matter rich in nitrogen and that which is rich in carbon. While carbon and nitrogen ratios vary, a simple rule of green thumb is to remember that nitrogen rich matter is green stuff like grass clippings, organic kitchen waste, and mature manure. Matter that is rich in carbon is brown, and includes old, dead leaves, tree bark and sawdust. To keep the matter in a healthy balance, add one part green to every two parts brown.
Don’t rush out to buy a compost bin; you can start without one. Simply start layering your organic matter in a pile on the ground. Keep it to a manageable size; no larger than 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. If you make it any bigger, you’ll have difficulty containing the heat as it decomposes. Add a 4-6 inch layer alternating brown and green mater in the correct ratio. Moisten each layer with your hose as you go. If you’re adding grass clippings mix them with other green matter to stop them clumping together and slowing down decomposition. Keep adding kitchen waste as it accumulates, if you don’t have any brown matter at hand to layer it with, you can always use newspaper.
Don’t worry about the smell. Compost only smells unpleasant when the pile is too rich in nitrogen. Water the pile each week and you will gradually see it begin to sink. This is an indication that it’s simmering away nicely and it’s the right time to turn the pile. To do this, take the outside layers of the pile and turn them in to the middle. If your layers are still looking the same, add some more green matter to boost the nitrogen level. Your compost should be ready to use within 6-8 weeks. If it’s taking a little longer, just remember to keep it moist and aerated.
Dos and Don'ts
- You can add used tea bags and coffee grind to your pile.
- Moisten your pile weekly if it doesn’t rain, don’t allow it to get soaked
- Remember to turn the pile every week or two.
- When ready you can use your fresh compost for house plants, vegetable beds and your flower garden.
- Don't use your compost before it’s ready or it will steal nitrogen from your plants.
- Avoid adding weeds or plants that have gone to seed to your pile.
- Don’t add meat or fish scraps to your compost, it will only attract unwanted wild animals.
- Don't add diseased plants to the pile.
- Never add cat or dog feces.
Here at Kinney Nursery & Topsoil we love to help California gardeners make sure their soil is ready for planting. We carry amendments for all your landscaping needs big or small as well as landscape mulch, bulk soil, and top soil. If you’re uncertain about which amendments your soil needs, we can help you work it out. We can also help you brighten up your garden with our wide selection of trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses and keep them healthy with our organic fertilizers. Contact us today to find out more about how we can assist you with your horticultural needs.