Organic soil management is a science and an art.
Conventional soil science teaches that soil is a relatively inert medium, an anchor for plants made of sand, silt and clay and a handful of nutrients for plant growth. If soil has enough nutrients, gardener’s will be okay.
Of course, organic soil management is so much more than that. Yet traditionally, not much has been mentioned about organic matter and next to nothing on the soil food web.
In many soil textbooks, you would likely find multiple chapters on fertilizing with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) and next to nothing on organic matter and botany. Fertilization is seen as the number one soil management strategy in many textbooks.
But this is organic gardening, and I’d like to present the story of healthy soil as a vibrant, living community. Of course, even organic soil is composed of sand, silt, clay and minerals, so I’ll talk about that, too.
And I’ll talk about soil testing, which isn’t particularly complicated but there are some things you need to know to do it right. I’ll get into organic soil amendments
Here are my articles on organic soil management…
In part 1, I talked about how organic matter is the most important ingredient for many gardens, and how mulch and compost are two of my favorite ways of using it.
Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com. Today we are talking about worm bin composting; maybe you don’t have a place to have a big outdoor compost but still want to recycle those fruit scraps into something really nutritious and that’s where worm bin comes in because it’s really compact. You can do right inside and then mix really wonderful compost.
So the first thing we are gonna do here is to make a worm bin, you can buy them online already made but I want to show you how to make one from much cheaper. The size really doesn’t matter too much but what I have here is probably 15 inches wide by 24 inches long by maybe 24 inches tall something like that, start with the bottom. Can you see the bottom holes, I have the 6 to 12 holes. I usually drill in the bottom and that per drainage, so that extra water can drain out then along the sides I usually have 6 to 12 holes and also I will show you these holes in the lid that allows for just air movement because you know worms to breathe air just we do. You also need just to settle the bin up a little bit.
So it’s allowed to drain, so any kind of wood blocks or if you want to have some of the fun, you find some little branches like that and you set them down underneath the bin, so it’s sitting up. Other thing you need to do is have a drain into something. We happen to have another lid that’s a perfect way to catch the liquids it’s gonna run out otherwise any kind of a tray will work. The worms need a home and since we are gonna be adding a lot of nitrogen rich food scraps. We need some carbon rich bedding as we call it. You can use some leaves for that, some straw for that but what’s commonly done is some newspaper.
Another thing we can put in there which is a very, very good idea is some sand. Worms need sand in order to process their food. These few little bit sand in there or if you just have some soil to have a little bit of sand in it that will be fine too. You don’t necessarily have to go and buy sand, it’s basically a lot like a compost power where we wanted to be moist like a runout sponge, a worm bin is even kept a little more moist. What’s can be nice somewhere but still you want the worms to be able to breathe air.
So we don’t want to be too soaking with, we get red regular worms which tend to hang out sometimes in compost piles especially in maneuver pile; most of us what we do is we go by them and that can be a little tricky to find in your local area, sometimes you might have a local person who sells them or sometimes you might them at a farmer’s market, the often you can online do a little bit of searching and find them and have them shipped to you, often what’s recommended for a box besides is about a pound of worms, it’s leaking and it’s being cut just like it suppose to.
I have gotten a way with half a pound of worms before because they can be a little pricy but really not too bad, so I had some worm shipped to me and these people did a fantastic job shipping, so that the worms are in this really nice bedding already. You can see any worms in there, in order to help them settle in, it can be handy to get a light and turn it on and kind of put it into your bin like that, worms don’t like light so they are gonna go down into the bin there and get really comfortable down in their bedding, after a few days or maybe as long as a week, you can start feeding your worms once they are comfortable in there and now eat pretty much any food scraps but there are few things you shouldn’t really feed them. You don’t really want to feed them much in the way of meat, dairy, really oily foods, really salty foods or really hot spicy foods and that’s about it, we don’t love citrus so not too much citrus and also not too much in the Allium family like garlic and onions but a little bit isn’t a problem, egg shells no problem, parsley, broccoli.
