What is your garden soil like? Is it rich loamy soil or sandy? No matter what your soil’s structure may be, you can improve it by the addition of organic matter. Last year we made some new compost bins. After filling them all season we will now empty them into our vegetable garden. The rich compost will greatly improve the soil.
How does that work? In the process of decay, formerly living things give up the substances from which they were built so that other living things can use them. In the soil, with the aid of bacteria and fungi, plant and animal matter decomposes into a substance called humus. Humus bonds soil particles together with spaces through which water and air can pass. Organic mater also moderates the soil’s temperature and contains important nutritional elements, which our gardens need.
You may not have your own compost pile yet, but there are many kinds of organic soil additions you can use.
Animal Manure - Manures from farm animals are popular soil amendments. They must be sufficiently decomposed or they will harm your plants. Well-rotted manure is odorless and looks like dark soil. Farmers often have piles of it that they would like to get rid of. Or they may be willing to sell it to you for much less than it would cost to buy in a bag.
Plant Humus - As mentioned above this is the term for decomposed plant material. Peat moss is a from of plant humus. Grass clippings are another form. If you use grass clippings on your vegetable garden, make sure they are herbicide and insecticide-free.
Cover Crops - Cover crops sole purpose is to provide organic matter. Rather than being grown for harvest, they are tilled under so they can enrich the soil. Buckwheat and winter rye are especially good at smothering weeds, and members of the pea family, such as clovers, vetches and alfalfa are best at enriching the soil. If you have a large garden cover crops are especially useful, as they eliminate the need for carting in large quantities of soil amendment.
Another good way to add organic matter and nutrients to your soil is through composting. Composting is like making a big casserole of organic matter that you put together yourself. Usually you have some sort of enclosed area, a bin or other container. You mix an equal amount of green and brown matter and let it sit. The decomposing matter needs warmth, moisture and air to make the decomposition happen.