How to Improve the Quality of Your Soil

Soil is important, whether you’re growing prize winning roses, landscape shrubs or your own fruit trees. All need to be in the right type of soil to get the nutrient they need. Even beginners can improve the quality of the soil in the garden. All you need to do is follow these simple steps:

  1. Add Compost

Compost is not just for preparing the beds in the spring. Compost can be placed into your raised beds in the fall and improve their conditions over the winter. Because they will be sitting over the beds all winter, this doesn’t even have to be completely broken down compost either. A lot of the process will happen right there on the bed.

compost-organic-waste-farming

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

You can even use this method as a practical way of getting rid of all the waste you pick up from your garden in the fall. Just spread this over the bed and cover with mulch. The mulch protects the soil and the nutrients in the compost.

  1. Use Soil Amendments

Different soil amendments can be added to your soil to make it more suitable to your purposes. Choosing which soil amendment to use with your sol will be a matter of matching the proper solution to the problem you are facing. For example, there are amendment for increasing the nutritional content of your soil and others for improving the soil’s texture also known as tilth. For example, if your notice that the water is draining away too fast, you can add an amendment that allows you to soak up the moisture and the reverse is also true.

You can adjust the conditions of the soil to your exact needs with the right soil amendment. This could be compost or other rich matter that absorbs moisture or an amendment like greensand that allows water to drain away more easily.

Here are some common soil amendments that you can consider using for your garden as needed:

  • vermiculite (worm castings)
  • compost
  • greensand (or green sand)
  • grass clippings
  • cornmeal
  • alfalfa meal
  • straw
  • kelp meal
  1. Plant a Cover Crop

When you are thinking about improving soil quality, don’t forget the power of cover crops. This is not just an idea for large scale agricultural weed suppression. They are also a major benefit for backyard gardeners as well.

Cover crops are especially good for treating the soil as they provide oxygenation and improved nutrient availability. Alfalfa with its very deep root system pulls nutrients upwards from the lower levels of soil and make these more available in planting season. Then a couple weeks before you begin planting, this cover crop will be tilled back into the soil, increasing its organic composition and nutrient content.

This can also be used to improve the levels of nitrogen in the soil when using legumes as a cover crop. Fava beans, crimson clover and alfalfa are all good examples of nitrogen high crop covers. If you will not be growing anything particular over the growing season, you may consider a cover crop that protect and aerate your beds. (Pro tip: cherry trees are a great choice for the beginner backyard orchardist and benefit greatly from good soil).

  1. Try Lasagna Gardening

Also called sheet composting or “No-Till” gardening is another good way to improve your gardens soil quality and a perfect way to begin your raised beds and continue them. As you notice the quality levels of soil in your bed begin dropping down, you will keep adding new layers like lasagna which begins improving the quality of your soil from the top to the bottom. After the end of each growing season new layers are added.

For more information about your garden and the process of sheet composting, check out this article on the lasagna gardening method beginner’s guide. But there is one thing you will need to consider when using the lasagna method of composting. If you will be renovating your raised beds with the sheet composting method, you will need to wait a full 6-months before planting as you will need them to fully break down.

So this method will be best suited to those garden working with rotating beds or those gardeners who only plant one season. The following link included here will give some pointers on how this can be changed about and planting can be done sooner. Basically, if you would like to begin planting sooner, you will need to spread out a layer of compost and or healthy topsoil –– roughly 2 or 3 inches thick. You can then begin planting directly through this top layer.

  1. Prepare Raised Beds for the Winter

Never forget the importance of using the end of the year garden season is your opportunity to improve the quality of your soil in a number of ways. This end of the year ritual is like “closing down the shop” till spring. But, if you live in a warmer area of the country this might not even be necessary.

Here are some things to do. First, cut the plants as opposed to pulling them from the soil. Cutting the plant will allow the roots to rot away and this will make your soil lighter and airy. Then you can spread some compost out on the soil and cover this with a layer of mulch, the compost will be feeding nutrients back to the soil while the mulch will protect the soil and keep the nutrients bound in.

You can also just plant a cover crop and call it a year. Be sure to check out our article on winter gardening for some more things to do in the cold months.

Metal Fence Vs Electric Fence: Save Money with Sustainable Gardening

If you’re looking for ways to create a sustainable and energy-efficient home, make sure to consider your gardening practices. Gardening is a great way to produce your own fruits and vegetables. If you’re gardening, you’re already helping to reduce plastic waste because your food is coming right from your backyard rather than from the store.

You can become even more green by practicing sustainable gardening! Sustainable gardening uses principles and practices that help to protect the environment without doing further harm. It embraces organic gardening methods, conserves resources, and substitutes harmful practices (such as using pesticides) with more eco-friendly practices. And not only is it good for the environment, but it can also help save you money!

Here are 5 ways you can begin using sustainable practices in your own garden.

Reduce energy use

When planting and maintaining your garden, look for ways that you can be more energy efficient and create less pollution. For example, instead of using gas or electric-powered tools, look for tools that you can use by hand. Dig with shovels, clip with pruners, weed by hand.

Another way to reduce energy is to consider how you’re protecting your garden. Some people like to put an electric fence around their garden to keep out deer and other animals. Electric fences use painful electric shocks to deter animals from entering; depending on the setting of the fence, these shocks can be harmful to wildlife, pets, and humans. Instead of an electric fence, use a metal fence. A metal critter fence saves energy, is more cost-efficient, and does not harm animals.

