Practitioners of soil fertility and sustainable agriculture are aware that most soils today require rebuilding of their health and vitality. It makes sense to recreate the healthy, vital soils that nature created in the past when restoring soil health. We require intelligent intervention because we cannot afford to wait for nature’s process to take millions of years to complete. Establishing self-regenerative, self-sufficient, fertile soils involves a variety of practices, including cultivation, grazing, composting, soil conservation, green manuring, soil testing, soil remineralization, fertilizer priorities, fossil humates, and visual soil assessment.
The biological processes that underlie self-regenerative soil fertility take place at the soil particle surfaces where minerals meet water, air, and heat. These surfaces are where biological processes fix nitrogen and release silicon.
What is the Importance of Soil Fertility?
Fertile soil contains a lot of nutrients. The fact that plants will leach nutrients from the soil must be considered when growing plants for livestock. The main purpose of fertilization is to replace nutrients.
Soils nourish plants, which in turn nourish animals, who in turn nourish us. Most of the nutrients and the support or foundation for plants are provided by the soil. Decomposing plant and animal matter are accumulated in soil along with deteriorating parent material. Elements are released and made available to plants as nutrients as the soil’s components decompose.
But this process takes a very long time, and the soil only develops because of the parent material, the climate, the previous inhabitants, the topography, and the passage of time. So, a plant may not exactly need what is made available to it at a given time if it is growing. By fertilizing, extra nutrients that are lacking in the soil are added. Prudent fertilization raises yield, quality, and profit.
What Are the Key Ingredients for Healthy Plant Growth and Fertility in Soil?
A harmonious interaction between the plant, the environment, and the soil is necessary for plant growth. Plant growth is supported and nourished by the soil. Both CO2 and N2 are produced by the air and are used by plants to fix nitrogen. The interaction between plants, the environment, and the soil is influenced by over 50 different variables.
Some factors, like relative humidity, are difficult to change, but the land manager has control over many others, like soil texture. A careful management strategy results in profitable production. One of the most important variables is the nutrition provided by the elements.
Fertilization Techniques to Increase Soil Fertility
It’s simple to aerate the soil in your garden by tilling. Hard clay is broken up, the soil is turned over, and weeds and grass are incorporated into the soil. If you want to transform your yard into a garden quickly, you might need to use a tiller to get things started. Tilling, however, has drawbacks. The natural functions of the soil systems can be hampered by tilling, which reduces soil fertility.
The natural bacteria in the soil will first be disturbed by the tiller. It prevents the bacteria from surviving by destroying the soil’s air pockets and porosity. Additionally, it can awaken dormant weed seeds, which will rise to the surface, germinate, and grow while robbing your desired plants of the nutrients they require.
Use a Broad Fork
If you must break up the soil, a broad fork is a much better tool than a tiller because it allows the natural bacteria and insects to flourish. This will increase soil aeration where a tiller would have reduced it. Additionally, learn more about the ultimate guide to garden tools here.
Lasagna Gardening Technique
Without using a tiller, lasagna gardening, also known as sheet mulching, will increase soil fertility. Layering organic materials in the area where you want to plant your garden is known as lasagna gardening. The grass will be smothered, your garden will be able to be planted, and this will draw beneficial insects and bacteria that will help it grow. The organic materials will enrich the soil with more nutrients as they decompose.
You can layer various organic materials, such as hay, leaves, manure, compost, and yard waste. You have the option of laying down layers of newspaper or plain cardboard for the bottom layer. Once you’ve finished creating all your layers, be sure to get them all down completely. Your lasagna garden should be ready for planting after a few weeks if you can poke holes through the layers. Worms will eventually decompose the cardboard, newspaper, and organic material to produce a rich, nutrient-rich soil that will feed your plants.
One of the best ways to improve the soil fertility in your garden is with compost. Before using your compost, it’s best to let it age for a year, especially if it contains “hot” manure like chicken manure. You can place a pile in the yard’s corner or a compost bin. The ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen components is essential for creating the best compost.
