|In seeing more gardens recently, one of the conversations I’ve been having with my clients is about the huge importance of building soil health.|
A healthy soil foundation drastically improves the health of your plants, and subsequently your health as well, by enabling plants to absorb nutrients from the soil.
Lately I’ve noticed a lot of inaccurate information and uninformed recommendations being shared on social media, so I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned about what healthy soil really looks like.
|This is an enormous topic backed by 40 years of soil science research, so I can only just skim the surface of it here, but to provide a snap-shot, healthy soil is a living, breathing entity and contains millions of beneficial microorganisms including beneficial bacteria and fungi.|
These are part of an extensive Soil Food Web that supports our broader ecosystem, in turn feeding the insects, the birds and the animals (which is a huge reason never to use pesticides as they will be carried right up the food chain, but that’s another topic).
Healthy soil looks incredibly crumbly, and dark, and rich and should smell like the earthiest thing you’ve ever smelled. Other than the smell, it’s a lot like if you were to crumble all of your favourite chocolate-y things together- cake, cookies, fudge, all the different textures, and then mix in a bit of sand and grit.
I can see this being a future science/home-ec combo lesson for kids at home during COVID-19!
|What we are aiming to create in our soil at home, is one that has more good microorganisms than bad – it’s simply a numbers game. Good microbes will eat the bad ones (the pathogens), often produce antibiotics to inhibit them, and they will also compete for both nutrients and space- outta my way, pathogens!|
So adding compost that’s been very well made (that contains millions of these beneficial microbes), or vermicompost (compost made by worms) that you make at home, will not only boost the overall health and productivity of the soil, but will also help to prevent and rid your plants of disease.
These beneficial fungi and bacteria are SO essential because they help facilitate the most important nutrient exchange between the nutrients in the soil and the nutrients the plant desires.
|If we’re expecting a certain vegetable or fruit to be high in the nutrients we need, well then we need to make sure that these microbes exist in the soil in order to hand over those nutrients.|
And plants are incredibly smart- if the plant needs, for example, magnesium, then it offers a particular type of sugar (aka ‘exudate’) as food to attract the particular type of bacteria that carries the magnesium, and so with the table all set, the nutrient exchange occurs.
More accurately, the bacteria and fungi that were lured in with the offer of sugar, are then eaten by predators, and then the waste that’s left behind contains the nutrients which are now in a form that the plants are able to absorb.
It’s all a bit Hansel and Gretel! :// but you can see now why microorganisms are the very FOUNDATION of soil fertility, and why soil fertility is so essential to our health.
|To protect our hard-working soil friends, fighting the good fight, just as we need food and shelter for ourselves, we need to provide them with some water and basic shelter from the wind and cold, by covering them in a blanket of…..you guessed it…MULCH!|
Leaves, leaf mould/leaf compost, bark mulch, grass clippings, straw, or ideally plants that are grown in place just to provide you with mulch and then ‘chopped and dropped’, will all work to keep your soil ALIVE. There’s a simple way of remembering this- it’s a bit harsh but also very true – exposed soil is dead soil. :((( So always keep your soil nicely tucked in under that cozy mulch blanket.
HOW DO I GET AMAZING COMPOST??
Well, so far in the Okanagan the best source of compost is that which we make ourselves, but only if we have some education to inform that process. >> Send me a quick note if you are interested in attending a How to make Perfect Compost workshop – I would love to organize this workshop if there is enough interest. >>
Using a black plastic composter is certainly an excellent way to reduce the waste that a household creates, and it’s a great start to learning more about composting, but it is not the best way to make truly beneficial compost that will have positive effects on your soil and personal health.
I’m not saying this to discourage you, and certainly not to prevent you from using black plastic composters, but only to provide some clarity around the standards of compost.
The most effective compost that is also relatively easy to make is Vermicompost (worm compost).
|Okaaaayyy compost can certainly be bought locally, and for commercial compost I would recommend GlenGrow from the City of Kelowna (this can be bought at the Glenmore landfill), which is made from the yard waste collected throughout the Regional District, or Spa Hills compost.|
That said, remember that the nutrients in compost are a direct reflection of the materials and process used to create it.
So, just to recap: excellent compost = drastically healthier soil = more nutrients in the food = a boost to you and your family’s wellness.
If you have a 1 metre x 1 metre space for a vermicomposter, or the space and the physical ability to make your own compost… or even if you don’t and you know a friend who does who might be happy to do a trade, then I highly recommend giving this a try!
For more information and some fun, short and animated videos about this topic, visit: https://www.soilfoodweb.com/how-it-works/
This blog post was featured in the May newsletter. To hear about more regenerative growing tips, and local Permaculture news and events, sign up to receive the newsletter which I send out every month.