Focus on Soil Health
Tending to and caring for the soil is crucial to gardening sustainably and growing an abundance of food. The better care you take of the soil, the more it will nourish healthy and resilient plants. Dan Hayden and Miche Warwick from Happy Hills Farm describe how the most crucial aspect of growing food is taking care of your soil.
Warwick explains, “Every time you grow something, it takes nutrients out of the soil.” If those nutrients are not returned to the soil, whether through compost, cover crops, or another way, the soil becomes increasingly depleted.
Lucretia Schanfarber, a passionate and active gardener who has been involved in her local gardening community for years and hosts the Gabbing About Gardening Radio Show, echoes Hayden and Warwick’s emphasis on soil health. Schanfarber says, “Building soil fertility needs to be top of mind in everything we do.”
Solara Goldwynn and Tayler Krawczyk from Hatchet & Seed, an edible landscaping company in Victoria, BC, also describe how crucial focusing on soil health is. Goldwynn explains how healthier soil has an increased ability to retain water. The more we add to our soil organic matter, the more drought-resistant and flood-tolerant our soils are. Goldwynn says, “When you create better soil structure, you have a more resilient system.”
There are several relatively simple ways to take care of your soil.
To improve soil health, Goldwynn and Krawczyk encourage gardeners to reduce digging in garden beds or move to no-dig methods. By digging less, your garden mimics natural ecosystems where organic matter composts on the surface, and the soil ecosystem organizes itself. While soil microbiology is complex, Krawczyk says, “You don’t even really have to understand it, just understand that it’ll find its equilibrium.” There is no need to flip it and dig it up every year.
Use Cover Crops
Cover cropping is a helpful way to bring minerals to your garden and protect soil from heavy rain. “Winter Peas are something I encourage everyone to grow,” Krawczyk describes, planting them in late September and into October means that your soil will be covered for the winter. Keep your soil covered and harvest pea shoots all winter long!
Test Your Soil
Make sure you have the right ratio of nutrients by testing your soil. Micronutrients are important for plant growth, photosynthesis, and root development. Krawczyk describes that while this is more of an advanced technique, “If your region is low on a particular mineral, sometimes you need to make sure it gets in the system, at least to begin with so that it can start cycling.” Testing your soil can also reduce unnecessary inputs that you might be adding to your soil by showing what nutrients are already plentiful.
Hayden and Warwick also encourage gardeners who want to take the next step in understanding and taking care of their soil health to do a soil test. Warwick says, “A lot of gardeners will really focus on the nitrogen content, which is great, that’s important. But there are so many other components to healthy, fertile soil that need to be considered and replenished.” Hayden explains that even a small amount of a micronutrient can make a significant difference in how well a plant can thrive.