I wouldn’t go for the citrus, if I can help it and in all kinds of other foods scraps we are having here, pepper, sweet potato, it’s all good. So how do you do this, well you can use your hands or sometimes after a while especially once it gets going, it can be kind of handy to use a spatula to get in there. I am gonna to start adding food, I will take a corner, I will bury the food in that corner and I basically start kind of slow, one pound a week then maybe 2 pounds a week and then for a bit in the size maybe up to 4 or 5 pounds a week eventually and I have probably added about twice a week, so I don’t go adding it everyday just because I don’t want to disturb than more than I have to, so what I will do is I will add into this corner and kind and buried in there and that helps stop the food flies from coming and just mix it better for them, it’s kind like when you are mixing up the compost pad you want to mixed together that I will go into this corner, then I will skip kind of working along the bin every few days, pretty more food scraps in by the time I have finished over here and I come back to the beginning, these food scraps should be largely broken down and like, then I can start again at the beginning. If you have any questions about worm bin compost you can ask them down in here, if you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course, you can get it down in here. You can join me and my sister over on Facebook at faebook.com/smilinggardener.
If you’ve always wanted a pet, but think:
- Dogs are too messy,
- Cats are too stuck up,
- And goldfish leave something to be desired in the personality department
(no offence intended to my dog/cat/fish loving readers),
Phil:Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com.
Today we are talking about organic composting and we are going to be making some compost together. The reason I love compost so much is what it does for my garden. It’s kind of behind these trees here and that is to bring in fertility and organic matter and beneficial microorganisms and insects and a whole host of benefits to the garden. Now we are doing organic composting today and all that really means to me is that we are using organic materials. No genetically modified materials, well now you can spike it with any chemicals.
We are not going to use maneuver from animals that receive a whole lot of antibiotics and hormones and things like that. We are going to try to keep it clean. In terms of materials you don’t want to use ,I have a few around here, one would be anything that’s toxic such as this paper. If you could have this kind of colored paper, it really has a lot of toxins in it, anything that you might think of being toxic you probably don’t want to put in there.
You can put most weeds into the compost they will be taking care of no problem, there are a few like this quack grass or bind weed or others that really spread that you really don’t want to take the chance that they are going to be put all throughout your garden when you spread your compost. Leave them now put other weeds in, some people are pretty nervous about using dog or cat maneuver, personally I have no problem with using a bit of it. I am not going to get into more detail on that today. It is kind of a controversial topic but I have no problem with a tiny amount of that stuff in there likewise you can use your own human maneuver and urine in a compost pile.
They are great nutritionally, they are great to divert from this sour system. You can put meat and other animal products in there but it will sometimes attract like skunks and raccoons and things like that, so a lot of people don’t use them in the compost. If you thing that you could attract even just put your food scraps, rat source, skunks and raccoons and things like that. What again you want to do is build a bin that doesn’t let them in, that’s getting the talking about some ingredients we can use. Now you may have heard compost ingredients to be discussed as greens versus browns and that doesn’t really refer to the color of the necessarily, although sometimes it does.
What it really refers to is greens means more nitrogen rich materials and brown means more carbon rich materials and we are trying to balance out those two nutrients, those two elements in the compost pile. So greens means things like maneuver, I don’t have any maneuver today, I don’t tend to use it all that much in the compost pile but that is one that is more of nitrogen source, especially when you get down to the bird maneuver like chicken maneuver.
Another one is fresh grass clippings or weeds that you might have picked that contain more nitrogen. Young plants, especially tentative have more nitrogen and as they get older they become more carbon rich, food scraps are another one, they tend to be all over the map for their carbon to nitrogen ratio but we tend to think of them a little bit more than nitrogen, now I want your raw material as your carbon rich materials, for me what are main ones is straw or you can use hay too, hay has a little bit more weed seeds but that can be okay, that’s a really good one. Leaves are great carbon source and nice nutrition source too. I like to put them in the compost obviously in the fall and the n I don’t tend to use it much but if you do have some saw dust or some wood scraps, they can make nice carbon component of the compost pile suite there, very high in carbons.
