What Is Soil Made Of And How Does Soil Form?

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Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from If you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of and this is the first lesson of this new series. There is not a whole lot of plants going on behind me because it’s still early spring but that’s okay because the first lesson always has to be about soil anyway and the thing I really like to always start talking about is what is soil made of, how does it form, just a quick look at this because isn’t given the respect it deserves in a lot of circles, certainly in organic gardening we think a lot differently let’s have a look at our soil here.

It’s gotta drink my tea before it gets too cold. So how does soil form. Soil forms from rock. It starts as rock and then over thousands of years you have wind coming in, you have rain coming down, you have chemical reactions that occur and you have a temperature changes, freezing and staying in hot temperatures and gradually it gets broken down, a lot of this is very physical and mechanical a little bit of chemical too but the thing it doesn’t get talked about is much is the biology, so the biology is when plants start to come in, there is just enough soil that little plants can come and little microorganisms to come in and they work together often to start to produce even better soil and soil that has a little bit of organic matter in there and so that part is really important and that’s what we talk about inorganic garden, now what I want to talk about today is I just want to get inside all our heads that we are talking about soil as a vibrant community.

It’s chemical, it’s physical, it’s also very biological. So that’s what we look at, now today I kind of wanted to just look briefly at the soil texture and what that really means is the proportion of sand silt and clay in your soil because mostly that’s what the soil is, the rock it’s broken into sand which is pretty big, silt which is smaller and clay which is really, really tiny, so what you do is you try to get a little bit of soil maybe like a third of a cup into your hand, take out the organic debris, try to squeeze it into a bowl and then roll it down to cylinder and the more you can do that, the more silt and clay you have. If it doesn’t hardly squeeze into anything you have a really sandy soil.

My mike just fell off, check, check, check okay we are still going so, the texture influences the structure and what the structure is it’s how the soil kind of crumbles how it stays together are rally sandy soil texture, doesn’t stay together very well, kind of falls apart. It allows a lot of air in there but doesn’t hold water very well. So that influences how you water, a heavy clay soil hold plenty of water which is great but doesn’t hold that much area so you have to think about that also influences how you water. Both of them influence how you fertilize or what we are gonna be talking about a lot of fertilizer, the cruel thing is even if you have a very sandy soil or a very high clay soil, there is something that can moderate that and that is organic matter, so here we have leaves that make the best melt ever, we have stray that makes a pretty good melt too.

In here I have composed but I put in last year and all of these things are gonna serve to really moderate to extreme. So if I get organic matter in there get humus building in the soil. If I have a sandy soil which I don’t have here, it’s gonna help that soil to hold a lot more water and hold a lot more nutrition because sand is not whole nutrients very well at all. If I have a clay soil getting that organic matter in there is gonna allow to get more air because the roots need air in the soil food bed needs air. It’s gonna allow it to resist compaction too and you know there is so many other things that organic matter does, resisting erosion providing nutrients all kinds of cool stuff.

So really we are gonna be talking about organic matter a lot during this course, so that is just a little introduction to soil. All I really want to get across when I am talking about soil early on is just important it is for the garden and how we can learn a lot about our soil by digging in it, we are gonna be focusing on increasing organic matter, increasing minerals and proving the soil food web, it’s gonna be physics and chemistry and biology and all of this is so important to have healthy flowers, healthy trees and especially for nutrient dense food which is what I have really invested in and I have done to a little more detail in the article if you want to read that, that’s all, that’s all. If you are watching this on YouTube subscribe because there is a lot more videos in this series coming up. If you are watching on my website, you can sign up for my email list and I am going to send this as we go, I will see you next time.

If you’ve ever wondered what is soil made of - GOOD!

You absolutely need to wonder about this kind of thing if you’re going to grow optimally healthy food.

Check out this video or read on below and you’ll see that many of our most important organic gardening tasks stem from this vital question.

And for more information on how to improve the nutrition and biological diversity of your soil, check out my organic fertilizing guide.


FREE Organic Gardening Course To Help You Grow Nutrient-Dense Food

I've been involved with gardening since I was a kid, but I didn't get excited about it until I discovered organic gardening.

Organic Gardening

And so I’m really excited about a new series of organic home gardening lessons I've put together for you.

I was originally going to charge a small fee for the lessons, but I've decided to give them to you for free and leave the fees for my much more comprehensive Smiling Gardener Academy course.

The lessons will summarize some of the important concepts from the Academy.


Amazon Jungle Lesson 3 Of 3 - The Soil Food Web

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Phil: In the first two videos, I talked about how to balance our soil fertility, so that we can grow the kind of plants that we want to grow and then also how to learn from nature to bring organic matter in to our gardens. The third video is about the soil food web and that's really about the organisms living in the soil, whereas organic matter was more about that when they're dead, when plants and animals and organisms are dead.

This is more about when they're living. So it's bacteria and fungi and earth worms and insects and animals and even the plants are part of the soil food web too. If you had x-ray, microscopic vision and could look down in to the soil here, you would see a web of fungi that are going between all of these different trees and attaching the trees together, what the fungi do, is they effectively extend the root system of the trees and they go deep into the soil and far in to the soil. They bring water and nutrients to the trees. They also wrap right around the roots, that's where the connection occurs and they protect the roots from plant feeding organisms.

And then the trees in return, they manufacture carbohydrates during photosynthesis and they send that carbohydrate down to the fungi as food. So it's a real borrowing system. Even if you don't have microscopic visions, although I can't see any right now, you can sometimes see the fruits of these fungi, which are mushrooms. So the mushrooms come up and that's kind of the fruits and that's one way that the fungi spread themselves.

