Creating Healthy Soil – A Simple Primer
During our tours and classes over the past month I have chatted a LOT about the importance of healthy soil. The five components of healthy soil are water, air space, dirt (broken down rock), organic material and everything that is alive in the soil.
Typically our desert soils have only one of the above components…dirt. Highly compacted, missing any organic material, there is no space for air or water AND definitely missing life. Without life in the soil, microorganisms, bugs, worms and a myriad of others, there is really no way to get healthy food.
Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to get that live back in the soil and get growing nutrient dense food. Plus I have been telling people a lot lately that I do all this without having to dig at the Urban Farm. In fact I only ever dig on one occasion any more. That is to remove noxious weeds such as Bermuda or nut grass. The rest of the time I build soil right on top.
My favorite and fastest way of adding oodles of organic material is by using a process called sheet-mulching. This process is also the most cost effective way to build the soil in your garden. It takes a little work up front, but is well worth the effort. Sheet-mulching not only builds soil, but adds a thick layer of mulch to help retain water. If you are starting a garden from scratch, sheet-mulching gives you a jumpstart on building your garden beds. Even if you’ve been gardening for years, this method boosts your bounty, because you build your garden right on top of your existing soil, and you don’t need to dig.
Sheet-mulching is simple. Begin by selecting the area where you would like your garden and clearing away any weeds or grass. Never build a garden on Bermuda grass as it will reclaim the space very quickly. Next, you will need to buy potting soil, composted manure and some kind of lightweight, dried organic material, such as leaves or hay. The hay and manure will be the bulk of the mulching material, while the potting soil permits you to plant seeds right away. This time of year, the simplest choice for organic bulk material is alfalfa hay, which can be found by the bale at most feed stores, such as Western Ranchman. You can also keep an eye out for neighbors raking and bagging leaves, and take their bags off their hands as they put them out on the curb.
Open the bales of hay or bags of leaves and fluff them in the area where you are putting your garden. You want to create a layer of organic material about six inches deep before adding a thin layer of manure. The manure will speed up the process of breaking down the hay and adds valuable nutrients to your garden. Repeat the process, alternating organic material with manure, until you build sheet-mulched beds about two feet thick. The sheet-mulch will break down to garden mulch over the next six months. This process can be repeated on a yearly schedule until you are happy with the amount of growing soil you’ve gained. If you are using this process on a bed that has shrubs or trees, leave at least six inches from the mulch to the trunks of the plants.
Now comes the fun part—planting. Pick a place in your sheet-mulched garden, hollow out a bowl-sized area and fill it with some of your potting soil or compost. You can plant your seeds directly into this soil bowl and they will flourish, because this process provides breathing room for the roots and water retention. As the mulched area ages and falls, the plants will move down with the mulch and do just fine.
Then we have to look at how we are watering our gardens. There is one very important piece to insure the health of our soil. We need to make sure that we are watering with chlorine free water. That means that the tap water that comes from our home faucets needs to be filtered. I have found the easiest and least expensive way to do this is to use a shower chlorine filter and just attach it to the hose bib. The one that I like to use is called the New Wave Enviro Premium Shower Filter. Through our sister website we have made these available to you. To make it super easy for you we even have sourced the hose attachments so that all you have to do is add a hose. To order one click here.
Your Job is to now go out and start growing your own healthy soil.
What kind of bed borders do you use? Need to keep out the Bermuda grass.