I have been vegetable gardening for a very long time. In that time I have come across a lot of things I should have been doing, and many things I should not have been doing. For example on the “do not” front, I should have stayed away from chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers (some not all) might assist your vegetables in the short term, but in the long run they will actually harm your soil.
Your soil is a living ecosystem with bacteria, enzymes, worms, other insects and fungi. They all work in the food chain to improve your soil’s conditions. For example, bacteria feed on decomposing organic material, and then worms feed off the bacteria. Think of it as the whole “circle of life” thing going on beneath your feet.
Here are some things you can do to start improving your soil conditions.
Compost is the result of organic material breaking down. It breaks down through bacteria and other microscopic creatures feeding off of it. The end result is dark black rich mulch that contains valuable nutrients and minerals that your soil needs. You can use grass, leaves, twigs, food scraps and even cotton clothing (with metal and plastic removed) as a source for compost. Once it turns into the black mulch mix it in with your soil with a rake or pitch fork.
Chemical fertilizers help in the short run but harm in the long run. They can wipe out colonies of microscopic organisms in the soil and also send creatures such as worms and nematodes packing for a better place to live. Your soil needs these creatures in order to improve its conditions. If you remove them with these chemicals you may never get them back. When done properly, nature can provide your soil with everything it needs.
Many experts say that tilling too much could actually damage your soil, the only problem is they never define what “too much” means. Larger worms in your soil such as night crawlers are deep burrowing and create large tunnels which allow for better water drainage and better systems for your plants roots to grow into. However, many people do not have overloads of night crawlers in their soil so tilling the land is good practice. What is too much? Who knows, but in my experience turning over the soil once every two and a half to three weeks is good practice. It creates for better drainage and allows more air to get deep into the soil so the ecosystem can flourish.
Obviously you must water your plants if you want them to survive but more importantly you want them to get stronger, specifically their roots. In order to do that you do what is called “deep watering” which is a fancy term for watering your garden for a lengthy period of time (45 minutes to an hour). This creates deep pockets of water in the soil that your plants roots need to dig for. The more they dig the stronger the plant.
Successful vegetable gardening doesn’t happen in one growing season. It is culmination of many seasons of composting, aerating and building up the ecosystem underneath. The stronger you can make that ecosystem, the harder they will work for you. When this happens you will experience great tasting vegetables and fruit for many years.
About the Author
Mike is the author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person. It is a practical easy to follow book that teaches gardeners everything from composting techniques, aeration and frost conditions, to choosing the right tools and picking the right seeds.