Maybe you’re a hobby gardener looking to supplement your dinner table with fresh home-grown vegetables. Or maybe you have a patch of survival land and want to grow your own food for when the stuff hits the fan. But in many areas of the country your efforts may be stunted by poor quality soil. With winter quickly approaching, now’s the time to start thinking about improving your soil so that you optimize your ability to grow the crops you want.
1. Check Your Soil pH
The first thing you’ll want to do is to check your soil’s acidity. Testing soil pH can be done at home, but it can be more effective if you send your soil to a lab for testing. Lab tests can also determine what kind of nutrients are in your soil so that you can use fertilizers to add nutrients which may be lacking. That’s especially the case if you have a garden that has been used repeatedly for growing crops over a long period of time.
Some plants thrive in acidic soils, while most prefer a more neutral pH. Knowing what your soil pH is can help you make adjustments so that you can grow what you want where you want it.
2. Improve Your Soil Type
Soil types vary throughout the country, and can range from black loam to red clay to rocks to sand. Not every plant will be able to grow in every type of soil. If you’re lucky, you’ll have at least some sort of topsoil, but what’s underneath that topsoil can stunt your garden’s ability to produce.
If you have clay or rocks you’re going to need to add a lot more topsoil to give your plants the ability to grow their roots. If you have sandy soil you’ll also need to make additions so that your soil will retain water that your plants need to grow. It’s all part of a fine balancing act to make sure that your soil retains enough moisture to feed your garden, but not so much that your plants drown.
3. Start Composting
One of the surefire ways to improve your soil is by adding compost. And compost is something you can make yourself, it doesn’t have to be purchased. The only thing it takes is raw material and time.
Vegetable peelings, grass clippings, leaves, twigs, and shredded cardboard are all materials that can be used to compost. Start reading up about composting, especially the right mix of green and brown composting materials, and get to work. Stop throwing away your kitchen scraps and put them to work adding nutrients to your soil. Before long you’ll have dark, healthy, friable compost that’s ready to add to your garden.
4. Leave Some Land Fallow
Successive years of planting can not only deplete nutrients from soil, it can also lead to the introduction of viruses, bacteria, and plant pests into your garden. It’s a good rule of thumb never to plant crops from the same family in the same plot in successive years. So don’t grow garlic in the same place you grew onions last year, or don’t grow eggplants in the same place you grew tomatoes last year.
No matter how large or small your garden, it can’t hurt to leave a portion of land fallow each year. Whether that means leaving it alone (while still weeding), or planting cover crops to turn over into the soil or fix nitrogen, letting a portion of your land go fallow each year can help improve its long-term health and growing potential.