CTG Week 2: May 11th to May 17th – Soil Health and Maintenance

Activities:

  • Discussion about soil health and maintenance
  • Replanting seeds washed away by rain
Blossoming strawberry plant
Blossoming strawberry plant

Just as the strawberries have started to bloom so has our class at Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden.  Wednesdays class was a fun lesson in soil health and maintenance.  The class gathered in the circular meeting spot located at the center of the garden and sat shoulder to shoulder for a talk about soil.  Lead teacher Denise described soil as an ecosystem, a community of living organisms like plants, animals and microbes interacting with the nonliving components of their environment, things like air, water and minerals, to create an interacting soil ecosystem.  There are many parts to soil but they are broken down into four main components.  Minerals, air, water and organic material, it takes an ideal mix of theses components to make up healthy soil.

Lettuce at Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden
Lettuce at Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden

The mineral components are further divided into three particle sizes, clay, silt and sand.  When you have an ideal mix of the three particle sizes the soil is refereed to as loamy soil roughly 40% sand and silt and 20% clay.  Varying the ratios of the three particle sizes is what results in different soil types.

Ideally all soil would be loamy but for most gardens that is not a reality.  So the question arises what can you do to improve soil that has the wrong ratio of particle sizes?  The main way to improve the soil is by mixing in a layer of organic material.  This can be done in a number of ways.  The first is to mix compost, aged manure, or peat into the soil at the beginning of the growing season.  The other method is to mix organic plant material into the soil at the end of the growing season, this helps both the particle makeup of the soil and it also helps add nutrients to the soil like nitrogen.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK)

Nutrients are another key component of the soil.  The three most important minerals found in soil are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK).  Each of theses three minerals contributes to plant health in its own specific way.  Nitrogen is so vital because it is a major component of chlorophyll, the compound by which plants produce energy along with that it is also a major component of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Without proteins, plants wither and die.

Phosphorus is important in the development of new plant growth especially the root systems of plants because it plays a roll in cell division.  Lastly potassium helps make plants more hearty by improving drought resistance and promoting protein and starch synthesis in plants because potassium is essential at almost every step of protein synthesis.  After all the discussion about soil the class was itching to get planting.

photo

To close out the evening we focused on replanting some seeds that had washed up due to heavy rain over the weekend.  After our discussion about soil I think everyone was eager to get their hands in the dirt.  We all enjoyed to chance to let the soil run through our fingers with the new found understanding that any garden is only as healthy as its soil and although it takes work soil maintenance will lead to a hearty healthy crop.

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