As if by magic, spring unfolds with warming temperatures and tender shoots that emerge from the ground. With that arises a yearning to tidy up our garden beds and get ready to sow for summer. But before we jump into the cleanup drive, a little patience will help not only the tender shoots but also emerging insects and birds leafing through the litter and building their nests. Towards middle of April is a lovely time to start taking stock of the garden and assess the soil needs. Of course, remove anything that is damaged or appears diseased and prune summer flower-bearing shrubs or trees.
Building Healthy Soils
To really have a successful garden, building healthy soils is the key. It may take a couple of years and you could lend the process a helping hand. Soils are vital to the eco-system and if properly managed, you will reap great benefits as growers and gardeners alike. A healthy soil is alive and teeming with life. It is distinguished by its looks and feel. Ideally it should be dark brown in color, light and crumbly to touch as half of it by volume is porous. The soil crumbs or aggregates in it are formed by organic matter that bind the particles together. How much of organic matter is available to the soil will determine its fertility, structure, feeding mechanism and biological activity. The porosity of the soil adds to its ability to absorb water, allowing water to percolate deep down instead of running off leaving it dry and parched.
The skin of the Earth requires as much care as our own skin, while neglecting it leads to depleted soils. Adding organic material at the time of renewal and regrowth offers many benefits and produces wonderful results for gardeners. Before adding amendments, it will be a good idea to gently rake the soil, turning it over a couple of inches. This will give you the opportunity to examine the texture and color of the soil. If it is crumbly and dark brown as described above, it is perfect soil and will need just a light application of compost. However, if it feels hard and is dry, is light brown in color, indicating poor soil, adding an inch or two of topsoil along with compost will greatly benefit it. Whatever spectrum you land on, adding compost will not harm but help improve the soil.
Cover crops are another choice for gardeners. These can be planted in fall or early spring and help add nutrients to the soil. In our community garden, we regularly plant cover crops in fall and then in spring. Choose from the recommended cover crops in the table below:
Improving Microbial Activity
Just as we take probiotics to improve our gut health, soils need a similar inoculation as well. Compost remains as the primary energy source for micro-organisms, it provides it all the carbon needed to thrive. In addition, using cover crops, keeping soil well-watered, mulched and avoiding chemicals and pesticides, are all ways to build soil microbial activity.
Ideally, you do not need to spend hundreds of dollars each year on buying new soil. Do focus on understanding the type of soil you have and adding amendments to it. Keep in mind, however, that the crops or vegetables you plant each year, will deplete your soils especially heavy feeders like tomatoes and potatoes. Having a crop rotation schedule in mind would help overcome problems linked to nutrient deficiencies in soil. Take advantage of the mild days of spring and prepare your garden soil for a fantastic growing season!
Links and resources:
Healthy Soils: https://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/living-soils-role-microorganisms-soil-health/
Cover Crops: https://ontariograinfarmer.ca/2019/07/26/avoiding-mistakes-with-cover-crops/
Crop rotation : https://www.growveg.com/guides/crop-rotation-for-growing-vegetables/