If you own a garden or small farm, you no doubt know the benefit of giving plants access to good quality soil. While your soil type plays a significant role in how well your plants develop–for example, clay and sandy soil can be difficult to work with–you can always improve your soil to make it a better medium for gardening.
Without fertile soil, your hard work weeding and cultivating your garden will be all for naught. It’s important that you know both the type and pH of your soil before planning your garden this year, so that you can make amendments as needed.
While sandy soil does not retain nutrients easily, chalky soil is highly alkaline, and clay soil lacks aeration, all of these soils can be boosted by adding organic matter. This organic matter will help fortify the soil with nutrients and also improve its overall structure. In time, you may find that your soils transform to more silty or loamy structure, providing optimal conditions for gardening.
What’s wrong with Miracle-Gro?
Technically, nothing. Many people use Miracle-Gro to help boost the nutrient content of their soil. However, it contains a mixture of nutrients that aren’t needed in all gardens–for example, some soils might be deficient in nitrogen, but not potassium–and this can prove to be a pointless addition to the soil. Also, Miracle-Gro and related products are synthetic fertilizers, meaning that they contain toxic chemicals such as ammonium phosphate. As a result, they are completely banned in certified-organic farming.
What’s more, adding Miracle-Gro to your soil or plants does nothing to improve the overall structure of your soil. You are better off adding natural organic amendments to make sure you soil stays sturdy and your plants remain healthy. Spend the extra time naturally boosting nutrient content versus wasting the extra money on harmful chemicals.
What chemicals does my soil need?
Your soil is essentially an ever-changing organism that, like any other organism, needs proper access to food and water. Three nutrients are crucial to plant growth, and provided in excess or quantities that are too small, can inhibit a garden’s success. These nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You must have a balance of all three, in addition to more minor trace nutrients such as copper, manganese, zinc, boron, and iron.
By adding organic matter to soil, you also attract worms. Worms feed on organic matter and spread it about in the soil. They help to speed up the composting process and keep pests at bay. By utilizing chemicals, you risk damaging your worm populations and affecting this crucial process.
Most types of animal manure are beneficial to a garden, but you have to take care in how you apply it. Some manure can be applied directly, such as rabbit pellets, but others must be composted or allowed to rest first. Chickens, for example, have high amounts of nitrogen in their waste. Therefore, either allow chickens to free range over an area you plan to work–say, next year–or wait and compost their manure in a compost bin. You might also consider housing them uphill of the garden. That way, their waste will leach downhill with the rainwater and slowly seep into the soil over time.
Keep in mind that if you are spreading fresh manure on the garden–even if it’s from rabbits–you should never spread it near leafy greens or vegetables for which you eat the entire plant. This can spread pathogens like salmonella and E.coli. However, if you spread manure far enough in advance, there is no threat posed to your overall health.
Chicken manure contains twice the nitrogen of horse manure. It should be used sparingly on crops that flower as nitrogen produces lots of leafy greens, but minimal fruits. Corn needs lots of nitrogen, on the other hand.
Cow manure is easy to find, but contains less nitrogen. It’s less likely to burn plants, but also doesn’t act as such a strong fertilizer. Horse, sheep, and pig manure are other common manures used, but experts advise steering away from pig manure as it releases very little nutrients over time and can harbor nasty bacteria.
Cover crops help to boost your overall production as they improve the soil. They reduce pollution and erosion and reduce the needs for herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Cover crops, such as legume cover crops, convert nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into soil nitrogen that plants can later use. Other common cover crops include hairy vetch, medium red clover, Austrian winter peas, and alfalfa. These cover crops, when planted in conjunction or rotation with other vegetables or plants, can help improve the overall quality of your soil and future plant growth.
Compost is a great way to naturally boost the nutrient content of your soil. You can add everything from household waste, manure, and garden weeds into the bin. Over time–usually six months to a year–the compost will heat itself and decompose naturally, resulting in a highly fertile, workable soil that can be spread on your garden.
Consider throwing in weeds from your garden as you’re working it this summer. Weeds such as nettles and burdock add a great deal of nitrogen to the compost, working well when combined with other food sources. Just keep in mind that if you add weeds, you want to allow the compost to “heat” and work itself long enough so that you don’t put weed seeds back into the garden.
Compost is a great way to turn useless household scraps into fertile, luscious “miracle dirt.” However, if you don’t compost, that’s okay! You can add simple household leftovers to boost the nutrient content of your garden.
Banana peels work well as mulch and natural fertilizer. As you likely know, bananas are high in potassium–and banana peels are no exception. Add banana peels to your planting holes before planting potassium-hungry plants (such as certain flowers like roses). Bananas break down naturally over time, and the soil surrounding the hole will absorb the potassium.
Coffee grounds, too, can be helpful when added directly to a garden. Coffee contains small amounts of nitrogen, copper, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. This breaks down quickly and can be added when planting or afterwards. You won’t even notice it scattered over the dark soil!
Egg shells, when dried and crushed, can be mixed directly into the soil or added to compost. These contain nitrogen and phosphorus to a small degree, but large amounts of calcium.
Other Household Amendments
Did you know used fish tank water can be used as a nutrient base? Fish manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and in fact is often used as an ingredient in natural fertilizers. When you change your fish tank water, save it and use it to sprinkle on your garden. Just make sure you don’t use any synthetic cleaners or antibiotics in your fish tank, as this can over-medicate your garden.
Ash from your fireplace or woodstove can also be added to the garden to supplement calcium and potassium. This should not be used in chalky soil, as it boosts alkaline content, but works well as an amendment in overly acidic soils.
For Best Growth, Try PlantCatalyst®
PlantCatalyst is an all-natural, nontoxic water additive that increases a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients. This allows to reduced need for fertilizer and greater plant yield. PlantCatalyst has been around for over forty years and has helped gardeners enhance seed germination and maximize overall yield.
This blend isn’t meant to solely replace the other types of methods you might use to increase nutrients in your garden, but acts as a helpful supplement. As the name suggests, PlantCatalyst works as a catalyst, working with water to increase a plants’ ability to absorb nutrients. The molecular structure of water is altered to create “micelles” chains.
Better yet, PlantCatalyst doesn’t cause any harmful side effects or produce any dangerous toxins. It has been proven to be safe and effective for well over four decades of testing in large-scale farms, backyard gardens, and other settings.
Try one or all of these techniques in your garden this spring to see stronger, healthier plants. Your yields will grow exponentially and you’ll rest easy knowing that your garden hasn’t been contaminated by harmful, toxic chemicals used in traditional fertilizers.