It’s all about the Soil

Our summer season brought us all some very hot days. It even brought us a day of rain, lightning, and sweltering heat. I’m sure you, like me, are ready for some fall weather. However, is your soil ready for fall planting? 

This spring I made the mistake of not correctly prepping my soil and my summer harvest paid for it. I had a lackluster crop and for one year my husband didn’t complain about eating too much zucchini. Gardening is all about trial and error and being bold enough to try new methods or grow something new. What is not new is laying a good foundation down. 

With a strong foundation, you’ll produce healthy, nutritious vegetables and beautiful flowers year after year.

Healthy soil is the basis of healthy plants and a healthy environment. When garden soil is in good shape there is less need for fertilizers or organic pesticides. Organic soil is rich in humus, the end result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings, and compost. It holds moisture but drains well. Healthy organic garden soil is loose and fluffy and filled with air that plant roots need. It has plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It is alive with living organisms from earthworms to fungi and bacteria to help maintain the quality of the soil. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil.

So how do you determine if your soil is healthy? Of the 17 elements thought to be needed for essential growth, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous are the primary or macronutrients, which plants take from the soil in large amounts. Fertilizers that contain all three of these nutrients are labeled complete fertilizers, but they are hardly complete in an absolute sense. Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, known as secondary nutrients, are also important to many plants. Lesser or micronutrients include boron, copper, iron manganese and zinc. Another critical component of your soil is its acid-alkaline balance or pH reading. All these essentials along with the proper texture make for healthy soil.

You can send your soil out or do a simple soil test you can pick up online or at the garden store. pH levels can be critical to your plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. Most minerals and nutrients are best available to plants in soils with a pH of between 6.5-6.8. If your soil is acidic (low pH, at or below 6.0) or alkaline (high pH, above 7.0) it doesn’t matter how rich it is in nutrients, the plants won’t be able to absorb them. The best time to get the soil tested is in the spring or fall when it is most stable. This is also the best time to add any soil amendments or organic fertilizers should your soil be lacking.

Soil needs, Air, Water, Organic Matter (compost nutrients), Soil life (worms, fungi, and bacterial organisms), fertilizer and mulch. Something to note is that organic garden fertilizers work a little slower than their synthetic counterparts, but they release their nutrients over a longer time frame. Synthetic fertilizers are banned from the garden for a good reason as they are bad for the environment and can make the soil worse in the long run as beneficial microorganisms are killed off.

So this fall, I’d recommend testing your soil to make sure your new crops have a healthy foundation to start with.

Happy Gardening,

Mary Church



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