The single most important tool a gardener works with is the soil on his property. The quality of soil will of course vary greatly from one area to another, and all information outlined in this particular chapter is applicable to local conditions. As a general, soil can be divided into three groups; clay, sand or silt. The ideal combination of soil contains all three ingredients and is classified as garden loam. Clay soils have the best water holding retention capacity, and of course a sandy soil has the least.
Binding material of all good soil is an organic called humus, that increases the water holding capacity and easily absorbs the sun rays. Humus also liberates the compounds for plants from the soil and provides fertilization and improves soil texture quality.
Humus is added to the soil by using an organic fertilizer such as manure or the contents of a compost pile. Humus can also be bought directly, however the expense is prohibitive if going to be used in a large area and needs treatment.
Soil is actually a living thing. Even in the smallest area there are several million animal and plant organisms going about their specific tasks. The more bacterial activity that goes on translates to mean a more fertile soil. Fertility needs four elements; bacteria, sunshine, water and a food source. Given the sunlight, all of the other elements can be added to the soil during proper maintenance. Organic fertilizers give the soil all three of these elements. There is a number of ways that these materials can be added to the soil and a most of them are common and easy to do.
A compost heap is a combination of soil mixed with organic materials such as; manure, garbage, and plant cuttings. The heap is prepared by first placing a layer of inactive material and placing a layer of soil, alternate the layers of organic material and soil mixture to a height of around four feet. The width of the heap should be from four to six feet tall and the pile needs to be kept wetted down during the first few weeks and should be turned at regular intervals as well. When the pile begins to decompose, proceed to a sufficient point, the compost can be added into the soil.
Using Mineral and Nonorganic Fertilizers
Organic fertilizers, for example, those found in a compost heap or animal manure, can be added into organic fertilizer to make the best soil food. Organic fertilizers can be classified by their content of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash. You may find a fertilizer designated with a ratio of 2/6/2, this means it has two parts nitrogen, 6 parts phosphorus and two parts potash. The numbers of inorganic fertilizer always shows the proportions in the form noted above.
What are Cover Crops?
Certain crops will add the inorganic elements back into the soil as they grow and will also provide a valuable organic type manure. Cover crops are the best way to fertilize land and though they take time, usually a growing season, to produce their best effort. Cover crops like alfalfa and soybeans add nitrogen back into the soil when planted and when plowed under, provide more. A good cover crop of say legumes, can add over 100 pounds of nitrogen into the soil on a per acre basis or the equivalent would be around 10-15 lbs. of animal manure. Nitrogen and mineral content in the cover crope are highest before maturity and should be then plowed under. Hairy vetch is another good example of a cover crop that is a good soil builder, it may be sown in September and plowed under in May.
Keeping the Soil in the best condition
Keeping soil healthy and fertile does require an effort. Fertilizing during the growing season and during prep are very important. The best and easy way to add fertilizer is to add either organic fertilizer or inorganic one to the water supply and then use it to water soil. This ensures an even distribution and a quick absorption time to avoid lawn burn. You can spread it either by via a spread or by hand, such as on the lawn, but then you need to wash down with the hose.
If you are working on soil foundation issues, apply the fertilizer prior to working with a spade or tiller, then try to work it in evenly.
You can user lime, especially if you live in the Atlantic Coastal region where there is less calcium in the soil and the soil is more acidic. If you use ground limestone, with a bunch of organic matter, you are not apt to use more than you need.