Week 19: Supporting the change you wish to see in your soil

Of course, evaluating the health of our soil is not only for the fun of observation, but also as a reference point for soil amendment. Each time we water, we are amending our soil. As we learned last week, water is crucial to the distribution of nutrients through the soil and the distribution of nutrients is crucial to soil health. That said, simply watering our soil is not always enough. Remember, with a too clay-y soil, the water can not penetrate the soil’s top layer and will simply run-off (along with your precious nutrients). In the case of sandy and silty soils, the grainy quality leaves nothing for the water to hold onto. Without a support structure, water disappears leaving a dry nutrient-deficient soil.

So the first thing is first – support a soil that allows water in and invites water to stay. For any soil, begin by adding organic material (compost). Curious to learn more about compost? Attend VCGN and compost expert, James McSweeney for a community composting forum this October 2016.

Though the forum is just around the corner, the time to add compost is early spring – as soon as the ground is workable. Until then, a few ideas for soil amendment:

Cover cropping

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Buckwheat is an excellent late summer cover crop that keeps moisture in and weeds out.
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The beautiful buckwheat flowers indicate that it’s time to turn the cover crop. This process, as simple as cutting the base of the plant stems and leaving the layer of organic plant material to rest, keeps the plants nutrients in your garden while also preventing the cover crop from going to seed and becoming ‘opportunistic’ (or invasive).

Buckwheat is not the only cover crop. In fact, there are several cover crop varieties that can over-winter, even here in Vermont. Winter rye is quite hearty and, with long, strong roots, can help to defend against winter weather – keeping soil in place through heavy rains, freezes, and thaws, and even ice sheets. Legumes provide another benefit — fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere and pulling it down into the soil.

Sheet mulching (‘Lasagna gardening’)

Sheet mulching is an excellent alternative to cover cropping – supporting weed suppression and helping to build the fertility of your soil. Act fast! Now is the time!

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As the season winds down and plants come out of the ground, check out this ‘Ultimate, Bomb-Proof Sheet Mulching’ How-To.

 

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