Secret to Successful Living - Healthy Soil!
We walk on it and eat
from it ... and basically take it for granted.
The stuff from which we
draw our nourishment and create our surroundings. The foundation
of our life on planet Earth.
Quality soil can happen
naturally. But its based on one main equation: what you take out, you
must put back in.
The ongoing addition of
organic matter and compost provides soil with the texture, structure and nutrients
needed to create a positive environment for plant growth. Compost feeds the
soil, builds structure and helps provide nutrients for your plants.
Soil is a combination
of many materials including:
particles of minerals
decaying and decomposed (humus or compost) organic matter;
living organisms including microscopic bacteria and fungi as well as
larger creatures such as
air and water.
A good quality soil is
a balanced combination of all of the above materials. The addition of compost
to soil improves the balance and creates healthy productive soil.
Texture of Soil
Soils contain a mixture
of different sized particles of minerals and rocks.
The texture and physical
properties of a soil are impacted by the size of the particles. Larger particles
allow for larger spaces between each particles, resulting in a more porous
soil. Smaller sized particles have smaller spaces between each particle making
it harder for air to penetrate and water to drain away. These soils are said
to be less porous.
Soil is described based
on the most abundant sized particles present.
Sandy soil is composed
of large particles which allow for lots of space between each particle. Water
drains very quickly through sandy soils, often taking valuable nutrients with
Clay soil is composed
of very small particles with very small spaces between each particle. Clay
has the ability to hold water and nutrients but air cannot penetrate between
these spaces, especially when they are filled with water. Poor drainage and
aeration are characteristics of clay soils. Wet clay soil is difficult to
work while dry clay is very hard.
Silt is composed
of particles sized between those found in sand and clay. Silt particles are
small enough that they can cause drainage problems. Wet silt is difficult
to work. Unlike clay soil, silt tends to be dusty and powdery when dry.
Loam is the ideal
blend of particle sizes. It is a balance of sand, clay and silt. Loam has
the ability to hold water. Excess water, though, can drain away enabling air
into the soil to provide the necessary oxygen to plant roots and the organisms
found in the soil. It is easy to work, holds nutrients, has good aeration
and good water-retention capacity.
The easiest way to improve
soils texture is to add compost. Compost improves water and nutrient
retention in sandy soils while it improves drainage and aeration in clay soils
Structure of Soil
A soils structure
reflects how its particles hold together. Soil structure is described by words
such as crumbly, clumpy and loose.
Good soil structure means
that the soil has a loose, crumbly appearance. The spaces between the clumps
allow water to be absorbed into the soil and any excess to drain away. Water
and nutrients are retained and there is good aeration. Roots and soil organisms
are able to move through the soil easily, improving aeration and allowing
roots access to nutrients.
Living Organisms in the Soil
A healthy soil is alive,
teeming with microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and yeast as well as larger
creatures like earthworms. They depend on the availability of air, water and
nutrients in the soil to live.
In return, they are the
ultimate recyclers - breaking down organic matter to release nutrients for
root development and plant growth. They also mix up the soil to improve aeration,
texture and structure.
Feeding the Soil
A fertile soil is comprised
of both macro- and micronutrients. Plants require both to thrive.
The macronutrients include
nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg)
and sulfur (S). They provide the main nutrients for plants. The first three
- N, P, K - are used in the largest amounts by plants, each providing specific
benefits including leaf and stem growth (N), root growth (P and K), flower
and fruit development (P) and overall vitality (K).
Plants need micronutrients,
also called trace elements, such as iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu)
and zinc (Zn). Their presence in very small quantities is essential for plant
life. The balance and level of these micronutrients is critical as excesses
are harmful to plants. Compost provides an available, balanced supply of these
Essential Ingredient to Healthy Soil - Compost
Organic matter is the
soils conditioner and food supply. Compost or humus is decomposed organic
matter. Vegetable and fruit peelings, lawn and garden trimmings, manures,
wood and soiled paper are all examples of raw materials which can be composted.
Finished compost can be
applied to the soil in many different ways such as a soil amendment (turn
it into the soil) or as a topdressing or mulch (spread compost on top of the
soil and it will disappear over time). One inch or about 2 centimetres
of finished compost is a good amount to include in your Spring and Fall gardening