How To Improve Soil Quality
I am so thrilled to have Frank from My Green Terra as a guest today! I'll be honest here, I have put off delving into the whole soil testing realm. I just tend to throw a lot of mulch and deep-litter, as well as a lot of bunny berries on my garden! However, I know there is a chance that over the years I could be accumulating too much nitrogen!! Frank seems to make the whole process seem super easy though - - - thankfully. Cause this girl likes easy 🙂
This post is part of the Series "Your Best Garden Ever"
So Let's get to it!
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Possible Reasons For Low Garden Production
Are you struggling to get your vegetable garden to grow well on your homestead? Do your crops not produce good yields? The problem may be your soil quality. Let’s take a look at how to improve your soil quality for homestead gardening, or for any type of gardening for that matter!
There are a number of factors that may be causing less than ideal soil conditions for growing healthy vegetables. We will cover the most common problems and how to rectify those issues.
The acidity of the soil, or soil pH, is often an overlooked factor for the poor performance of your vegetable garden. The soil pH is not necessarily an indication of your soil fertility, but it does affect the availability of nutrients for your plants. Soil acidity levels can influence various aspects of soil health such as:
- soil bacteria - Bacteria activity release nitrogen from organic matter in the soil. These bacteria need a soil pH range of between 5.7 and 7.0 to operate effectively.
- leaching of nutrients - Plant nutrients will leach out of soils much faster when the pH is below 5.0. This leaching is dramatically reduced if the pH is between 5.0 and 7.5.
- the availability of nutrients to the plant – The ideal pH range to maximize the availability of nutrients to plants is in the range of 5.5 to 6.5.
- toxin levels – certain minerals and metals, such as aluminum may become toxic to plants where the soil pH is below 5.0.
- soil structure – if your soil has a high clay component, an extreme pH on either side of the scale, acidic or alkaline, will make the clay soil sticky and difficult to cultivate.
A pH determination (soil test) will tell whether your soil will produce good plant growth or whether it will need to be treated to adjust the pH level. For most plants, the optimum pH range is from 5.5 to 7.0, but some plants will grow in more acid soil or may require a more alkaline level.
How to Test Soil pH
Before you can take measures to correct a pH imbalance, you need to know what the pH level of your soil is. The best way to do this is to use a digital or analog pH meter, which will give you an accurate measure of your soil acidity.
Another way is to use pH strips, such as those used to measure the acidity of a swimming pool. You will need to take samples of your soil and place them in a clean jar and fill with distilled water and let it stand overnight. The next day, test the water with the pH strip to get a reading.
How to correct pH
Natural soil acidifiers such as rotted manure, rotted leaf compost, pine needles, home-composted leaf, and vegetable refuse and even coffee grounds can increase soil acidity. Using these methods can be a bit of a trial and error exercise. Test soil pH before applying the remedy, then at monthly or 6-month intervals, check again to determine the change.
Add organic matter in the form of compost every time you plant. This will lower the soil pH over time. Compost should be on hand at all times for use in your garden as it has other benefits than just pH correction!
Other methods you can employ to improve your soil quality for homestead gardening is to add lime or dolomite to your soil to increase the pH level. You can purchase bags of these minerals from your local nursery. Lime contains mainly calcium carbonate and dolomite contains both calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. Make sure the lime and dolomite are ground to a fine powder which helps absorption into the soil. Don’t use hydrated lime, as this has the potential to burn your plant roots.
Adding Organic Matter
Adding organic matter to your soil can be done in various ways, and it fixes a whole host of potential soil problems!
Compost should be considered black gold for your garden. Adding compost regularly will not only help to balance the pH of the soil. It will increase the microbial life necessary for healthy soil and improve the structure of your soil. This is in addition to the nutrients it provides to the plants of course!
Mulch is another important method to improve soil quality for homestead gardening. Use an organic mulch such as compost, sawdust, wood chips, pine cones, or pine needles. Mulching in this way not only helps improve the soil pH as it degenerates, but it keeps moisture in the soil, which in turn is good for soil microbes and worms that break down organic matter and supply nutrients to the plants.
It will also mean you need to water your plants less, so it helps you to conserve water!
Worm castings are another way to get organic material into your soil. You can easily build your own worm farm to produce your own worm castings. Feed your worms organic waste from your kitchen such as vegetable peelings and the worms will provide you with nutrients for your plants and soil.
Organic Kitchen Waste
If you don’t have your own worm farm, you can even add organic kitchen waste directly to your soil. I have used this method with success, although it takes longer for the material to break down than with a worm farm.
Don’t throw away your eggshells! They are also organic kitchen waste. Let them dry and then grind them to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. Distribute the powder in your garden beds and give it a good watering to soak in.
Adding organic matter to your soil not only helps with the pH balance and plant nutrients, but it also improves soil drainage. Lack of drainage and too much drainage can be equally devastating to your plants. Adding organic matter will balance the drainage. In clay soils it provides gaps and pockets, allowing water to drain. In sandy soils, it increases the moisture retention capability of the soil.
Option – raised beds
What If your soil is particularly bad? What if you don’t have the time to wait for your soil to be adjusted by the methods mentioned above? If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, then an option you may want to consider is raised beds.
Planting in raised beds gives you complete control over the type soil for your garden. This would be the ultimate method in how to improve soil quality for homestead gardening! You could consider it the Goldilocks method, where everything is “just right”!
When you fill the raised bed with the growing medium, you can tailor make the soil for what you will be planting. If your crop needs more drainage, you can cater to that! If it needs a higher pH, you can prepare the soil for that.
Raised bed gardening also has other advantages such as easier weed and pest control. It is also easier on the back and knees if you can tend your garden in the standing position!
This is by no means a fully comprehensive list of how to improve your soil quality for homestead gardening but was the methods are probably the easiest and most cost-effective ways for the homesteader.
If you have used any other methods to improve your soil quality, leave them in the comments below so we can learn from each other!
About the Author
Frank from MyGreenTerra is a homesteader who is committed to promoting the concept of growing your own food. He enjoys sharing ideas, tips and tricks around food growing and encouraging others to participate in this healthy alternative to store bought food.
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