They need to be balanced it with a lot of nitrogen but that’s okay, now you can just take one kind of nitrogen and one kind of carbon source and mix them together and that’s fine but I do like to get a diversity if possible because the more different sources I am bringing in, the more different microorganisms I am bringing in and different nutrients I am bringing in and generally I am going to get a nice or more diverse compost pile. When it comes to mixing these things together, a general simple rule for composting 101 is to try to get 2 to 4 times as much brown carbon materials as green nitrogen materials and so really that just keeps it simple, you can get a lot more technical and mathematical about it but that’s an easy way to go about it.
Let’s get into how to make organic compost and we get into my bin here, you can see I have out of palettes because that’s the free and very easy way to do it, I just tie them together with a little bit of rope, you don’t even need a bandage just keep things a little bit tight here in terms of size this is about the minimum I would go with which is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet tall and then I go up to a size of about 5 feet by 5 feet 5 feet. I have actually been leaning a little more to larger size as recently because it helps to get the pile harder. What happens if the pile is too small if it’s much smaller than 3 by 3 by 3 it’s not going to be able to heat up and I think heating up is what allows the composting process to happen and it also kills weed seeds and pathogens.
So we want to get some heat going in there, on the other hand if your pile gets too big and there is not enough air getting into the middle and we want air to be outflow with the pile because we are trying to make aerobic compost because we are trying to get aerobic air breathing microorganism. The way to make sure that you have enough air in the pile and the pile stays nice and hard and that all of the materials get into the middle of the pile is to turn the piles, that’s what I am going to do right now. So you can see it starts to look a little more like compost when I get down to the bottom of my pile but for me it doesn’t look entirely like compost because I put in things like this big stocks of corn or tomatoes.
First of all I would like to recycle them but it also helps keep it more aerated as well. So at the end of the process, eventually they will break down but by the time I am ready to use the compost, there still going to be in there and will have to strain them out but it adds more air. So for this turning of compost what a lot of people will do is they will have two or three bins in alternative from one bin into another. I just keep it simple with one band and so I turn my compost out, turned your back in and kind of mix it in a little differently and then make sure that everything is getting a chance to be in the middle of the pile and it introduces a lot of air in there too.
That’s for how often you turn that kind of depends on what your goals are, if you want compost that has done really fast like as little as a few weeks, you can chop up all your materials really small, make your pile and then turn it every 3 to 7 days, what I like to do is just turn my compost pile a couple of times throughout the growing season, when I do that it may take 8 months for it to get done but it’s going to save me a lot of work and a lot of time and it’s going to retain more nutrition because every time you turn a pile and get more air in there, it gets the metabolism going faster and it gets breaking down more and off casing more, I would like to retain more nutrition, retain more fungi and beneficial organisms.
So now I am going to start turning my materials back in. So that’s how I like to water every time I build or turn a compost pile whenever I am shelving materials into the pile there always getting water, so I make sure I have a lot of moisture in there. So that’s it for organic composting 101. If you have any questions leave them down below and I will answer them. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. You can join me and my sister over on Facebook at facebook.com/smilinggardener or me over on YouTube at youtube.com/gardenersmiling. I request you, just to keeping on your toes there.
Welcome to organic composting 101.
This isn’t just a way of recycling organic waste – organic compost is actually one of the most valuable things we grow in the garden.
What is organic compost?
Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com.
Today we are moving onto soil sample testing through a soil lab. This is a step that most people don’t do that is so important if you want to grow really healthy nutrient dense mineralized food or if you want to have all your plants be free of pests and ever have to spray anything ever again. This is a very important step to doing that and here is why it’s important. What most gardeners will do is they will get, they will use a lot of composed if they are specially, if they are organic gardeners, get a lot of composed on there. It certainly does have some nutrients and if it’s a good composed and then they will also use some fertilizers, especially NPK fertilizers, nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium or maybe some kind of more of a broad spectrum fertilizer but really when you are doing that you are guessing as to what your soil needs and the chances are extremely good that you are putting some minerals on there, your soil already has too much of and that maybe you are not adding certain minerals that your soil really needs.
