We might want to hold the very same positive standards for the soil in our yard. Soil, not dirt. Dirt, as I learned long ago at university, is what we wash off our hands. Not really the best connotation for the bustling and very large ecosystem that exists beneath our feet. Soil is what we as organic gardeners know to be the miracle behind thriving plants.
If we are gardeners we likely spend a lot of time digging, watering , weeding, composting and mulching our soil ….but how about simply holding it in our hands for a length of time ?
We can connect with our soil at so many levels that are well beyond the physical. We can literally hold our soil sacred and celebrate the vitality we share together. Nobody else can connect with our soil for us – we must do this ourselves. While this may sound like a simplistic concept I have learned that it can be a moment of great epiphany and true grounding. It is every bit a spiritual pilgrimage.
There are impressions latent within each handful of our soil. There are experiences and forces that created it and there is an astonishing myriad of small life forms that continue to build and rebuild it. Simply knowing this and feeling the essence with our own two hands is the beginning of a true partnership with our soil.
Along with this more holistic sense of amazement there are many physical amendments that we can use to create glowing soil in our yard.
Planting Basics for a Thriving Soil Ecosystem
Adding organic compost as an ongoing yearly staple is one of the best investments we can make for glowing soil and healthy plants. Many of us might have a compost bin but might need to find additional compost for our yard as well. Organic compost and manure blends in 40 pound bags are a great alternative. We do not need to dig this in but can just apply a collar to our various perennials or shrubs and let the worms, rain and other organisms work it in for us.
Using 2 inches of an organic mulch – shredded hardwood or whatever you have in your local area – on top of the soil around plants is perhaps one of the very best practices for our soil. This will allow raindrops to percolate instead of driving into our soil, thus preserving soil structure. Compaction of soil favors anaerobic microorganisms which give off ammonia and methane gas. Glowing soil breathes well and it is this good soil structure that create those pockets of oxygen.
Mulch will also hold moisture in our soil longer which is critical during the drier summer months. And, of course, mulch will keep weeds down. It is important to use a finer grade of hardwood mulch or other material that will break down in about a year’s time so that we can add a continual supply of organic matter to our soil. This is particularly important for our shrubs or small trees if we don’t fertilize or compost them. Aged Pine Bark is a more expensive but incredible top mulch for small areas of our yard. This is also one of the very best soil amendments to use when planting shrubs and trees that might prefer a more acidic soil.
Win-Win with Weedy Areas
What to do with those really stubborn spots in our yard where mulch alone will not stop the force of weeds’ joyful exhuberance? There has been much ado about applying corn gluten before weeds sprout and reapplying this every 60 days or so. What works well with less overall fuss is to instead use 3 to 6 sheets of wet newspaper or paper grocery bags that you have wet a bit first. Place that down and then put the mulch on top.
Nobody but the worms and the soil organisms will see this layer as it locks out light that would otherwise germinate weeds. These have an added benefit of also being broken down into organic matter by the worms and other life in our soil. It’s win-win for all of us if we can recycle our paper and cardboard while making our soil glow and our plants thrive!
Grass clippings also provide an effective mulch. The only thing we need to remember is to let the grass dry first before putting it on our garden beds otherwise it will sap nitrogen and other elements from our soil. This is also the reasoning behind why we do not want to use large types of bark or wood chips as mulch.
We can make those micro powerhouses in our soil extremely happy by using fertilizers such as Kelp Meal which contain all the major nutrients as well as the complete balance of trace minerals. You can purchase 50 pound bags of kelp meal at some feed stores. Kelp meal is an OMRI listed fertilizer which stands for the Organic Materials Review Institute. This is a nonprofit that gives certifications to raw materials which are then allowed for use by certified organic gardeners. Every organic fruit or vegetable that we have bought and eaten has come from soil given only OMRI accepted soil amendments and fertilizers!
When we add kelp meal it takes about 2 weeks for the microorganisms to feast upon it and thus break it down into the components that our plants can use. Compare this to liquid seaweed fertilizers that have an immediate effect for our plants. Using a combination of the 2 types is a good idea. If we have sandy soil, liquid fertilizers will be more likely to quickly get washed away while solid fertilizers like kelp and alfalfa will work with our soil more effectively.
We might also want to think about improving our worm ratio. Coffee grounds are a great way to both feed nitrogen to our plants and to feed the worms since worms absolutely adore coffee grounds. Placing a small amount of grounds around plants such as your roses will encourage worms to travel on up to feed, thus aerating the soil for plant roots as well as enriching the soil with their castings.
Worm castings are recognized as one of the most effective all-natural soil amendments, truly like black gold for our soil. Practicing vermiculture is a great plan if you find that the percentage of worms in your garden soil look low. As well, worm castings can be purchased to help gently and fully feed plants.
If you do not drink coffee but would like to use grounds, many coffee houses give out 5 pound bags of used grounds for the asking. Roses particularly love coffee grounds. There is some indication that the fragrance of roses is enhanced tremendously with this extra nitrogen.
We might also want to use the symbiotic partnership between plant roots and the mycelium of fungus called mycorrhiza. For certain plants like roses, some perennials, and vegetables – especially if they have been started in sterile soils – adding mychorrhizal powder to the root balls when transplanting can be a great aid. This is especially good for our containers and there are now products offered at nurseries that contain mychorriza.
Whether we fertilize with compost or kelp meal, top with shredded hardwood or grass clippings, and add manure, greensand or coffee, everything we do will feed the vitality and glow potential of the complex ecosystem we simply call our soil.