Healthy Soil – How to Get It and Why It’s So Important
Healthy soil is the key to successful gardening whether organic or conventional. If we are to have healthy human bodies, we need certain nutrients daily to maintain our bodies. We should get the needed nutrients from our foods, but if we don’t we take vitamins. The soil we plant vegetables in also needs certain nutrients to produce healthy plants and vegetables.
The soil in your vegetable garden could be out of balance. The soil may be depleted by years of cropping without replenishing organic matter, the soil’s natural storehouse of nutrients. If you’ve used chemical fertilizers, the soil microorganisms that play an important role in maintaining natural fertility may have died off.
How can you tell when you should have your soil tested? And if you need a test, should you do it yourself or have a lab do the work? Think about the general picture of your garden’s health. If you’ve had plant problems, have they been limited to just one area or to a few types of plants? If yields have been disappointing or many plants suffer from repeated disease problems or show deficiency symptoms, consider testing your soil.
Results from home test kits will be less accurate than those from a soil lab because soil labs factor in individual differences in soil samples, such as moisture content and soil density. But the more sophisticated (and expensive) home test kits will give fairly accurate results. Cooperative Extension Service soil tests are generally inexpensive (or free in some states.)
The single most important step you can take to improve your soil is to increase its organic matter content. As organic matter decomposes to humus it provides several benefits for the soil. A few are: feeding microorganisms that aid plants and soil, adds nutrients, improves soil structure so soil is easier to cultivate and easier for plant roots to penetrate, provides better soil aeration and gives texture that helps retain moisture. There is a wide range of organic materials available.
The best way to answer the question about what to add to your soil is to do some investigating and then soil tests. Good luck and healthy gardening.