So, it’s just like in the human body, we need to get a certain balance of all the minerals in the soil in order to have healthy food and in order that’s the two main things I always think of, healthy food pest free plants. So here is how I take a sample, first I clear off any organic debris any mulch and then I want to take a sample starting at the surface and going down 6 or 7 inches.
So, I do that with a very clean shovel, I don’t want to have a rusty shovel just like I don’t want to have a rusty pale that I put this in because that will influence the soil results. So I go down in there and you are sometimes what I do mix a little easier is I will pick that first shovel and kind of throw it aside, in that way it makes it much easier to take just a slice because I really want to get the full depth of soil down to 6 or so inches, then when I have that I put it into my very clean pale and that pale didn’t have any fertilizer or salt of anything in it because that would also affect the results.
One really important part of this year is to take samples from a few different spots in your garden. If you have a really weird spot in your garden you would I either leave that out or test it separately but for all your garden parts, parts of your garden that are the same, take a few samples and mix them together, that way you are going to get a more representative sample of your garden. Mix them together in here, they you just take a couple of cups put it into a zip lock bag, send that off to the lab.
When it comes to soil labs, you can go with your local lab and may even have some local knowledge but what I found is that there are almost always chemically minded, they are coming at soil from a very conventional way which is very different than organic.
So what I do is I ship soil sample to an organic lab, the two I often recommend are crop services international and international egg labs but there are a lot more. It’s a little harder you know in the US you can find a lot. It can be a little more difficult in other parts of the world including Canada to find a good lab but if you can find them where they are giving organic results that’s wonderful. I have a little bit written, more written in the article below about some other things I look forward in a lab so you can read that help you find a really good lab.
If you have any questions or doubt about soil testing, you can ask them down below and I will answer them. If you are on my website and you haven’t subscribed to my free online course here you can do that down below. If you are on Facebook, you can click the like button that is of course if you like and if you are on YouTube you can subscribe up above and I will see you next time.
If you’re not getting the results you’d hoped for from all areas of your organic garden, it may be time to do some soil sample testing.
I’ve talked about simple home soil tests before – there really is a lot you can see with your eyes or smell with your nose or feel with your fingers.
Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com.
Today I am talking about how to prepare for a garden and specifically behind me here, I am gonna show you the two main methods I use when I am preparing a new garden bed to really create nice soil. Method 1, so the first method is tilling or digging or double digging, rototilling. There is a lot of debate about whether or not you should do this but I can tell you that sometimes it’s a great idea and in my opinion sometimes we shouldn’t be doing it. In the long run if you are always digging and tilling your soil it really hurt soil structure and it’s hard on the soil food web, your fungi, your earth worms, insects even the bacteria.
It throws them out where they want to be in the soil. So there are methods like bio-intensive methods wherever your are dull, put on more composed and double dig it deeply and it works okay but it’s a lot of work. It’s not all that sustainable and it’s you know it burns up organic matter, there is a lot of reasons I don’t like doing it long term. In the short term I really do like it because it helps to, if you have a compacted soil or a hardpan you can break that up and if you need to incorporate composed and fertilizers into your soil, this is a great way of doing it so, I don’t really use a tiller much anymore.
I really like using a fork, so here is how this goes, you can maybe tell that I have laid down some composed, not much point in doing this if you are not adding more things to the soil in my opinion, so I have my compose. I have my fertilizers in here based on the soil test I have done, now I want to dig them in. So I basically start and you want to use a fork for this, it’s not too wide. I like using one of my four or five comb and you dig it up and dig it, you go along in a trench now I am going to do this very quickly just to keep the video brief and, then the shovel is great for getting this stuff out.
So that’s kind of like a single dig right there, a very quick one, a double dig is to you go down further and so if you are doing a good job on this, the first dig might go down a foot, the second dig might go down as much as another foot, maybe 18 inches in total and you are just loosening the soil and your trench. I come along and do it here basically throw this soil from this new trench into the old trench, break it up a little bit, so that’s like my single did. I am thrown it in and then I go deeper and have loosened the soil up in the new trench.
