Soil is an interesting thing. It is never the same! It can vary from yard to yard even. Soil is the composition of sand, silt, and clay that is the universal growing medium for all plants. However, the soil is not complete without the fourth ingredient and makes soil growable - Organic matter. The nutrients in organic matter can help to aid plant growth and even help build a healthy ecosystem within the soil.
Below are the top 5 soil amendments that every home gardener should add to their gardens.
1. Compost - Compost is pure organic matter. It is the leftover remains of decomposed plant matter. When a garden has lots of rich compost, the garden can thrive. This is because compost contains approximately 4,000,000,000 (4 billion) microbes per Teaspoon of soil! These Microbes help increase soil fertility, increase plant defenses, and unlock nutrients inaccessible to plant roots.
2. Mulch - Mulch is the shredded up plant matter. It is uncomposted, so it should not be mixed into the soil because nitrogen will be depleted from the soil. Mulch helps to insulate the soil; it also helps keep soil moisture regular so that plants do not dry out. Bare soil is the leading cause of erosion, nutrient run-off, and soil bacteria death from solar radiation. Mulch can be in mulched leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, newspaper shredding, and coffee grounds.
3. Sand - If you have heavy clay soil, adding sand helps increase drainage and allow for water to penetrate the soil. Aeration is vital for plant root growth and preventing compaction. Sand breaks apart clay clumps with its large particle size. This helps keep soil born bacteria happy and thriving since they appreciate oxygen just as much as we do. Sand is an inexpensive soil amendment and can be found on every beach or even in bulk at any gravel yard.
4. Biochar - Biochar is the leftover porous material that remains when the wood is burned without oxygen. Biochar is porous, meaning there is a lot of surface area for bacteria to colonize. It holds on to water, and it can help to hold nutrients in the soil rather than be leached down beyond where plants can reach. Biochar can be made at home by burning sticks in a metal container, then when the entire bin is on fire, spray down the fire with water. The cooled remains can be sifted out, the ash discarded, and the biochar placed into a bucket for use in the garden.
5. Manure - Manure can be one of the most beneficial additives to the garden for amending soil. When it breaks down, it becomes compost; however, it CAN be worked into the soil without the risk of nutrient depletion, unlike mulch. The nutrients found in the manure feed the soil and invite earthworms to work the soil. This process of worm tilling helps to aerate the soil without the act of tilling. It also helps to feed plants, hold moisture, and build the soil over time. Manure can be obtained for nearly free from most farmers who have animals. However, do not limit it to just cows and horses. Other manures that are very beneficial are alpaca, llama, rabbit, goat, chicken, and duck! I would not recommend the only manures would be human, cat, and dog as those manures are from meat-eaters. Anything that eats meat can potentially harbor E-coli, a harmful bacteria that can make you very ill if ingested.
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