Soil: The Foundation

If you prefer to garden yourself because you like saving money, or just want something significantly healthier than shop bought fruit and vegetables, then of course, organic gardening is the way to go. Not only can you monitor the health of the plants and soil yourself, you also decide what goes into the soil and thus, what you get out. Healthy soil, sunlight and water are the basis for health beyond imagining!

NOURISH THE SOIL

The year I started my garden, I got a truckload of aged horse manure delivered by my local farmer. This, and other organic matter, adds beneficial microorganisms that aerate the soil, allowing plant roots to grow and take in water and nutrients. The healthier the soil, the more it will fend off plant diseases and pests: It’s a win/win starting place for growing organically.

To make your own fertilizer, start a compost pile for food scraps such as egg shells, mussel shells, and vegetable/fruit peels, etc. — no meat please. You don’t need much room to start composting; and you can even buy a convenient contained compost bin that will keep out animals and diminish any unpleasant odors. To this pile, frequently add grass clippings and leaves, and turn the mixture with a garden fork. As it ages and decomposes, what you will get in return is a dark, rich soil we call “black gold.” My compost pile doesn’t produce a lot of this, but it makes me feel good to compost food scraps and green waste and watch it transform into food for the earth.

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Protect Your Soil

If you live somewhere with a cold winter, it’s important to protect your soilfrom the elements. In the fall, since we are in New England, I rake up the leaves and let the leaf shredder cut them up into bits, which I spread all over the garden soil for the long winter sleep. As an alternative, you can buy a big bag of a cover-crop seeds, such as winter rye (an alternative to spreading mulched leaves on the garden). Rake the soil to loosen it, just a little, and then broadcast (toss) the cover-crop seeds all over the garden, using a rake to lightly work them into the dirt. Cover crops are a great method for improving the structure of garden soil. They are another way nature works to help us keep our gardens organic, plus they are lovely to look at. If I have planted a cover crop, and it’s not too cold, it will grow a little, then die back for the winter sleep, emerging as a field of green come spring. When the soil is warm enough to be planted, gently turn the crop back into the soil so as not to disturb it too much.

Because I know the importance of fluffy, healthy soil, I don’t want to compact it by stepping, standing, or walking on the areas where the plants will grow. So, I have created pathways around mini-garden patches and raised beds that are a size I can easily reach into to pull the occasional weed or pluck a ready-to-eat tomato. Weeds are kept at bay in the paths by laying down old newspaper (black-and-white only) and covering it with wood-chip mulch — though you can make a pathway from bricks, flat rocks, or gravel. If you prefer grass paths, make sure they are wide enough to push the mower through occasionally. Seedless straw can also be laid on the pathways and around the plants (leaving room around stems). It looks great and keep weeds down. Add another layer of protection by surrounding your garden with a small fence, it will help keep out, small hungry animals.

 

Healthy and nutritious soil is the foundation of any gardening, but is especially important in growing your own vegetables or fruit, “what you put in is what you get out” has never been so true. There are many other ways of keeping your soil healthy, including companion planting and crop rotation, all which when used with organic compost, which is very easy to do yourself too, and other methods of organic gardening, will produce not only healthy plants, but healthy food at very little (or none at all) cost to you.

Following these basic steps for starting your own organic garden will not only benefit your plants in the short run, but in the long run benefit your wallet, whether it’s a healthier lifestyle due to better nutrition, or even enabling you to grow your own monthly vegetable grocery list in your back yard, and let’s not forget the work out!

For more information on starting your own organic garden, click here www.marthastewart.com/1109142/start-organic-gardening and you’re only a few steps away from a healthier you.

 

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