So this way I can get down as much as two feet, really loosing that soil up. Get the composed and fertilizers incorporated down in there. The soil from the first trench is going to end up in my last trench or often just spread over top of everything and it’s a great way to loosen the soil. So that’s double digging. Method 2, method 3 no method; now we are on to method 2 which is another favorite way of mine to build a new garden and it’s called sheet mulching or lasagna gardening. It’s definitely less work physically, it’s not really as hard. It is a lot of work to get the materials but it’s not as much physical work.
Another thing I really love about as you can put it on, you can do it right on top of the grass, without having to take the grass off and taking the grass off is quite a pain. You either have to rent a side cutter or do with a spade and it’s a lot of work especially on a big area.
Another nice thing about leaving the grass is you get to the organic matter right there. It will become nice organic matter in your soil and you are not hurting soil structure with this method and I guess, the down side of it is it takes first of all you are not incorporating organic matter and fertilizers into the soil which is the nice thing about the double digging and also it takes probably a year for it to become productive.
You can’t seed into it right away. You can kind of plant into it but it takes a year for it to really work well. First thing we often do is wet the area a little bit and then you want to get some newspaper or card board and now what this is gonna do is stop the grass. It’s gonna kill the grass basically, so you lay it down, now how many sheets of newspaper, kind of depends on how much newspaper you have, how big of an area you do but more than one sheet. I kind of do it like this and I overlap them a little bit, so that the grass can be true.
You want to do this on a calm dig because the newspaper will blow away and even then you want to water it, there is a help start to break down process by the microbes and then we were basically building a composed pile right on the soil but it’s called a sheet mulch and we build it anywhere from 6, 12, 18 inches tall and we are using the same kind of materials, we might use in a composed pile. One of the first things I would like to put on is either maneuver or composed, now of course I am just doing a tiny area here to show but you would do this through the whole garden.
So I would lay a little later at that time, I would like to using leaves as kind of more of a carbon source whereas maneuver is more of my nitrogen source. A thicker layer of leaves than that but this is just an example. It doesn’t have to be complicate, it can be as simple as maneuver and some leaves straw but if you have other things like grass clippings, there are nice incorporated in there. I have some weeks and I am gonna put in there but you don’t want to use weeks like bind the weed or anything that’s gonna travel because you will travel right through your whole sheet mulch. You don’t want to use probably you don’t to use weeks that have a seed, have gotten the seed but if you have other weeks which is grass clippings from mowing the lawn, if you incorporate hay in there as well but for the top layer, it’s nice to have straw because it doesn’t have as many weed seed and so it keeps all the weeds from the maneuver and from the grass clippings and from the foods perhaps.
It keeps them from germinating, so I often mix a lot of stuff together. I will even mix the straw of kind of together with the other things but I make sure I end of top which is a nice layer of straw and so that’s kind of a mini sheet mulch right there. Now if you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on my home page of smilinggardener.com, you can also come hitting out on Facebook at facebook.com/smilinggardener. If you want to know which one you should do the tilling or the double digging, where the sheet mulching side of things, you can read about that down at the bottom of my blog post. I wrote about it there.
There are a couple of different methods of preparing soil for a garden bed, both of which have their uses.
Once you’ve dug a hole, played around with your soil a bit, and learned about your soil texture, it’s now time to start making your garden.
Phil: Hey guys this is Phil from smilinggardener.com, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of smilinggardener.com. Today I am talking about soils again, what I am going to do is get into a little bit of a home soil testing process, you can easily do and don’t worry I know you guys want to learn about how to control pests and get rid of weeds and how to grow really delicious tomatoes and how to get you know into fertilizing and which fertilizers to use and I am really excited to teach all that stuff I love talking about that stuff but the thing is here is the thing; hey, are you filming this out of order, when we start with the soil we are actually working on all of that stuff already.
