How to create healthy, living soil!

It really is not at all complicated to create an organic soil that feeds your fruits and vegetables what they need. We tend to overthink the matter and often intervene too much. Nature has given us the principles to create a thriving soil ecosystem that promotes nutrient-dense and tasty food. We just need to observe what Nature has taught us and help coax the process along!

I recommend going over to Lee Reich's website and reading his blog. He has been gardening / farming / homesteading for a very long time. He uses the Nature principles to grow an abundant source of fruit and vegetables.

One of the principles is to disturb the soil as little as possible. Tilling would be considered a major disturbance. Using a broadfork or garden fork would be less intense, however, it is still a disturbance to the microbes, whether they are bacteria or fungi. We also don't want to walk on our garden soil because our body's weight can compact the soil, causing the pore spaces to collapse when they should have air.

Another principle is to keep the soil covered as much as possible. We can use mulches, like wood chips or even compost, to achieve this covering of the soil. For fruit bushes and trees, a thick layer (6-12 inches) of wood chips every year will keep the soil moist and provide nutrients to the longer-living perennials. They really don't need anything more than that. When sourcing wood chips, try to find ramial wood chips (RCW), because they have a better carbon-nitrogen ratio. This ideal ratio means the RCW will rapidly turn to soil. You can find RCW from your local tree companies when they trim and chip trees. The tree services usually would prefer to drop off their chips to gardeners / farmers, because they often have to pay to get rid of the chips. I usually pay the tree companies $20 when they drop off a HUGE truck load to further entice them and encourage them to drop off more in the future. Try signing up for Chipdrop, a website that can help you get wood chips from your local tree trimmers.

For vegetables, using compost as a mulch is your best bet. Adhering to the principle of least soil disturbance, it is best to add compost directly onto the soil / garden bed as a mulch and plant right into it. If you are just starting a vegetable garden, then a thick layer (4-6 inches) of compost will add more than enough nutrients for your first year and it will smother any weed seeds that might want to sprout. Every year after the initial mulch layer, a 1-2 inch layer will provide all the nutrients your vegetables will need. Compost is exceptional at providing a balanced release of nutrients to your plants, holding air and water, and building habitat for a diverse soil food web.

Another key principle for creating healthy soil is to avoid using chemicals, whether they are poisons or fertilizers. Chemicals disrupt natural processes in the soil and they often kill the good bacteria, fungi, and macro-organisms. It is best to avoid using all chemicals (I even recommend staying away from organic chemicals) and practice crop rotation. If you have a problem with pests or diseases, you should avoid growing the same crop in the same place next season. Move the crop to some other part of the garden and grow a new crop in its place.

For more info on how to build healthy soil, check out Lee's website. Thanks for reading.

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