You need 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1-part nitrogen for the best results. Mulch, dried grass clippings, and leaves are examples of carbon materials. Chicken manure and food scraps are sources of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will cause your pile to become stench-filled. If there is too much carbon present, the pile won’t get as hot and the decomposition process will take much longer. You only need to keep an eye on the health of your pile and add carbon or nitrogen as necessary rather than measuring.
To keep your pile healthy, wet it down from time to time, turn it occasionally, and then cover it with more carbon. You’ll have a rich source of compost for your garden once the compost decomposes. Compost can be used as the foundation of your lasagna garden when you first start growing things.
Compost can also be added to the hole where you plant your seedlings or blended into the top layer of soil. With very well-aged compost, you can also top-dress or side-dress your seedlings. Just be careful not to put it right up against the stem, as that could cause the plant to burn. In addition, know what grows best in wet soil.
Using Wood Chips as a Mulch
It’s important to get mulch free of pesticides or chemical residue even though you can get it for free or for very little money. Herbicide-treated mulch may cause your plants to die.
Additionally, mulch made from certain tree species, including pecan, butternut, hickories, and black walnut, may harm your garden. These trees release a chemical called juglone, which can kill plants like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. To get rid of the effects of the juglone in the mulch you’re using, it’s best to let it compost for at least six months.
Develop Cover Crops
The use of cover crops is another way to increase soil fertility. After the last harvest in the fall, during the winter if possible, or in the early spring before planting, cover crops are grown. They can also be planted in a new area that you are planning to garden in the upcoming season or in a garden area that you are giving a temporary rest. Every season, these crops will increase the soil’s fertility and strengthen its structure. Nutrient loss, compaction, and erosion are all risks associated with bare soil.
The cover crops will first fill in the field or target weeds and suppress them without the use of herbicides. Their flowers will draw these insects, and they will establish habits for them. As the roots decompose, channels are formed in the soil that allows water and oxygen to penetrate. You simply “chop and drop” the plants once the crop has grown. Use a scythe to remove the cover crop and let it decompose in place for the least amount of soil compaction possible.
You can use a lawnmower if necessary, but the weight of the mower will compact the soil. Legumes like clover, alfalfa, beans, and peas are nitrogen-fixing plants that can help balance the soil’s nitrogen levels without the use of chemicals. Grasses can be mixed in with your legumes because they have intricate root systems that will add more channels to the soil. You can simply use the crops that have been cut down as mulch instead of tilling them into the soil to reap the benefits.
Plant Deep-Rooted Vegetation
Some specific plants can help if your soil is not fertile enough. Deep-rooted plants can absorb minerals and nutrients from a great depth below the soil’s surface. Minerals and nutrients are returned to the soil near the surface after a plant dies so that smaller plants can access them. The deep taproots aerate the soil and create channels that supply the plants you want to grow with water and oxygen.
Comfrey, yellow dock, dandelion, and borage are a few of these plants. Both borage and dandelion are edible, and all four plants can be used to fertilize the soil by turning them under or composting the nutrients and minerals that they draw up from the soil’s depths.
Use Animal Waste
Animal waste, such as manure, can naturally improve the fertility of the soil. Manure enriches the soil with nutrients as well as humus, which improves the soil’s capacity to hold onto moisture. Horse manure is a great source of fertilizer, particularly from animals that have been bedding on hay or straw. Cow manure is also frequently used on nearby farms.
Goat and rabbit manure are particularly good choices for the small homesteader because they do not need to be composted before being added to the gardens and can be used both as a top dressing and mixed into the soil. Most animal manure, particularly chicken manure, should be thoroughly composted before being added to gardens or beds because the manure’s high nitrogen content can cause plants to burn. Additionally, feces contain microbes that can spread disease.
Don’t Use Harmful Chemicals
Chemical use is occasionally unavoidable. Inorganic solutions, such as herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, may be necessary to address specific issues, such as severe insect infestations or severe soil deficiencies in the areas of potassium, nitrogen, or phosphorus. These chemical treatments, however, may result in additional issues that lower overall soil fertility.
You might unintentionally lower the fertility of your soil if you use inorganic pesticides and fertilizers. If so, you might have to make a different decision to improve the fertility of your soil. Organic approaches to weed and pest control appear to be the least disruptive ones.