Even more interesting to me than that border, although that's really cool, is that the trees can actually share probably water, certainly nutrition, and probably even knowledge with each other through this fungal network, so they things through the fungi to each other to help each other out.

And then there are bacteria in the soil, there are proteas in the soil, they will have slightly different roles, but they're all… they all do important things for the community and they're very inter-dependent. They all consume each other and relate to each other and sometimes help each other. Some of the things they do are they… as I said, they feed plants, they protect plants, they breakdown organic matter, so they take that mulch that falls from the trees or the animals or everything that’s dead. They turn it into a kind of a mulch and then eventually in to a humus.

It takes some of them, taking nitrogen from the air and convert in to a form that plants can use. Some of them take toxins in the soil and make them non-toxic anymore.

Any kind of role that we need in our human communities happens in the plant communities. Taking up the cabbage and being the doctors and all things like that, all… -- there is all different roles, the organisms have to play in the soil. In the forest, the conditions are pretty nice for these microorganisms, for these fungi and bacteria and all these little guys is pretty good.

In our gardens, often not so much. We've had a lot of maybe construction work in our gardens, maybe we have a lot of compaction from equipment, lawn mores, kids running around and playing soccer. We have a monocultures that, the lack of diversity causes issues, may be we have… some one is used chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the past, which really decimates that soil food web. And so in our gardens, we may not has as abundant of a soil food web as healthy as diverse of the soil food web as naturally occurs here in the forest.

So in our gardens, we may to do something to introduce this, microbial diversity back in to our soil. The first way and arguably definitely one of the best ways to do it is compose, which I talked about in the organic matter section. A lot of people know composed is organic matter, which is good, its nutrients, which are good. But it's also just important… it's a way of growing and multiplying beneficial aerobic microorganisms, bacteria and fungi. If you have good composed that smells good, that was made properly and you have a good beneficial organisms you can bring in to your garden and immaculate your garden with those organisms.

So that's the one thing to do, but we don't usually have as much composed around, especially good composed as we would like. And so in that case, there are other things you can do, either to supplement the composed or even if you don't have composed to bring is like microbes in to your garden. I started off this post talking about micorize a fungi that are in the forest here.

You may very well not have them in all that… in abundance in your garden. And so there are ways that you can propagate them from healthy tree roots, but you have to know a lot of about how to do that properly, it takes some time. For me, the best thing to do is just to go and buy a small amount of them, you can buy them as an inoculants. And then every time you are seeding or planting anything, you put a little bit of fungi on the roots around the seeds and you're going to get them in to your soil that way. Otherwise, you can culture a lactic acid bacteria, which is something it's very, very useful bacteria for your soil.

But again, to me, and I like doing the homemade stuff, but sometimes it makes sense, there is a mosquito in front of the lens makes sense to buy a product. So there is a product called the effective microorganisms, you can buy from usually $15 to $30 depending on what kind you get. Bring that in to your soil, it's going to bring a bunch of different fermenting microbes, including, but not limited to lactic acid bacteria. And they're going to provide many benefits to your garden, to your soil, to your composed pile and to your plants.

Another one is composed tea. It's a little more work to make a good composed tea, but if you can do it, what you're doing there is your bringing in a huge ray of… tens and thousand of different species of microorganisms in to your soil, whereas the EM is just a few really important microbes, composed tea has many different microbes.

And the cool thing about the EM, which is effective microorganisms and the composed tea is, you can also spray them on to your plants and inoculate the leaves, where they can feed the leaves, the plant right through the leaves and protect the plants from diseases like that leafs seems to have. So there composed is the best, but there are other ways that we can bring in these inoculants in the garden.

Of course, we also need to stop the killing of our soil, which is hard on microorganisms the compacting, the chemical use, the pesticide use and we also have to make sure we provide them with a good home. So that means we need to water the whole soil, not just drip irrigation to the plants, we need to give water to all of these microorganisms.

We need to give them mulch, a nice leaf layer and organic matter in the soil, so we need to do what I talked about in the first video, which is balance out the nutrients just to make sure they have the proper nutrient ratios in the soil. So we need … all the things I've been talking about, we need to do, not just for the plants, but for all of these organisms in the soil.

Okay. We’ve made it back to our cabin, alive although we do have some lights on our legs. But I hope you've enjoyed these three videos in these Smiling Gardner Academy, I get in to a lot of these inoculants on how to activate your own EM, so that it really brings the cost down to like $1 to $2 per litter, how to make a special kind of compose called Bokashi with EM, how to brew your own composed tea, how to get your own indigenous lactic acid bacteria. So all kinds of cool inoculants to improve the soil food web and of course composed in too, the price as I said goes up Monday night.

So if you’re thinking about that, may be have a look at it, other than that I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

In the first two posts I covered how important it is to balance the mineralization in the soil in order to be able to grow the kinds of plants we want to grow, and then how to increase organic matter in soil the way nature does it.

Now I want to get into the third part of this soil health triangle, the soil food web.

This refers to the life in the soil, especially the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, and the insects and other small animals.

The plants are part of this too since they have a tremendous impact on the soil.


Amazon Jungle Lesson 2 Of 3 - Organic Matter In Soil

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Phil: In the last video, I was talking about soil mineralization. And in this video, what I want to get in to is, something else that’s very important for soil health and that is organic matter. An organic matter sometimes can refer to something that is living like roots are always growing and living in leaves and plants. But mostly in this context, what I mean is, something that used to be living.

