Healthy Soil and It’s Importance in the Garden
What Makes Food Nutritious?
Did you ever stop and wonder what exactly makes our food nutritious? Not delicious, but nutrient-rich. Some people may believe that what makes food nutritious comes from the seed when in fact it comes from the soil.
There are 17 elements that all plants need in order to go through to have a successful life cycle. Hydrogen (H), carbon (C) and oxygen (O), plants get through the air and water; leaving 14 elements that are critical for plants to obtain through soil1. However, soil alone may not be enough and there is usually a need for added fertilizers, manures and other amendments to make sure plants receive the right nutritional elements.
Since soil is a key element when growing plants and particularly vegetables, building a raised garden bed can help gardeners start off right by beginning with a pristine soil mixture. Starting a raised garden bed allows gardeners the ability to establish a foundation with a well-balanced, nutrient-rich, weed-seed free growing medium without having to go through the backbreaking work involved with starting and maintained an in-ground garden. In-ground gardening requires plenty of soil testing, tilling and hoeing – all very laborious and time-consuming work. Versus starting a raised bed garden where you are able to control the growing environment from the very beginning by creating a blend of composts, fertilizers, manures and amendments.
For many years, when Mark and I first began Homegrown Harvest, we started many raised
garden beds for our clients with a mixture of composts, peat moss and vermiculite. The composts are the key ingredient, delivering the nutrients to your plants. Some composts can be nitrogen rich having come solely from dried grass clippings and leaves from the yard. Compost ideally should be a well-balanced. Some local towns and municipalities offer their residents free compost, or there are services in certain areas where they will come pick up your compostables and in exchange will give you bags of compost for your garden or to donate to others. Compost pick up services make it so easy for people to compost by taking all the messy and time-consuming work out of the equation. All the client needs to do is sort their garbage properly. A quick Google search should help you locate one in your area. Consider yourself lucky if you do live in an area that has pick up compost service; thankfully there is more and more demand out with more people understanding we need to live more sustainable lifestyles. What I love about compost pick up services is that it makes it possible for many people who may not have the space to compost to be able to cut down their carbon footprint and live more sustainable lifestyles.
If you don’t have a source for local compost there are plenty of options at either the big retail stores like Home Depot or Lowe, as well as your local garden center. One of our favorites products to use along with bagged composts or our homemade compost is Master’s Choice Bumper Crop:
“Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment is a soil building blend of manure and high organic nutrient content of shellfish compost, dark, rich earthworm castings (adds minerals and biology), kelp, peat, aged bark, and lobster – inoculated with endo and ecto michorrizal fungi to improve root function. The lobster body provides a lot of Nitrogen, and the shells breakdown to release a lot of Calcium, the #1 ingredients that plants need. Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment is an all-purpose, pre-fertilized planting and garden soil amendment. This product excels as a nutrient rich top dressing and mulch.”
Each time a plant grows, blossoms and fruits, the nutrients from the compost is delivered to the plant and the subsequent fruit. Plenty of times we will do succession planting where we will plant something else into a space that had been used previously. For instance, once early crops of lettuces, broccoli and the like have been harvested an empty space will be left. Usually we will plant in that same space something else to follow it up but before we do so we always add back in some fresh compost. Remember the used area has been depleted of its nutrients from the harvest plants, so it must be replaced in order to deliver the needed elements for the next plants to complete their life cycle.
Understanding soil is important not only for being able to grow your own fresh, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables but also vital to understanding more about the fruits and vegetables we buy in our grocery stores from mass-produced farms. I have written about soil before many years ago on this blog in a post called The Importance of soil – our lives depend on it! where I go into more in depth detail about soil. Our country has been in a crisis of ongoing soil degradation for decades. Perhaps the words “dust bowl” conjures up images from a John Steinbeck novel; however, in present day America, our farmlands have taken a beating from mono-cropping and the addition of synthetic fertilizers in efforts to replace the depleted nutrients. Unfortunately, these synthetic additives have made more of a problem for farmers. Fortunately, there are things that farmers can and have started to do to help rebuild our soil. Check out the PSA from Astronomer Laura Danly