Conserve water

Water is a precious, limited resource. Instead of watering your garden from a hose, create a collection system out of rain barrels. A rain barrel system collects runoff from your gutters when it rains. You can then empty the water from the container as needed to water your garden and other areas of your lawn.

You should also keep in mind that runoff from your garden makes its way back into the water supply. Herbicides or pesticides contain harmful chemicals that can contaminate our water. Using natural herbicides or pesticides, such as vinegar, can still help kill weeds and prevent pests without harming the environment.

Make your garden a habitat

Sustainable gardening can help you create a backyard wildlife habitat. Even if you’re hoping to keep larger animals out of your veggies, there is a way to open up your garden to smaller critters. There are certain plants you can grow that will help provide food and shelter to animals such as bees, butterflies, and birds. Habitats will vary by area.

Grow native plants

Growing plants that are native to your area means that the plants will naturally thrive in their environment. They’ll do well in the existing light, moisture, and soil conditions so you won’t have to put as much effort into taking care of them. Another reason to grow native plants is that they won’t disrupt the ecosystem. Nonnative plants can seed and spread to surrounding areas and prevent native species from growing.

You can save seeds from your plants from season to season. For example, if tomatoes are native to your area and did well in your garden, save the seeds from one of your tomatoes to plant again next year. Some people also like to scout out woods and fields near their home for native plants that they can seed in their own garden.

Start composting

Composting is good for you and for the environment! When you compost waste, there is less material going into the landfill. That waste then creates an organic material that you can use in your garden. Compost helps maintain soil quality and fertility, serves as a natural fertilizer,  increases water retention, and improves plant growth.

It is easy to start composting. There are a few different types of composters you can buy or create. Enclosed bins are the most practical method for most home gardeners. The type of materials you can compost will vary slightly depending on your composting strategy. In addition to various types of food waste, you can also add yard waste such as leaves or grass clippings.

Conclusion

Sustainable gardening practices don’t just help you save money, they help you protect the environment. Look over your current gardening practices to see if there are ways that you can reduce the amount of energy you’re using, if there are ways for you to produce less waste, and if there are ways you can help your local ecosystem.

Summer Activity! Start an Indoor Garden!

If you’re worried about your kids losing academic skills over the summer, you might be searching for activities to keep them mentally stimulated. You might have already signed up for a summer reading program or researched some fun math activities. However, throwing in some hands-on science activities can also be fun and educational for kids!

bees-garden

Kids learn best when they’re actively engaged in an activity. If you’re looking for a fun hands-on science activity that you can start this summer and continue into the school year, consider growing your own indoor garden!

Benefits

Aside from providing a fun activity, there are additional benefits to starting an indoor garden.

  • Having plants around your house improves your air quality because they aid in air filtration.
  • If you opt for herbs, veggies, or fruits, you can use what you grow in your cooking
  • Plants are aesthetically pleasing
  • A garden will attract birds, bees, butterflies etc.
  • Taking care of plants can provide your child with a sense of responsibility

Gardening options

An indoor garden doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can make it as large or as little as you would like.

A small garden can be as simple as getting a few small pots and placing them in your windowsill. Even watching a single seed grow can provide some good educational talking points. If you opt for this option, you’ll want to make sure you choose a window that gets a good amount of sunlight.

If you want to take your indoor level to the next level, you can invest in an indoor garden box to put near your windows. These are raised boxes specifically designed for indoor gardening. Most gardening stores sell them, or you can build your own. A bonus of building your own is that you can build it at the perfect height for your tiny gardener!

If you have older children who already have a good understanding of gardening basics or if you’re living in a small space, you might want to consider a hydroponic system. Hydroponics involves growing plants using a nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. You can find a number of hydroponic kits to get started available online, or you can build your own system.

What you’ll need

Plants

Decide if you want to grow flowers, fruits, vegetables, or herbs. After you pick what you want to grow, decide if you want seeds or cuttings. Starting with seeds is a great option if you have kids because they’ll get to see the entire life cycle of a plant. Seeds also tend to be less expensive, which can be useful if some of your plants end up not making it.

Containers

You can use almost anything for a container as long as there is proper drainage. You can buy plastic or clay pots meant for gardening. These pots will have drainage holes at the bottom.

For a less expensive option, you can dig through your recycling bin for old milk cartons, butter containers, or egg cartons. Just make sure to punch holes in the bottom of your recycled container for drainage!

Grow lights

If you live in a house or apartment that doesn’t receive a lot of natural sunlight, you’ll either need to invest in plants that don’t need a lot of sunlight or invest in grow lights. Grow lights are a great option because they are specifically designed to provide indoor plants with the light they need. Even if you live in the darkest of homes, a grow light will have you saying “Look at our new indoor garden”!

Growing medium

You’ll, of course, need something for your plants to grow in. If you’re going with the traditional container or the garden box approach, you’ll want to invest in a quality potting mix. If going for the hydroponic approach, you’ll want to choose a medium that works well with your chosen system.

Child-size gardening tools

Your child will enjoy having their own tools to garden with! Invest in shovels, trowels, and watering cans that are the right size for your child.

Connecting it to learning

The best way to connect your new garden to learning is by taking your child’s lead. Children are naturally curious, so wait for your child to ask questions. You and your child can then research the questions together, either on the computer or at the library.

Possible topics you’ll explore together include why do plants need sunlight, what the life cycle of a plant is, and how can you tell if a plant is healthy.

Remember — keep it fun! The whole point of your new indoor garden is to allow your child to explore the world around them. A great indoor learning environment creates happy and healthy kids.