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Soil is one of our most vital natural resources and we need to protect it now more than ever. What we have failed to recognize in the past is the fragility of our soil and that without it, we jeopardize all human life.
For the entire existence of mankind, we have been completely dependent on soil for growing our crops for our survival. While traditionally we treated our soil with respect and used it without compromising its nutrient value, we began to see this change during the 20th century as a result of industrial farming practices. As human populations increased and industries prevailed, there was a boom in technology that was necessary to meet the increasing demands of our food.
New farming methods and technology were created to maximize the efficiency of agriculture. This came with a huge success at first, as we were able to significantly increase the amount of food that we could grow. While this was groundbreaking at the time, we began to see the adverse effects of these new methods on our soil. The industrial farming complex’s methods were leading to massive amounts of land degradation and soil infertility, which led to damaging effects to land areas that have made growing food impossible for hundreds of years.
As we realized that we were jeopardizing one of our planet’s most vital natural resources and through that the majority of our food production, it became clear that immediate changes needed to be made to how we treat our soil. This experience taught humanity a lesson, that protecting our soil is absolutely vital for securing our food supply for generations to come, which is why there are strict policies in place now which regulate farmer’s growing techniques to ensure that no serious risk of land degradation takes place.
What Is Soil?
When we look at soil, it can be hard to imagine that we are actually looking at a living ecosystem that is filled with millions of living organisms. These organisms, in combination with various gases and minerals, work together to create the compound that is necessary for growing our plants and our food.
A common mistake that many people make is to associate any ground material such as dirt or clay with soil. While these materials may exist within soil to some degree, they on their own are not capable of growing plants and are essentially lifeless.
It’s important to understand that while soil is a resource that is quite abundant on our planet, it is also extremely fragile and can lose its ability to grow plants if not cared for properly. While there are often environmental factors that are outside of our control that can sabotage soil, the majority of land degradation is still caused by humans.
Given that soil is in so many ways an ecosystem that is full of life, we need to understand that our actions greatly influence the health of this ecosystem. By disrupting just one component of soil, we end up putting the entire ecosystem at risk, which would result in the soil be unusable for further gardening.
Luckily, there is so much that we can do to take care of the soil in our gardens by implementing some sustainable practices that encourage soil fertility. To help you understand how to keep your garden healthy, we are going to share some techniques and procedures for using and maintaining soil.
How To Use Soil
While gardening and using soil is not necessarily rocket science, there are certainly some dos and don'ts with this hobby that you are going to want to be well aware of to get the best possible results from your garden. The first thing you are going to want to do is get your hands on some nutrient-dense soil to lay out into your garden.
Gardening is a hobby that has been around forever and is still so widely practiced by people today, which is going to make having access to soil very easy and practical. You can buy soil from a landscaping company or simply just at your local nursery. Before you go buy just any soil, you should try to consider what specifically you want to plant in your garden.
The reason for this is that not all soils are equal in nutrient value and will likely have materials that differ in each type. When you are assessing your soil options you will find classification numbers that indicate the type of soil that it is and what nutrients it holds. As you decide which plants or crops you want to grow, you will see that seed packages will also have a classification number to help you identify which soil will suit your plants best. What you want to do is ideally match the number classifications so that you can get the healthiest plants possible.
If you are on a budget, you are in luck! As gardening is a relatively affordable hobby and you will not have to break the bank to get your hands on some quality soil, as you can buy a 40lb sack for just $5. Next, you should consider how big your garden is so that you know how much soil you will ultimately need to buy. If you have got an average-sized garden patch, a single 40lb sack should get the job done just fine. However, if you have a relatively large patch, you should probably get a few sacks. If you end up getting too much, you can always store your soil and use it for a future patch.
Once you have got your soil, you are going to want to find a good spot for your patch, which ideally should have a healthy amount of daily sunlight. Before you begin pouring your soil out on your patch, be sure to clear it of any unwanted materials and debris such as rocks and twigs. As you begin to pour out your soil, try to get a nice even mix that spreads across the entire patch. You want to ideally have about 3 inches of soil on the surface from the ground.
Next, you want to grab a shovel and dig roughly 6 inches deep - getting roughly 3 inches below the ground so that you can mix the dirt and soil together. You are likely planting either seeds or clones into your garden patch. If you are using seeds, place them evenly in rows just below the surface of the soil so that they can properly germinate. If you are using potted clones, remove them from their containers and place them evenly into holes that are appropriate for each plant. Finally, watering the area lightly will help the plants take hold so that they can begin rooting themselves.
