In permaculture and any other natural gardening, we realised that soil is our ground base that needs to be cherished and not poisoned to get healthy food and environment out of it. May be the most obvious for many, in conventional farming sadly, it isn’t!
To treat your soil with what it needs you really don’t need fertilizers or any complicated mixture you make yourself. Sure, there are some great remedies, that you can mix yourself to create a natural fertilizer, but that needs mostly quite an input from us and cannot be applied on a big scale.
Mulch should be everywhere in your garden! Earth should not be bare. It doesn’t like that. Anywhere, where earth is laying bare, it either gets sprayed not to get covered up with weeds or it will within a short amount of time be covered in weeds. That’s what nature likes to do with soil. We want the soil covered in any case. You can mulch almost anything as long as it is not toxic. That can be cuttings, wood, leaves, compost or even some old clothes.
You can hardly go wrong with decomposing matter on your soil. It is always just a matter of time. How long will it take to break down the matter you put on your soil. They say that a trunk from a tree needs the same time to decompose as old as it was. So a young branch will be completely decomposed quite quick, while a trunk of a tree that is over ten years old, will tae also 10 years to complete decompose in your garden. Which is not a bad thing! It saves you time and gives long-term nutrients to the soil if you decompose big branches in your garden.
Mulching also protects your land from erosion effectively. The main cause of erosion in our world are streets and all the asphalt. By mulching you create kind of the opposite.
It also keeps weeds out and provides care for microorganisms to improve soil life.
Over time, earth builds up a perfect structure, an ecosystem which does not like to be disturbed. By digging the earth, you destroy beneficial microorganisms in the soil and damage it’s a natural tunnel system. These organisms include Bacteria, Fungi, Yeast, Algae and Nematodes. Furthermore there are insects in there as well, including earthworms. That’s a lot of life in the soil!
Digging and turning over the soil exposes a very fragile ecosystem to the air which dries it out, and to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which sterilize the soil – killing the soil organisms. The soil loses a lot of its nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen. It also loses a lot of its organic matter, and as a consequence, does not retain water as well.
Not to mention, that chemical fertilizers would kill all soil life!
The undisturbed subsoil lets earthworms dig their tunnels and provides aeration and drainage. Through the decomposing process of your mulch soil can build in it’s natural way.
There are several plants, which you can grow in your garden to improve the fertility of your soil permanently and efficiently.
One of our most used green manure plant is comfrey. It grows very fast and lush, which should always be the indicators of your green manure plants. Comfrey not only has great medicinal benefits it also serves our soil a great deal. The planting and spreading of comfrey is really simple. You break off a piece of it’s roots and replant it in a place that needs some soil improvement.
Another great way to improve soil can be to grow hemp on your land. It not only prepares the soil for future crops but it also cleans contaminated soil from poison. It grows very fast and can therefore be used to cut once in a while to mulch in other places as well.
Depending on your climate there are great plants for improving your soil. Others could be Buckwheat, Clover, Alfalfa and Calendula.
Make use of your kitchen scraps in your garden by composting in a commonly used compost bin, a worm compost or directly on the soil. Sometimes it can be helpful for your plant, if you spread for example banana shells on your soil with some brown mulch over it. Like that you make essential nutrients available for longterm.
You can also make use of so-called compost teas. Comfrey, stingy nettle and many other weeds can be used to let them rot for a few days or weeks in water to use it later on as a fertilizer. Pay attention not to overuse them and to always delute them in extra water. We use small branches and leaves of our willows to brew a root stimulator tea. This is applied when you plant a cutting or replace some plants to quickly establish a strong root system.
Alternation of plants
If you do grow quite an amount annual vegetables, pay attention not to exploit certain parts of your garden. You should alternate the vegetable beds every year to give new strength and grow green manure as mentioned above to let your soil gather strength.
Can you apply some of the soil improvements ? What kind of soil do you start with ? Let me know in the comments below!