Improve the Soil in Your Home Garden

Improving your soil is the single most important thing you can do for a no-till organic home garden.  Add mulch (and mulch and more mulch) and stop tilling all the time.  Baby lettuce Organic SoilBest plan is to till just once as is mentioned below, after the addition of mulch and other beneficial soil builders, raise the garden beds and let that be it.  Mulching greatly reduces weeds and is less work than tilling them under.

Natural undisturbed soil is a living community.  Thousands of micro and macro flora and fauna  species reside there.  Each community member has a role.  Each is independent.

So, why stop tilling?  On the face of it, it reduces wind and water erosion and nutrient leaching.  The flora and fauna at different levels are destroyed or drastically reduced once the structure is altered.

Living soil benefits:

  • Better soil tilth (defined: the physical condition of the soil relative to plant growth).  No tilling equals better tilth and more organic matter.  Tilling provides too high an oxygen level, having a negative effect on the organic matter.
  • No tilling results in more humus (black organic matter, broken down), more porosity (looser), better water infiltration, better water retention, better drainage.

The best plan to improve your organic soil is to get as many leaves as possible into the garden, as well as material high in nitrogen (chicken litter is a good one), and dolomitic lime.  Start with one or two pick-up truck loads of leaves (for a 1000 sq. ft. garden -approx. 25′ x 40′).  Leaves are good because they are full of nutrients, as the trees have roots that go deep and bring those nutrients out to the leaves.

Add a pick-up load of chicken litter.  To be truly organic you might ask the source what the chickens were eating.  Large operations may have overcrowded conditions and often lace the chicken feed with antibiotics.  The chicken litter is good because it contains the manure mixed with wood chips, etc. and is rich in nitrogen and other nutrients.  Another type of animal manure may be used.

Add 150 pounds of lime and till it all in -well and deep.  This will be the only time you till.  Then raise the garden beds.  You may raise the beds in long rows or smaller sections.  You will get less soil compaction, more yield per square foot -among other benefits.

At the end of the season, mulch some more.  Mulch, mulch, mulch.  The system works from the top down.  The less you disturb the soil the better.  Keep adding more mulch because that is the source of your future nutrients.  You will want to keep a compost pile in continual production for a good supply.

Additional resources:

Sustainable Soil Management

Organic Farming

Organic Soil Health


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Filed under: Home Garden

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