If you want to ensure that your soil stays healthy and fertile, you are going to want to put in the effort to maintain it. While soil does have a lot of regenerative properties to it, going the extra mile to give it the attention that it needs is going to be essential for having a beautiful and healthy garden.
Luckily, there are some amazing techniques that you can implement into your garden that let your soil and your plants thrive. Let’s take a closer look at how to maintain soil.
For as long as we have been growing food and plants, we have implemented crop rotation into the process. This simple yet highly effective gardening technique is vital for keeping your soil packed with nutrients.
While this is a traditional gardening method, its mainstream use was actually abandoned by Big Agro during the rise of industrial farming due to its perceived inefficiency. This led to massive amounts of land degradation and soil infertility that left massive amounts of lands unsuitable for growing plants or food. After this failure, we began to practice crop rotation once again and have learned that this is a mandatory approach for maintaining healthy soil.
Crop rotation is very straightforward and is carried out by changing the location of each of your plants on an annual or semi-annual basis. The reason that this is so important is that it encourages a balanced consumption of soil nutrients by your plants. Specific plants will prefer to consume specific nutrients from your soil. If you fail to rotate your crops, your plants will exhaust the soil by draining this nutrient, which disrupts the balance of the entire ecosystem. By utilizing crop rotation, you can prevent this from occurring so that you can increase the lifespan of your soil.
Another highly effective approach for maintaining your soil is to add fertilizer to it. Fertilizer is a compound that is made of specific types of nutrients that will benefit the fertility of your soil.
What you may find is that some soil mixtures actually have fertilizer already mixed in them, which would be indicated in the classification type marked by a numbered code. However, you may be using soil that does not have any fertilizer mixed into it, in which case you are going to want to buy some. As you pick your fertilizer, try to find one that is best suited for the plants that you are going to grow. If you are having a hard time finding the right one, you can always ask for some advice from someone at your local nursery.
What you may want to be aware of is that fertilizer will be either organic or nonorganic. While both will get the job done, you should consider that natural fertilizers will tend to be more healthy for your soil and your plants. An organic fertilizer will be a mixture of natural materials that have been designed for optimum results. Whereas a nonorganic fertilizer will be chemical-based and may have adverse effects on the long-term health of your soil.
To use fertilizer, simply sprinkle some of it on the soil around your plants and lightly mix it in, which should then be followed by water. If you are using a liquid-based fertilizer you can add some in the next time that you are watering.
An important aspect of soil health and fertility is air temperature. The temperature of the air can greatly influence the condition of your garden, as all plants have a comfort zone when it comes to optimum growing.
The temperature of the air can mean that your plants could be receiving too much heat, which would result in them withering and dying or they could receive not enough and they could freeze. In addition to how air temperature affects your actual plants, it could also have a lot of adverse effects on the nutrients within your soil.
The most important aspect of this is tied to how air temperature will affect the temperature of the soil. Soil will insulate temperature much better than air will and while it is harder to influence the temperature of soil than air, the soil will also hold onto hot or cold for longer periods of time. If the soil temperature is too hot, then your seeds will not be able to properly germinate and grow. Whereas if the soil temperature gets too low, you risk jeopardizing the microorganisms that exist in the soil.
To get the best results from your garden you are going to want to maintain the air temperature by strategically approaching your planting. Let’s take a closer look at how to maintain air temperature.
Maintaining Air Temperature
When it comes to air temperature, you really have no control of what it will actually be unless you are growing inside your home. However, for outdoor gardening, you are going to want to implement a couple of strategies to ensure that the air temperature does not sabotage your garden. Here’s how!
Mulch is an organic or inorganic material that is placed on top of soil to help it retain moisture and regulate air temperature. The materials that mulch is made out of can vary, but here are some common examples:
- Dried Leaves
Given that you want to keep your soil temperature balanced, you can apply mulch to the top of your soil so that it acts as a barrier between your soil and the outside air temperature. This can be especially useful if you are gardening in a region that has either extreme heat or cold conditions.
By placing mulch on top of your soil, you are protecting its nutrients from adverse air temperatures that could jeopardize its fertility.
As mentioned above, plants prefer certain climates over others, which means that air temperature can affect the health of your plants.
Before you begin planting your garden, you want to reflect on the kind of air temperature and fluctuation that your area gets. You should try to always select plants that are suitable for the air temperature of your region.
If you live somewhere that has relatively stable seasons year-round with mild winters and balanced summers, then you will find that air temperature should not be a major concern for you.
However, if you live somewhere that experiences extreme air temperatures (high or low), you will want to be more strategic with what you plant and when you plant it. Pick plants that are ideal for your climate and always plant them in accordance with the recommended season. This way you can maintain air temperature in your garden through selective planting.