And so that is leaves that are fall into the ground, that is snakes and beetles that are dead and lying on the ground and other animals, it's microorganisms, it is… all of these fresh things that have recently died and are lying on the ground. Then it's also the coarse mulch layer if you can kind of see here that is on the ground, which is when these things are starting to be broken down and they're becoming more like a mulch they’re being broken down by microorganisms.

And then eventually, when we get into the soil, we get in to the humus layer, which is when these things have been broken down and broken down by all these different kinds of microorganisms and it really resist being broken down anymore, it gets into the soil and is called humus. So that's what we're going to be talking about today as these forms of organic matter.

The forest excels at recycling organic matter. The leaves from both deciduous and coniferous trees, which is the needles are falling down, whether it would be all in a fall for deciduous or often throughout the year for something it's coniferous, they're falling to the ground and they're being recycled. There are plants and the cannabis underneath, if you get a shot of that, plants that just grow up every year and die back and so that's a lot of organic matter.

And then underground too, you have the roots that are … as you guys probably know just as big as the upper part of a tree, the roots spread all underground and… hey mosquito, don’t go in my ear. All underground and they actually grow and die back a lot. At microscopic kind of level, they're always growing and dying and contributing organic matter.

So forest really excels that recycling all these organic matter in to the soil. I should mention, although we don't have any prairies around us right now, that they create even more organic matter, you might not think so, but because the grasses, the grasses are very dense, they grow up and die every year. They have very dense root systems that grow and die a lot throughout the year.

They create a lot of organic matter and it stays down in the soil, whereas in a forest, a lot of that carbon ends up in the trunk of these trees. But either way, within any kind of natural ecosystem, organic matter is being recycled very efficiently and it’s doing a lot of good work in the soil. And that’s just the plants, so of course there are microorganisms, there are animals, earthworms, insects, all of these are growing and dying and it being recycled back in to the soil too. And but I want to talk about now is the few of the main things that organic matter does for us in the soil, in the forest and in our gardens.

First might be, fertility. Organic matter, especially when it's gets broken down into more humus in the soil is exceptionally good at holding on to nutrients. So it's stops nutrients from draining down out beneath where the roots can get them. It holds on to them and it makes them much easier for microorganisms and plants to use it. It chelates with them, makes the much more available to all the other organisms.

And further organic matter is usually composed a lot of nutrition itself. So of course, animals when they die, leaves when they fall, they have some nutrients in them, many different minerals, but especially carbon, which we may not think of as a nutrient, but it's really one of the most common nutrients that plants need, they made up of largely of carbon. So that's a very important nutrient for plants to take up, which they partially get from the air as carbon-dioxide, but if there is lots of organic matter in the soil, they’ll be happy to take it from there instead.

Number two is, water and air. Organic matter in the soil especially creates the different spore spaces that allow the soil to hold on to a lot of water, but also bigger spore spaces that allow to hold on to a lot of air. All our roots and our microorganisms need air, so we need that and of course they need water.

And so humus in the soil is good at that, plus the coarse organic leaf layer on the top of the soil is really good at holding on to moisture and air as well. Then there is soil structure, which is partly what I just talked about with the air spaces and the water spaces. But also just the organic matter in the soil is decreases compaction, really helps the soil bounce back from compaction, decreases erosion, it really helps the soil be held together, instead of blowing away.

Then there is providing for soil life and really it's all the things I've just talked about, but organic matter is habitat from microorganisms and earthworms and insects, it's food, it's water, it's air, I mean, it just provides everything that all of the soil food web needs to establish itself and be healthy. And it probably provides other things we don't know about on an energetic level, helping energy move through the soil. I mean, just really, yeah, creating a community or a soil life can thrive. We found the only sunny spot in this rain course here.

And now what I want to do is, start talking about how we can mimic nature, this rain forest to bring in organic matter into our gardens. And immediately, some of the things we do are fairly un-natural, but they do help us speed up the process of getting organic matter in to our soil and on to our soil. So the first would be composed, composting is not really a natural process, we're kind of forcing very fast decomposition by bringing organic materials into a certain sized pile or certain amount of water and air and things like that and certain combinations of materials in order to hasten the decomposition of that into organic matter and being on it's way into humus.

And we might use manure also in our garden, although it’s really best composed first as well. So we bring that composed in to our garden and pretty quickly we have some fairly well broken down organic matter. The next thing is, bringing in a mulch, which is so important for our garden. And the way we do it is way nature does it, which is leaves. Leaves are by far the best mulch. I know that most people aren't using leaves, but they really are natural their nutrients and they just provide many benefits.

A little bit grass clippings can work too, you don't want too thick of a layer grass clippings, because it can get anaerobic and promote the wrong kind of microorganisms and they can smell and all that. But a little bit grass clippings is fine and when we don't have leaves or grass clippings in the short-term, we can use straw, which works really well, doesn't look quite as natural, but it does fine.

But really, what we hope is that we can eventually get some leaves in to our garden. One thing that you really don't want to use too much off is bark mulch and wood chips. If you look at the fourth floor here, you don't see two inches of wood chips or bark mulch that just not … that's not how it happens. When you see here, mostly leaves, you see some sticks that fall. Hardly any bark, because the trees don't shed bark all that much.

You see, probably some seeds and some fresh material, but it's mostly leaves that of course on top, when you get underneath and then they are more broken down. So you can use a little bit of that stuff. Bark mulch tends to, it can cause a nitrogen deficiency in your soil. It’s so high in carbon that I won't explain that all here, but it can just cause nitrogen to be used up very quickly in your soil.

