By Phil Nauta, author and gardening educator
Important: We’ve just learned that your chance to get into Phil’s comprehensive online organic gardening course ends this Monday night at 9pm Eastern Time. He’s been kind enough to give me a coupon code for you to get 30% off the course! The catch? He’s in the process of updating the course right now, and in exchange for this discount, he’ll ask you to give him some quick feedback on these recent updates – sounds like a pretty good trade to us for such an excellent course. The coupon code you can enter during registration to get your 30% off is GARDENINGCHANNEL. You can check the course out here.
There are a small number of special places throughout the world that are perfect for growing highly nutritious food.
What these places have in common is unbelievably fertile soil.
Just what makes those soils so fertile is what this article is about today.
If you’re interested in growing your own nutrient-dense food (and with better nutrition comes much better taste, as well as fewer pest problems), I think you’ll find this interesting.
Here is what the best soils in the world have in common:
- Broad spectrum nutrition. Broad spectrum means not just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (which is what most fertilizers are made of), but over 80 nutrients. We don’t know what most of them do – indeed we’ve only found about 17 of them that are considered ‘essential’ for plant growth – but many of us believe the others are crucial for optimal plant health and nutrition.
- Diverse soil biology. Here I’m referring to beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa, plus nematodes, earthworms and many insects. Only a very small percentage of these are plant pests. Most of them work to improve the soil, feed plants and protect plants from pests.
- Calcium. If there was one element that was the most important, it wouldn’t be N, P or K – it would be calcium. Having the right amount of calcium in the soil is vital in order for everything else to work – for fine root hairs to form, for plants to be able to uptake all other nutrients, for the soil food web to be able to create a soil structure with enough spaces for water and air (ideally, 50% of soil is actually composed of these spaces).
- Organic matter. This refers to plants and other organisms that are in various stages of decay. Once they get broken down almost entirely by the soil biology, they’re called humus, which provides at least a dozen benefits for the soil. But even before then, as leaves and twigs, they act as a mulch that provides many other benefits.
- Water. Not too much, not too little. Some of the best growing areas in the world have a source of glacial water, which is loaded with minerals, but even consistent rainfall is a core component of healthy ecosystems. Have you ever noticed how a lawn or garden often jumps after a good rain? That doesn’t happen the same way with forced irrigation.
Now, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have all of these situations in our gardens, but we can mimic them. Here’s how:
- Broad spectrum nutrition. There are many ways to bring in complete nutrition. Compost can play a role, but only if it was made with a wide array of nutritious ingredients. Even better is seaweed, whether collected directly from the beach or purchased as a liquid or meal. My other favorite is rock dust, generally from glacial or volcanic sources. Indeed, many of the best soils in the world are in places where a volcano erupted in the past. We can emulate that by bringing some volcanic dust into our own gardens.
- Diverse soil biology. This is where compost really shines. Many gardeners think compost is for bringing in nutrition, but even more, it’s for bringing in beneficial biology. But again, it has to be excellent compost. That’s why it’s nice to learn to make it yourself in the long run, whether in a big bin outside or a little worm bin in your kitchen. You don’t need much compost to have an impact, but it does need to be high quality.
- Calcium. Before we apply large doses of specific nutrients, we usually want to do a soil test to figure out which ones we need – otherwise we may do more harm than good. But calcium is the exception. Certainly we don’t want to add too much without a soil test, but it’s so crucial to have sufficient calcium that 5 pounds of calcium carbonate per 1000 square feet will benefit the vast majority of gardens.
- Organic matter. Again comes the compost. That’s our way of speeding up nature’s way of making humus. And then just as important is a good mulch, not 6 inches of bark nuggets, but instead we use what we see in nature – leaves! Leaves do everything right. Occasionally we might include some wood chips if we’re establishing a perennial garden, and maybe some straw if we don’t have enough leaves, but leaves are king.
- Water. Sometimes we forget the most important part of all – water. Plants and all other organisms in our gardens need water – not too much, not too little. Not too often, but before things start to wilt. We’re lucky if we have city or well water to draw from, but we should also be storing rainwater in barrels, cisterns and ponds because it provides a certain something that the others don’t.
Learning these strategies – such as how to test your soil and fertilize, and how to make your own high quality compost and other microbial inoculants – takes a bit of time, but it’s worth the effort.
That’s what I do – teach people how to do these things exceptionally well so they can grow their own nutritious food.
So if you have any questions today, feel free to ask down below and I’ll be glad to answer. And I wonder, which of these strategies are you already implementing in your garden? Let me know below…
Phil Nauta is author of the book ‘Building Soils Naturally’, published by Acres U.S.A. He’s a SOUL Certified Organic Land Care Professional, a former teacher at Gaia College, and was a director for The Society For Organic Urban Land Care. He now runs SmilingGardener.com to teach people how to grow their own nutrient-dense organic food.
Important: I’ve just learned that your chance to get into Phil’s comprehensive online organic gardening course ends this Monday night at 9pm Eastern Time. He’s been kind enough to give me a coupon code for you to get 30% off the course! The catch? He’s in the process of updating the course right now, and in exchange for this discount, he’ll ask you to give him some quick feedback on these recent updates – sounds like a pretty good trade to me for such an excellent course. The coupon code you can enter during registration to get your 30% off is GARDENINGCHANNEL. You can check the course out here.