As a budding gardener, it was obvious that buying nice plants and sticking them in my soil at home didn’t have the intended effect of producing big, beautiful fruit and flowers. So I bought some granular Miracle Gro – which may have given them a much needed boost from our clay soil - but over the years it became apparent that the plants were only as productive as the soil I placed them in.
Just like the parable of the good seed in Matthew 13, depending on the fertility of the ground a seed can thrive or die. It matters whether or not roots can develop.
Hard soil, like a hard heart, will not allow the seed to sprout. The water and fertilizer you put on it will run right off. The seed might not even germinate. This is why it is silly to buy grass seed and throw it on your bare spots. The ground needs a least a light raking and a topdress of fertile soil for any chance of success.
Rocky soil, like a worldly life, may allow the seed to germinate, but there is no substance for the roots to become established. When the harsh sun or driving winds come, the plant is knocked down and destroyed. This is why it’s important to not only turn the soil, but also to add lots of nutrients for your plants to have success.
In an agrarian society, this kind of example would have been well understood. Jesus explained to his disciples that the ‘seed’ is His word and that the truth grows in the hearts of believers. What matters in the development is often the unseen growth – what happens below the surface of the ground and, likewise, what’s happening in the soul of a person.
And the good news is that soil can be improved!
Of course, we all want instant results – hence the Miracle Gro – but long-lasting success takes a little more investment. So let’s get started:
Some gardeners have their soil tested for acidity. The Ph (acidity level) of your soil has a large part to do with how well your plants grow. Ph is tested on a scale of zero to fourteen, with zero being very acidic and fourteen being very alkaline. Most plants grow best in soil with a fairly neutral Ph, between six and seven. We’ve never felt the need to do this. Unless your plants come up sickly or yellow, soil Ph is fairly standard.
Next question, do you want your crop to be organic?
It’s funny, so many of us will go to the store and pay lots of money for ‘organic’ produce, but then we get home and put chemical fertilizer and pesticide on our gardens. Shouldn't we pay attention to what we're putting on our plants and yards? (Read on for some organic soil tips)
Technically speaking the term organic simply means “related to or derived from living matter.”
According to Consumer Brochure, U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program: “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.”
Personally, I’m not against using some chemicals – sparingly, of course. The goal, remember, is to create an environment suitable for growth. On acres and acres of land, farmers may have to top-spray their vegetables to control pests, but the beauty of the home garden is that we can pay more time and attention to the details of our plot.
A major factor for root growth is soil consistency. Here is where you can add purchased soil amenders like Clay Cutter (my husband buys this in bulk), Miracle Gro potting soil (a lovely, loamy nutrient-filled bag of goodness), sand (helps break up clumpy soil, which gives roots room to spread out) and compost (your own mixture of cut leaves, grass and kitchen garden scraps that you cover and work over throughout the year), to name a few.
As for dressing your beds in mulch, this can be helpful for water retention, but adds little in the way of nutrients for your plants. Back in the day, we used to get the ‘free’ mulch that communities offer, but have found that it often has weed seeds and mold spores that became problematic a few weeks after spreading on our beds.
Ultimately, your soil is a work in progress. There will never be a time when it is ‘done.’ Like the attitudes and habits that can clump up in our life, garden soil requires below-the-surface attention. As you get your plants started this year, why not try a few of these organic amendments that not only improve your soil but pull double-duty by reducing waste.
Coffee grounds -
high in nitrogen and naturally acidic - spread coffee grounds around acid-loving plants, like azaleas, rhododendrons and blueberries. It would be more beneficial to add a cup of agricultural lime to every ten pounds of grounds BEFORE you add them to your compost pile. (High-quality hardwood ashes could be used instead of the lime, and would add more nutrients to the mix than the lime would.) Even better, mix those coffee grounds in with some lime or wood ash and then into lots of shredded leaves and you'll create a fine, high-quality compost.
rich source of nutrients your plants crave: potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, along with a host of other minerals your plants need. You can chop them up and bury in your garden, being careful not to disturb your plant’s roots. They will decompose quickly. You can also make a “tea” by placing peels in a glass jar with water for 48 hours, then pour near garden plants. You could also add shine and deter aphids by wiping the leaves of plants with the inside of a banana peel. The peel adds shine to leaves while also leaving traces of nutrients and a natural pesticide.
offer nitrogen to the garden soil. Orange peels contain d-Limonene, a natural chemical that destroys the waxy coating on ants and aphids, causing them to suffocate and die. Orange peels are highly fragrant, giving off a repellent scent to keep ants and aphids away from the garden. Take advantage of the tick- and flea-repelling and killing qualities of the d-Limonene in orange peels. Create a natural repellent spray for your dog by simmering orange peels with water, straining, cooling and adding to a spray bottle.
crush shells into small pieces and sprinkle them on top of the soil. Slugs, cutworms, and other insects are put off by the crunch when they crawl over the sharp edges and will leave for softer pastures. You can also toss the crushed shells into your compost heap. They break down quickly and give your plants a much-needed dose of calcium, which can help with bottom-end rot, a calcium deficiency found in some plants.
from peanuts and pistachios are a good addition to your compost heap because they don't break down as quickly as other items. These larger pieces can help vary the thickness of the compost, which will aid in soil aeration. Wash them thoroughly to rid them of salt, which can kill plants. A warning: Avoid using walnuts as they contain juglone, a compound that is toxic to plants.
make absolutely perfect soil amendment. Earth worms tunnel through your soil, making it lighter and loamier while leaving their castings and excrement, that provide nutrients and there is no need to test PH – these critters are neutral.
May your seed fall on good soil, like the one who hears God’s word
and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop,
yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.