Note to editor: Here’s the rest of my Top 10 Soil Improvement Tips updated from my column of 16 years ago. Some ideas are timeless, so please don’t dock me for a little plagiarism of my own work.
Central Florida’s 10-month gardening season begins now, running clear through until the Fourth of July. Our soils have been washed clean of many nutrients from eons of pounding thunderstorms and scorching sunlight. To create a reliable foundation when building our gardens, try using a few of these practical tips.
6. Beans, clover, vetch, rye, buckwheat and sunn hemp cover crops capture carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere. The carbon is then sequestered into the soil for centuries; the nitrogen is available for plant growth this season. Harvest the above ground portions of cover crops to use as mulch. Integrate the root portions by turning and tilling them into the soil. Flowering cover crops attract and feed beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. Schedule cover crop cultivation to vegetable crop growing seasons.
7. Wide-growing beds are the best way to mange garden space. They are sized based on human anatomy, not mechanical equipment. (Industrial farming techniques releases billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.) To leave the soil loose and friable, never walk on the growing beds. Intensive combination planting in wide beds is possible, allowing for greater crop production from less area. Plants growing in wide areas versus linear rows create their own shaded canopy, protecting the soil.
8. Any soil exposed to the sun needs to be mulched. The sun oxidizes soil amendments, sublimating them back to the air. Earthworms, crickets and other beneficial soil fauna live in the zone between the soil and mulch. A combined paper layer under leaf mulch placed at planting time will suppress weed germination.
9. Earthworms indicate and improve healthy soil. Soil structure, drainage, and moisture retention improve when earthworms are present. Hot, dry sand, chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and heavy cultivation will harm earthworms. An earthworm tub is a great way to compost kitchen scraps. Water, drain, and capture from the tub earthworm tea to create an unsurpassed growing elixir.
10. The minerals and nutrients available to us through plants are derived from living soil microbes: mycorrhizal fungus, bacteria and algae. Healthy, living soil grows healthy plants that resist insect and disease pests, are more nutritious, and taste better. These microbes depend on us to replenish the soil components on which the evolved. Quick fix chemical fertilizers supplant the microbes in the food chain, but for how long?
Click here if you missed the first five tips.