So I am already teaching you that when we have really good healthy soil, we have healthy plants. We don’t have pest problems, we have delicious tomatoes and other plants and nutritious plants. So starting with the soil really takes care of any kind of problems you might encounter and it really addresses to love the goals you may have such as growing food. So that’s why start there and the cool thing is within a few years you are going to be growing this really healthy food, it is really beautiful flowers and I say a few years because it actually does take time to get the soil to a level of nutrition that you can really sure, you going to have hardly any pest problems, you can be more sure, you are going to have higher nutrition in your food.
It doesn’t mean this year wouldn’t be good. You can still have a great success in your first and second season, maybe second season but as you get further and further that’s when it really starts to click and it starts with this hole I have dug right here. Now this is a simple process, we are going to get into more detailed soil testing through a lab eventually but this is a simple thing that you can do in less than half an hour and I even do it every year to just to see how I am doing so what you do is you dig a hole, you dig a hole that’s about a foot wide and long and deep and you start to look into that hole and you figure a few things out about your soil.
The first thing I look at is how easy was it to dig and you want to keep notes on all of these stuff because one of the main reasons we do is just to see how we progress year to year. Last year when I dug in here, it was reasonably difficult to dig. It’s a pretty heavy clay soil, it came out in big clumps but last year I double dug this which I am going to show you eventually and I 2:21 melted it which I am going to show you eventually as well and so digging this year took about one minute to dig this hole. I put it in here into a wheelbarrow, you can put onto a trapper garbage bag, you want to look at it and see how dark the soil is, here this has pretty nice organic matter because I have mended quite a lot last year but when I started it was a much lighter color, now it’s pretty dark.
I guess you can see because I am kind of stranded in the shadows and you know what, it’s going to a get a lot darker over the years, if it will really light page color, if I knew I had sand; then I can kind of keep track as am mending it with organic matter, if I am improving that. You know if were like a grey color I may just be a little concerned about if it’s maybe a really heavy clay again I am going to be mending it, so I am just trying to pay attention. I also put it in here and I look at the soil in the wheelbarrow. One thing I do is I kind of drop it in there and clumps and I see how some of those clumps break a part, look at how beautifully this has broken apart.
It still has nice kind of aggregates, it’s not like sand but it also has a nice kind of looseness to it. So it kind of clumps a little but those clumps fall apart very easily that’s just because I have working on for a year but you know your year is the hardest because that’s when you got to start doing some heavy work but eventually it becomes like this and mine is doing really nice. Also I can do the ribbon test I showed you last time which is taken a third of a cup and trying to squeeze it into a ball and into a ribbon to see if I have clay or sand, that tells me a lot as talked about last time, oh and there is another thing to look for, earthworms.
So if you go through your square foot of soil and you find ten earthworms and you are doing pretty good. I am happy to have ten earthworms. I am really happy if I can find more like 30 earthworms which I am sure I could find in there because of all the work I have been doing, another I like to look for and this is especially if I do in a lawn which I did today but if you in a place where there is roots. If you see how far down the roots go, you can keep track of that, if you see the roots, kind of stop at a certain point and start going sideways, that probably means you have a hard pan layers there and you might wanted the first year double dig through that with a fork with a garden fork and also do some of mending when we get into the soil testing stuff because we want the roots to be able to go much deeper than that, also you can look to see if there are fine root here is on your roofs that indicate there is plenty of oxygen in the soil or maybe if there is not a lot of fine root here, that’s a pointing though lack of oxygen.
There are a few things you can do right now. If you have a question for me about how to improve your soil you can ask it down below and I will get back to you. If you haven’t signed up on my free online organic gardening course, you can do that at smilinggardener.com. If you are on Facebook, you can like my page there and we hang out there and my sister posts stuff there everyday too, she posts a lot of cool stuff. On YouTube you can subscribe and I will see next time.
Today I have a very simple home soil testing process for you.
You may be more interested in learning about topics such as:
- How to get rid of insect and disease pests, and
- How to grow the best-tasting tomatoes ever, and
- Which fertilizers to apply to improve your soil
Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of smilinggardener.com 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.
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.
Phil:Hey Guys! It’s Phil from smilinggardener.com 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 smilinggardener.com.
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.
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 facebook.com/smilinggardner, right?
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.
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.