Soil and Soil Food Web
In this series, I mostly cover the biological side of soil improvement.
That includes composting and using microbial inoculants in the garden.
Starting seeds indoors for planting outside this spring – the inoculant goes on right before sowing the seed.
Without sufficient beneficial microbes on (and in) our bodies, we get sick very fast.
It’s the same for plants.
Perhaps the most beneficial fungi for plant health is a group of fungi you may have heard me talk about before called mycorrhizal fungi.
This week, I received a fresh batch of mycorrhizal inoculant, a powder that brings these fungi onto the roots of my plants.
I use mycorrhizal inoculant in my organic garden almost every time I plant and seed. I wouldn’t plant without it.
Update: About 2 1/2 years after writing this, I decided to start selling the mycorrhizal inoculant I use. You can learn more about it here.
Over 95% of plant species form symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi provide nutrients and water to their host plants in exchange for carbohydrates and other goodies.
In fact, many plants will trade more than 50% of their carbohydrates with these fungi and other microbes. Mycorrhizal fungi greatly improve soil characteristics, and are among the most important microbes that form relationships with plants.
Last night, when deciding what to write about for today, I looked around my apartment, saw my probiotic fermenting away on the shelf, immediately took this photo, and proceeded to write this step by step process for making effective microorganisms.
In gardening, there’s a lot of talk about chemistry – the fertilizer, NPK, carbon, etc.
All important stuff, but I like to spend just as much time on the biology – the microorganisms, insects, animals (and of course plants).
It’s especially the microorganisms that really rule our world, our bodies (we contain 10 times as many microbes as we do human cells), and our gardens.
Today I’m pumped to get right into teaching you about these good microbes and how to make effective microorganisms.
Update: Nearly 2 years after writing this, I decided to start selling the same compost tea brewer that I use. You can check it out (and learn more about compost tea) here.
A compost tea recipe doesn’t have to be complicated in order to be effective.
In fact, the simplest compost tea recipes are often the best because they’re easier to experiment with.
In case you don’t know, compost tea doesn’t look like my literal interpretation in the picture here.
My first year as an professional organic gardener wasn’t always easy.
My mind was full of all this incredible information I had learned studying organic gardening the previous year, but I didn’t yet have the experience, especially with more advanced things like soil nutrient testing and fixing problem lawns.
I had plenty of experience as more of a conventional gardener, but that is quite different. Now I had (and wanted) to do things without any chemicals.
The above picture is poor, but it shows where I bought some compost this year.
There are a few important things you need to know about where to buy compost.
I encourage people to compost themselves if possible, but I know that some gardeners will find it easier buying compost. In terms of how to buy compost, you can go to your local garden center, a compost/soil/mulch provider, a farmer, or the municipality.
You can buy compost in bags, but I almost always go for bulk. That’s less expensive and I usually need to bring in at least a yard.
So, your compost pile is ready and you want to know how to use compost in your organic garden. Here are 4 things to remember:
1. Compost Application Timing
The best time of year for using compost is in the spring and fall when the conditions are best for the microbes. I might use a little in the summer when I’m filling in the spaces in my vegetable garden, but mostly it’s spring and fall.
In permaculture, sheet mulching is often done near the house to prepare a kitchen garden.
Sheet mulching is one of the best methods of building an organic garden, and today I’m going to show you how to mulch correctly to make a great sheet mulch. You may have also heard it called no till gardening or lasagna gardening, both of which mean the same thing.
There are many ways to make a yummy lasagna and there are many ways to make a sheet mulch, but no matter how you do it, you can think of sheet mulching as kind of like composting right in your organic garden. It’s mostly done to create new garden beds, and occasionally in existing vegetable beds during the fallow season.
Sheet mulching is an amazing way to smother weeds and build fertility and soil structure at the same time by layering various materials anywhere from just a few inches to 18 inches high.
I’ve written already about the best mulch types to use in your organic garden, but here I’ve put together a video that shows a rather amazing rock mulching technique I didn’t talk about before.
If you have certain bigger plants that are special to you, like a new fruit tree for example, you can use rock mulching with leaves to make the best mulch for improving the soil extremely quickly, resulting in amazing plant growth.
Place a few inches of leaves – which I’ve already shown are the best mulch type – around the root zone of the new tree. Cover those leaves with round stones or flagstones that are small enough so that you can handle them, but big enough to cover some of the leaves.