The same with wood chips and the thing about bark, especially is that how those toxins in it, that's the plants, first line of defense against insects and other plant feeding organisms. And so there is toxins in bark, especially in coniferous bark that we often use in the garden like fur and seeder, pretty toxic stuff. Now you can use a little bit in an ornamental garden or for example, if you have a seeder edge, sure you could use a little bit of seeder mulch underneath, but you don't need two inches of it.

If you have a free source of woody material, again in a deciduous like an ornamental garden, that's a woody garden like shrubs and trees, a little bit can be okay, you might need to supplement some nitrogen, some organic nitrogen, so that you don't cause soil problems. But really if you had a free source, I'd rather see you composed it for a few years and then bring it in to your garden.

So composts and mulches are great way to quickly bring in organic matters, sometimes we bring it in from offside if we have to, but in the long run, what we really want to do is, mimic nature even more by using for example plants.

If we can plant things that grow quickly and make a lot of leaves that falls and for most of us in autumn, they fall and that's the great way to create mulch and then naturally it's going to become more humus overtime. So planting things always making sure we have ground cover is a great way to mimic nature and increase organic matter. Along with that, we really want to have ground covers in our garden. And you can be there, it’s very popular, it's very popular to use ground covers that are evergreen like IVs, things like that, they can be helpful.

But more I’m thinking deciduous ground covers like clovers and perennials that get recycled into the soil every year and improve the soil when the recycled and also improve the soil, just by being there and covering it and protecting it. And speaking of clovers, if you're doing a lot of vegetable gardening, where the bed is empty during the early spring and fall, it's great to plan a cover cop of legumes like clovers and that is they bring nitrogen into the soil, provide a lot of benefits or sometimes grasses are good for or they bring in other benefits, but just always making sure your soil is covered in plants is a great way to make sure that's always going to get a lot of organic matter.

So you can see how nature gives us a lot of clues as to how to improve organic matter. In the long-term the sustainable way to do it, is to plant a lot of plants that are going to be loosing a lot of leaves and making a nice mulch for you, having cover crops on the ground all the time, just always under social cover is a good way to do it. And then in the short-term, we might bring in some composed and some leaf mulch, some straw mulch to get that organic matter happening much more quickly.

So that's really important. Step number two is organic matter. It does allow for our garden. In the next video, I'm going to get in to the third step to building a healthy garden ecosystem. As for all the things I talked about today, I do get in to them in much more detail in the academy in my on-line gardening course, so mulching and composting and cover cropping, all of that in a lot more detail. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the price is going to be going up on Monday night, so if you're interested in that you might want to have a look at that right now.

In the last post I talked about improving soil mineralization.

Now I want to discuss another aspect of organic soil health that is important for so many things: organic matter in soil.

Organic matter refers partially to living things like roots and fungi, but in this context it mostly means everything that used to be alive.

That means fresh fallen leaves and recently deceased snakes and beetles, to the coarse mulch layer when these things are partially decomposed, to the very stable humus when they’re fully broken down which stays around in the soil for years.


Amazon Jungle Lesson 1 Of 3 - Mineralization

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Phil: Despite the fact that you can hear, may be a chainsaw in the background. We are in fact in the jungle.

Welcome to the first three videos about how to improve the health of your garden, especially the health of your soil. What we're going to do is, we're in our cabin right now in the rain forest. But we're going to be going for some walks this week right into the jungle to learn about how we can learn from the jungle, from nature to improve the health of our garden. Admitively, this first video is actually a little more about how our garden differs from the rain forest. But it's still going to be interesting to compare the two.

And the first thing I want to talk about is mineralization of your soil or balancing your soil fertility. All of the three videos I'm going to shoot are of equal importance. But I usually start there, because when I go in to a new garden or when I install a new garden, I want to often get a soil test on it and send it off to a lab and it takes a couple of week, sometimes to get the results back and then I can think about mineralizing the soil, fertilizing the soil. But I want to do that right away, so I can send that off to the lab to get those results.

So first of all, what I'm going to be talking about today is soil fertility. So what can we learn from the forest about fertility? Well, we can learn a lot of things and some of them are going to come in latter videos. But if you think about a forest, nobody fertilizes the forest, there is nobody bringing in calcium or any kind of fertilizer.

And that's why a lot of people think, oh, I don't want to fertilize my garden. Nobody fertilize, is the forest or a prairie and if I just make composed is very popular in the organic world and that's going to be sufficient to fertilize my garden. And I kind of understand that. But what I want to just talk about today is, why our garden is different and why I think you do want to do a little bit of fertilizing in your garden and I'm going to give you a few tips today on how to do that.

The reason the forests doesn't need fertilizing is because something is always going to grow here, unless you have soil that's incredibly toxic or something like that. Even then, there are plants for every situation. And so what happens in a forest or anywhere that's natural is you have… when you hardly have any soil, you have plants that come in, they're called pioneering species, they're often nitrogen fixing plants, but there may be various kinds of plants and microorganisms, likings they come in, they spread up, of course, this takes decades and centuries, but eventually that the right plant for the soil here and for the climate… is that a monkey? Is going to come in. And most of the plants that spread are not going to grow, but that's okay, because some will grow and eventually you have this cool forest.

