For the success of your garden, lawn, or container plants, it is important to nurture the soil. Healthy soil grows healthy, nutritious plants. 

How it works:  The microbes (tiny bits of life in the soil) decompose (ie feed on) organic matter. They use some of it, and the rest is released in forms available to plants. This is how nature is designed to work. The microbes also play important roles in protecting plants from diseases and pests. By providing organic material and avoiding chemical fertilizers that damage the microbial activity in the soil, you are giving the soil what it needs to live and by default giving your plants what they need as well. 

First some don’ts:

DON’T use synthetic fertilizers. They are pure chemicals, not food for plants. To properly feed your plants work to produce healthy soil which creates healthy plants. Organic fertilizers contain partially broken down materials - manure, earthworm castings, composted plant material, etc and are full of life and components that support the life and health of the soil.

DON’T use toxic pesticides, herbicides or other toxic chemicals on your property. Although some products claim to dissipate immediately, scientific studies are showing that these things accumulate in the body, in the soil, in our food and are causing great harm. There are organic methods that are easier, less expensive and fun to use. 

DON’T use Nitrogen only chemical fertilizers! They are probably the worst thing you can put on your soil. They devastate the life in your soil and interfere with natural processes that keep your soil healthy.

Healthy soil is friable (workable, with lots of air pockets). Is made up of varying degrees of decomposing organic material and a whole host of beneficial biological life forms.   

Some plants (here peas, but also beans and other crops) contribute to soil health and fertility simply by their way of interacting with soil biology.

Amendments:  Adding rock minerals such as lava sand, zeolite, granite sand, basalt and dry molasses increase the biological activity in the soil. I have used liquid feed molasses, diluted with water and applied with watering cans with great effect. Use these same amendments to potting soil to bring it to life.

Fertilizing: Broadcast organic fertilizer 2 or 3 times a year (20 lbs per 1,000 sq ft)

Organic Matter: add compost made up of whatever organic materials you’ve accumulated - leaves, compost, aged manure. Learn more about using chicken manure. (link to what to do with all that poo)

Rhubarb coming up lush in spring after a fall application of chicken bedding.
Rhubarb coming up lush in spring after a fall application of chicken bedding.

Watering - Don't water too much, too little or too often. Using an organic program of natural soil amendments will decrease the need to water. Foliar feeding (organic fertilizer applied in liquid form) can be helpful for a boost. Water deeply and then let the soil dry out between waterings. 

Mulching will help to protect your soil from the extremes of weather, rain, erosion, wind. It also helps the soil to hold moisture and keeps it comfortable for bare feet (an important part of my own organic program).

Weeds - mulching beds is very helpful. Avoid all synthetic herbicides. Hand pull weeds. Spray noxious weeds with a vinegar, d-limonene or fatty acid herbicides.

Insect Damage:   Encourage beneficial insects. One way to do this is to stop spraying every insect in sight. Snap a picture and take the time to learn about what is on your plants and organic controls to manage it if it is actually a problem. Remember that when you use chemical pesticides, and even ones approved for organic use, you will likely be killing beneficial insects as well. Use sparingly and only if needed.

Diseases Most diseases are less likely to occur when the soil is healthy and high nitrogen fertilizers are not used. Fungal problems can often be managed with the use of cornmeal juice, potassium bicarbonate, diluted milk or PureGro. Viruses are controlled with diluted hydrogen peroxide.

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