So that's really why you don't need for laser in forest, something is… there is always something that’s going to come in. You can do the same thing in your garden if you want to and I've actually known a couple of people who have done that, which is just to let the weeds grow up and we call them weeds, but they're really just plants. And what they're going to do is to kind of improve of your soil overtime, more species of plants will come in, may be eventually after decades or centuries, it becomes the forest like this or may be not. But it will be a garden kind of.

The reason we want to fertilize is because we want to dictate which plants come in, we want to plant them and we want to make sure, they would grow there and we want them all to live, not just 10% of them and we want to thrive. If you leave your garden alone, it's … is it going to produce tomatoes or strawberries or big, beautiful award winning roses, from most of us, the answer is no. It's a… most of those plants didn't evolve where we're trying to grow them, they came from often and another continent entirely and most of them aren’t and perfectly matched for our soil conditions. So it doesn't mean you can plant them and may be get some more key plants. But if you want really healthy plants and that's when a little bit of fertilizers can help. And you don't need a lot, it's actually amazing, just how little you need to tweak the system to make it work for plants like these.

The easiest way to know which fertilizers to use is to go and get a soil lab that is very organically minded, get them to analyze your soil. They’ll tell you which macronutrients and micronutrients are lacking or imbalanced in your soil and then they will tell you what to bring in and how much to bring in. It's really easy to do that way. The most gardeners skip this step, many of them still have fine gardens, but if you're trying to grow really healthy plants that are free of pests and especially what I'm interested in, it's food that is really full of nutrients, that's when I think this step is worthwhile just to get a soil test and do a little bit of fertilizing.

The reason we need a soil test is because we want to add the right nutrients. That's not just N, P, K, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, it's not even things like dolomite, lime, which people often add just for good measure. Those can often cause problems. What we want is to know exactly which minerals we need to add in there. And that's why often, blended fertilizers that you buy from a garden centre or a fertilizer supply place are not right, because they may be bringing in some of the nutrients you need, but they may be bringing in some of the nutrients you already have enough or too much of and then you just further shifting things out of balance.

That being said, there is one kind of fertilizer you can bring in without a soil test and that is rock dust. Usually from a glacial source or volcanic source, you can get it from something more of a specialty fertilizer store or you can go right to a query and get it if you're willing to do some testing to make sure it's good and it doesn't have any problems with that. But you can bring that in and what it does is, it brings in a broad spectrum of nutrients. So it doesn't bring in a lot of any nutrient, which means it's not going to throw anything out of balance and that's why you can use it without a soil test. So you can bring it in, it's going to make sure you have just a base of lots of different nutrients and you're not going to cause any problems.

And although it may seem kind of weird to bring in rock dust, a lot of experimentation around the world is shown that it works. Even though, our soil is usually do have at least a little of every nutrients, they really do. Bring in the rock dust in has done a lot of good in gardens and even in forests. Another thing we can do is called foliar fertilizing, which means we're spraying things like ocean water, just straight ocean water from a clean source or cults that's been made in to a liquid. We spray that on to our plants and it's especially useful during the early growing stages of plants or when your soil may be isn't popping enough to make your garden really grow healthy.

Now paradoxically, you actually need to have a reasonably healthy soil, especially you need enough calcium in order for the plants to be able to take up these nutrients through their leaves. We get all those minerals down into the soil, they get in to the plants, the plants then have all the micronutrients to create the enzymes in order to be healthy, in order to maximize photosynthesis and do all of these plants processes. And then the really nice thing for us, if we're growing food, is that we get to eat the plants that have the micronutrients in them. And even if you're already eating a healthy diet, if you're trying to eat organic food, a lot of our organic food, especially the industrialized organic food is pretty low in nutrition.

So that's why I'm really in to growing my own food and trying to use these different methods to get fertility both in to the soil and directly in to the plants, so that I get to get that fertility in to me latter and then I can be healthier. So what I really wanted to share today is, more how as I said, a garden is different than a forest. It's different because we want to control which plants grow. We want them to be very healthy. We want everything we plant to live and thrive and produce all nutrient dense food for us or at least be for growing ornamentals, have beautiful flowers and we free of test and so that's really what I was talking about today.

In the next video, I'm going to talk about something different, but it relates very much to fertility and to water. It's much more about how we can emulate nature in our gardens. For those of you watching who are not in the Smiling Gardner Academy, which is my online, very comprehensive organic gardening course, where I teach soil testing and mineralization and soil fertility and all of these things I've been kind of talking about today are you… if you're interested in that, you might want to check it out this week, because the price is actually going to be going up on Monday night.

Welcome to the first of three steps on how we can learn from nature when it comes to improving garden health, especially organic soil health.

(You'll see me swatting at mosquitoes and these other biting bugs here and there - they sure were thick when we got deep into the jungle).

All three steps are equally important, but the first I tend to think about is balancing soil minerals, the main reason being that I want to get a soil test analyzed as soon as possible when I’m working on a new garden because it can take a couple of weeks to get results.

Admittedly, this first post is more about how our organic gardens differ from a forest with regards to fertility than how it is the same, but it’s a very useful comparison.


Organic Gardening Lessons From The Amazon Jungle

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Phil: Hey, guys, its Phil from and as you may be able to tell by the vegetation around me, I'm not where I usually I am. I am in the jungle in the Amazon. Heather and I are in Peru for about three months and we're basically kind of working away as usual. We always have plenty to do, but we're doing it from Peru for a little while. And while we’re here, I'm trying to learn a little bit more about growing food in the tropics. But as while we're in the Amazon here, I'm mostly just trying to pay attention to the jungle around me to the nature around me, you can learn a lot about gardening by paying attention to nature.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to be making three videos for you to show you how we can take some lessons from the jungle here and bring them into our organic gardens to grow healthy plants, plants that are pest free and especially if you're growing food, plants that are really nutrient, dense and full of nutrition for you. And well it happen to be in the Amazon jungle here, I could just as easily be in a temperate forest or even in a grassland and all the lessons that I'm going to be talking about here, really apply to every one.

I could certainly make a lot more than three lessons about looking in to nature for design tips that's very much for permaculture culture is interested in as learning from nature, talking about maintenance, there are all kinds of things I could talk about. But what I want to focus on for these three videos are how to create really healthy soil and what we can learn from nature about creating healthy soil in our gardens. So I'm going to be filming these over the next few days and sending them to you as I make them that you happen to be in the middle of my other lessons right now that means you're going to get a lot of e-mails from me this week. So I hope that's okay. But I just really want to film these this week and send them off to you. So I hope you enjoy them.

Hey guys, guess where I am?

Okay, I gave it away in the title. I’m in the Amazon jungle!

Heather and I are living in Peru for 3 months. While we’re here I’m learning a few things about growing food in the tropics.

But while we're in the jungle I’m mostly just trying to pay attention to the nature around me.

You can learn a lot about organic gardening if you take the time to observe nature.


Phil's 2013 Update

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Heather: We should just be dancing. No, this is stupid. You have to stop it.

Phil: Okay, let’s go.

[Music Playing]

Heather: Hey guys! This is Heather from I am outside in snow and Phil’s with me. Whoa! Oh my God, we’re in the same video. It’s craziness.

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: So, first of all, we just wanted to say a big huge thank you to all of you. Mostly because the other day my YouTube channel got 215,000 subscribers, which I think is crazy; crazy and awesome.

Phil: That’s a lot.

Heather: Yeah. How many subscribers do you have?

Phil: Almost a thousand. But I haven’t been focusing on YouTube yet.

Heather: Right. Okay. So, moral of the story is you shall go subscribe Phil’s channel, so you can watch him.

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: So, end of the year always a good time to look back on what you’ve accomplished. So, 2012, for me, was about building relationships with you guys, with other vegan and health professionals through my Better Health Summit, through going to conferences, and it was also having a lot of fun, for me. I tried to do videos where I had really just a lot of fun and still give information, but do it in a fun way. So, like my Top 10 list.

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: My butter substitute and cooking oil makes a fantastic moisturizer.

Phil: Especially in the last few months, you’ve been doing some cool stuff I think.

Heather: Yeah. Fun. What have you got going on?

Phil: 2012, just like 2011, I spent most of my time on the Smiling Gardener Academy, which is my online gardening course. I have like 450 videos in there now or something, so that’s what I do mostly. I put out a book --

Heather: Yes.

Phil: -- called Building Soils Naturally.

Heather: Awesome book.

Phil: Published.

Heather: Beautiful cover.

Phil: Beautiful cover, good writing too.

Heather: Excellent writing.

Phil: That was put out in December.

Heather: I edited it.

Phil: Yeah, you did edit it.

Heather: Partially.

Phil: That’s right on your hair.

Heather: I know.

Phil: Okay.

Heather: Okay, go.

Phil: 2013.

Heather: 2013.

Phil: So, we’re kicking off 2013 with brand new websites that I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks, over Christmas.

Heather: He’s been working really hard.

Phil: A little new musical intro to the video.

Heather: Yes. We’re going to put on this video, right?

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: So, you’ll already have heard it.

Phil: It’s just a simple little thing.

Heather: But I like it.

Phil: New logos, that my buddy Matt Paren designed for us that are so nice.

Heather: Yes, it’s beautiful, check out the top of the website. If you’re on YouTube go over to the website, you’ll see it there.

Phil: And just the new website that are going to be updating the technology, easier to navigate, little pretty hopefully, and especially on small devices they should work nicely. So, the most exciting thing for 2013 is something we’ve been working on for a few months, at least.

Heather: What is it?

Phil: It’s coming out next.

Heather: Oh, my god! Yes. Okay. So, I’ve been working on this for a long time and I’m super excited about it. I want to share it with you guys, it’s a new project. What can I say about it?

Phil: Nothing.

Heather: Nothing? Okay.

Phil: They’ll find out this week.

Heather: I can’t tell you yet.

Phil: People who are on your email list are going to get a lot of cool free stuff. So --

Heather: So, if you’re not on it already go sign up on my email list

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: You can do that while you check out the logo.

Phil: Yeah, which everyone is dying to see our logo.

Heather: I don’t know.

Phil: Then.

Heather: Then.

Phil: Then what are we doing?

Heather: Then, in a couple of weeks we’re going to Peru for three months.

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: Three months.

Phil: You’re excited.

Heather: I am excited because, you know what they have there? A whole ton of fruit and quinoa.

Phil: And it’s like --

Heather: So…

Phil: -- fresh ripe fruit the way it’s supposed to taste.

Heather: Yes.

Phil: Yeah.

Heather: I am so excited, I really am.

Phil: Okay. So, quickly, for me, because this video is maybe getting long. So, for me -- for my followers in 2013, I’m -- the Academy is largely done, but I’m going to be going back through and improving some of the videos. Some of the -- some videos where I’m just doing this, standing in front of a camera, because it’s hard to always show things.

So, I’m going to film, 25% to 40% is what I’m taking of the videos over again make them even cooler. I know it’s -- people are giving me great feedback already, but I just want to -- 2013 is going to be just like making the Academy even cooled that already is.

And, for blogging, it’s going to be the year when I -- I have a really cool strategy for blogging. It doesn’t mean I’m going blog more often, but I just think it’s going to be really cool what I’m doing. I’ll be talking about that more later.

Heather: Yeah.

Phil: Maybe, depending on how you feel after this video, we will be doing a little more things together this year. We haven’t really talked about that. I’m springing it on you right now.

Heather: Okay, we’ll see. What do you guys think?

Phil: Go.

Heather: No. Here you go.

Phil: No, it’s -- we haven’t told each other, so that’s good.

Heather: Not yet. Okay, I want to know what else you guys want to see from me in 2013. So, if there’s anything leave it in comments.

Phil: I want to know that too.

Heather: You want to know what’s you --

Phil: For my feedback.

Heather: Stealing my question.

Phil: I want to know what you want from me in 2013. Just what you want me to write about and what you want her to write about. So…

Heather: Great. Okay. And it looks good.

Phil: You’re done?

Heather: I am done. Are you done?

Phil: I want to go play in the snow.

Heather: Okay. Oh, no he attacked.

Phil: Here can you make a snow angel?

Heather: You can’t make noise before you come on.

Phil: Hey guys, this is Heather from HealthyEatingStartsHere.

Happy New Year Everyone!

I thought it would be fun to update you on what's been going on at in 2012 and what I'll be up to in 2013.

First, thanks to everyone for your support, for leaving questions and comments on my blog or sending me an email.

I can't respond to most emails, but I do really appreciate your enthusiasm for organic gardening.


Preparing Garden For Winter? Here Are The Most Important Steps

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H: Hey guys this is H, Phil’s sister from and today we are talking about preparing your garden for winter. How do we know it’s time to winterize our garden?

Phil: I do it right before it’s going to snow.

H: What’s the most important thing for preparing the garden?

Phil: For me it is like one really big step and that is doing something to protect your soil over winter. There are some few different ways you can go about doing that.

H: What’s the easiest thing to do?

Phil: Yeah. Like if I guess if we were talking about like a vegetable garden or a perennial garden, certainly one thing you could do is just leave your plants there, your tomatoes, your peppers, your everything, just leave them right there and they will just die back, the nutrients from the plant will go back into the root system of the plants and the top will just die back and become a mulch for the soil and all those nutrients and all those organic matter will makes its way back into the soil and it’s not the most esthetically pleasing, but if your garden is kind of back somewhere where it doesn’t matter and now it will be easiest way to do it and that’s how nature would do it too, right.

H: But what if your garden is in a really high profile area and you don’t want it to look that messy?

Phil:That’s what I have this garden here, its right up by the house and it’s like I try to keep it as a nice garden. So then what I do is take all of that stuff and put it into the compose bin because I really want to get the nutrients out of that and get the carbon, the organic matter out of that. So I take all that and put it into a compose bin and then I like to plan a carver crop.

H: What about leaves?

Phil: If you are not going to plan to carver crop, you want something to protect our soil and so that’s where mulch comes in and by far the best mulch and the most natural mulch is leaves and this is the time of year that we actually get them for free, especially if we have been clever enough to planting and make wild leaves.

H: I think that’s it. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about preparing the garden?

Phil: I did put a few more tips on the blog, so people are watching on YouTube, they can go over to this blog and there is some extra brownie points, there is some extra things you can do to really improve this process of soil building in the fall.

H: Sounds good.

Phil: Hey you know what I should say because you don’t know how to say it yet is for people who haven’t picked up the 15 vital lessons for becoming a better organic gardener, you can do that right on the Home page of and that’s where I teach a whole bunch of really cool tips.

H:You are gardening for the winter.

It's November, which means:

  1. Christmas music is beginning to waft through stores across North America, and
  2. I'm preparing my garden for winter.

The most important task for preparing a garden for winter is getting that soil good and covered.

There are a few ways you can tackle that:


Benefits of Weeds - 6 Reasons You Should Keep Some Around

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Phil: Hey Guys! It's Phil from and today we are talking about the benefits of weeds and if you haven't picked up the 15 Vital Lessons For Becoming A Better Organic Gardener, you can do that right on the homepage of

So, do you remember when I had a particularly weedy lawn of a client of mine and I had to get you to come and help me hand weed the lawn?

H: I do. I think I did it for free. No way. You still owe me.

Phil: I just remember that that – like there were – that was a small front lawn but there were more weeds there than grass, right?

H: Yes. Same at the backyard because I ended taking all of that job for you and the – it was just crazy. You could hardly even see the grass.

Phil: So it's the kind of thing where we knew that we could eventually, over the course of a number of years, improve the soil and help the plant to the point where the grass would win over the weeds but it was just in a short term because the client didn't like the weeds. We had to hand-pull them, right?

H: Yeah. Exactly. I guess that's the problem with trying to find the short term solution, right?

Phil: So. Today – I mean today we are just talking about the benefits of weeds which – I don't know if we ever got that across to hearing that but they are really – there was a reason the weeds were there which is because they were more suited for that soil than the grass.

So usually it means the soil is not in great shape. It's – it could be any number of nutritional imbalances or water issues or compaction issues. But today we are talking about what the weeds do for the lawn or the garden, right?

H: Yes. We are. We love talking about weeds.

Phil: So why don't you tell people something that the weeds that's good?

H: Okay. Well. Weeds bring mineral.

Phil: Don't lose it.

H: Weeds bring minerals and water up from deep in the soil and they make them available to microbes and neighboring plants.

Phil: Well, how you stress like every third word there.

H: Hey! There is a point to be made.

Phil: Yes. Weeds bring nutrients. I am certain weeds bring up nutrients from really deep in the soil because they have long tap roots. They are also – just a lot of them have extensive root systems. They break up hardpans and break up compaction. They are always dying back and growing, both above and below ground.

So they are adding organic matter to the soil. They are fixing-- like the really cool thing is weeds will come in and if you have a calcium deficiency, there is going to weeds to come in and fix that calcium deficiency. Now it may take decades or centuries but sometimes it will be really quick but that's what they do.

So actually we have a longer list on the Blog of what weeds do that's good for you. But I guess we just want to tell people to embrace their weeds. We get into it – I mean I get into a lot more in the academy and then probably in 2013, we will actually talk a little bit more about what you can do to improve soil condition like on the Blog, mostly we cannot talk a lot more detail in the academy.

So the question I want to ask today is what weeds are causing you guys problems. Yeah. I just want to hear like what kinds of weeds you have in abundance. So let me know in the comments down below. Is there anything else?

H: I cannot think of anything else particularly or just so about weeds.

Phil: Okay. That's good for today then.

Yes, weeds can be a bummer, but many gardeners don’t know there are a lot more benefits of weeds than downsides.

Besides, they’re easily controlled in the garden with mulch.

The lawn is definitely trickier. I had one client who’s front lawn had more weeds than grass.


How To Use Mulch - Mulching Trees VS Mulching The Vegetable Garden

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Phil:Hey Guys! It's Phil from and today we are talking about how to use mulch and a quick reminder if you haven't signed up for the 15 Vital Lessons For Becoming A Better Organic Gardener, you can do right on the homepage of

So H, do you remember when we used to mulch at aunt Tina and uncle George's?

H: I do. I think we have pictures somewhere of that.

Phil: Wow!

H: I don't know here.

Phil: I bet it's not digital though. I bet it's like a film picture.

H: Oh yeah. They are like – it's a film like 1986 or something like that.

Phil: So what did we do there?

H: Yeah. So I can remember just, you know, wrapping up use piles of leaves and jumping in them and playing in them and all that stuff. But we would, aunt Tina had us, like mow over them until they were really finely shredded and then put them on her veggie garden. She had a huge veggie garden. And I think we would turn them into the soil with like a pitch fork or something like that. So – I can remember that quite well.

Phil: And then, it's kind of funny because we – when we became landscapers, we were using like cedar mulch for many years and then when we got into organic gardening, we were back to leaves mostly now, right?

H: Yeah. Definitely. I mean, how many yards of mulch did both of us shovel onto people' gardens?

Phil: That was always fun though because that was lighter than like stones.

H: I loved mulching. It was like the most stratifying job, but leaves is way funnier, super easy to do.

Phil: Okay. So what I am going to talk about really quickly and there is more detail on the blog. What I want to talk about today is how to choose a mulch depending on if you are growing more like trees and shrubs, maybe an orchard fruit trees or more like a vegetable gardener annual plants. So I guess I am just going to talk, right H?

H: Sounds good.

Phil: Okay. So okay. So just quickly, this is the main point I wanted to talk about today.

Trees and shrubs like more of a fungal dominated soil food web. They really want a lot more fungi than bacteria. In order to get that, you want to definitely leave the mulch on the surface of the soil and use some woody material, some wood chips, not bark mulch. And definitely you want the wood chips from the same kind of tree. So if you are planting fruit trees or other deciduous trees, you want deciduous mulch. If you planting conifers you want more conifer mulch because if you use it with the wrong one, it promotes the wrong fungi and there is other issues. So that's an important one.

Still leaves are always the most important part. But if you want to promote fungi, getting a little woody material in there, especially early on when you are trying to establish the fungal soil food web, that's what you want.

Over to your vegetable garden, that's when we definitely don't want woody material because we want more of a balance between bacteria and fungi. So we want – that's really leaves and maybe straw, maybe you consider turning it into the soil, just the top of the soil because you don't want to disturb too much but just to promote more bacteria. Or even, if you leave it on the surface. You just want a very think kind of, mulch of leaves and straws and I think I carved it a little more elegantly in the blog but that's the main thing I wanted to talk about today.Hey, what have you been eating earlier?

H: Oh! I got these little fruits from the supermarket. Actually, I already posted a picture of them on the Facebook and ask people about it. But they are like these little berry that I never had before. You know, it's cool to be in the different country and like try something that you have never saw before but like, they are so confusing. It's like a citricy melon and blue berry but it looks like a tomato. They are super interesting though.

Phil: What’s it called? Do you know in English?

H: No. But I put it on – asked people on Facebook. So. I am sure somebody will know what they are. I cannot translate it from Dutch. It doesn't look like anything that I know.

Phil: So that's, right?

H: Yeah.

Phil: And do we had question for people today?

H: Yeah. We are going to ask people, like us, when you got into organic gardening, did your practices change too, did you change the type of mulch you were using, or if you have any other questions about types of mulch or how to use mulch, that would be a good place to ask it down below the blog.

Phil: It sounds good to me.

H: Cool.

Phil: That's all for today.

H: Yeah. Bye for now.

There are a couple of important things I want to share about how to use mulch in your organic garden.

When we were kids we would help our aunt and uncle put their vegetable garden to rest for the winter, using leaves for mulch.

We’d collect them into a pile, jump into them and play a while, mow over them with the lawnmower, then pile the mulched pieces onto the soil.


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