Gardening

How to care for the garden soil. Fertilizers and work to improve the land

The fertility of the land is essential for the proper development of crops. Having a rich and fertile soil is the basis of a good garden. Our plants have an area part and an underground part. In both environments, both in the area we see and on the ground , we must provide the best possible conditions.

In today’s post we will talk about how to take care of and improve the soil in the garden so that the roots obtain from it all the nutritional substances that the plants need.

To take care of the soil, it is important to know well what this “living sustenance” of plants is like and how it works, so we will first see what are some of the components of the soil : humus, microbiota and macrobiota.

The importance of soil organic matter: humus

The plants of the garden need a good amount of nutrients to grow and develop properly. The nutrients are obtained from the soil through the roots , and come from the mixture of naturally decomposed organic material (humus) and the fertilizers or fertilizers that we add to improve the soil .

What is humus?

The humus is a fertilizer substance dark present in the upper layers of the soil. It is composed of nitrogen, carbon and other essential nutrients for plants , which come from the degradation of more complex substances and which, due to their degree of decomposition, can be easily absorbed by the roots .

Humus comes from different organic remains (remains of leaves and branches, plant exudates, corpses and excrements of insects and other animals …) that have been degraded for years by the microbiota and by the macrobiota that inhabit the soil.

There are several types of humus depending on the climate and the vegetation of the place where it is formed ( forest mulch, peat … ), but in all cases the material contains a large amount of very beneficial nutrients that are easily assimilated by plants.

The use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers can degrade or remove humus from the soil ; and the repeated and deep tillage reduces its availability for the plants, since it buries it and interrupts its formation.

To favor the conservation and renewal of humus in the soil , ecological techniques such as those that we will see later are recommended.

Soil microorganisms

Microorganisms are essential for the fertility of the soil in our garden.

What is the microbiota?

The bacteria, fungi and other microscopic organisms are the microbiota of soil and play a very important work to have a fertile soil. These organisms are responsible for the soil being a living element and in transformation.

While it is true that some microorganisms cause diseases in crops, most of the soil microbiota is very beneficial for plant growth (in a single gram of healthy soil we find millions of beneficial microorganisms).

Many fungi and bacteria in the soil are a defense against pathogenic fungal infections , while others eliminate toxic compounds or collaborate in the decomposition of organic matter and its transformation into nutrients easily assimilated by plants.

The importance of the macrobiota

We have already mentioned that the soil microbiota or microorganisms is very important, but so is the macrobiota.

What is the macrobiota?

The macrobiota are the largest organisms such as worms, insects and other macroscopic living beings that are present in the soil and also have an important mission. These organisms, in addition to providing organic matter thanks to their excreta and exudates, mulch the soil and promote aeration and water retention.

The vermiculture or vermicomposting is a technique based on the breeding of earthworms land for the production of vermicompost or worm compost , a natural fertilizer humificado and very complete from the excrement of these annelids.

How can we improve the garden soil? Ecological techniques

There are several ways to care for the soil before and during the development of garden crops. One of them is tillage or soil management (with techniques such as weeding or the use of mulches), and another is the incorporation of different types of fertilizers .

Conservation tillage for orchards (pampering the soil)

To take care of the soil we can carry out various tasks that improve its structure and its capacity to retain water and nutrients. Some of these tasks to take care of the soil are:

  • Soil tillage of the orchard soil
  • Mulching or mulching
  • Conservation tillage
  • Weeding

Soil tillage

It is important to do this if hard layers have formed in the soil or the ground has not been cultivated for a long time , to remove any “scab” that may have formed.

The tillage or plowing of the soil makes the surface layers aerate, which favors that the roots of the crops that we will plant later can advance and develop correctly.

This tillage (with a mechanical mule or rotary tiller, hoe, hoe, shovel or other cultivating tools ) can also be used to remove weeds and debris from previous crops .

For the conservation of humus and the structure of the soil, it is not recommended to do deep tillage every year on the same place. In organic farming, minimum tillage is practiced : superficial tillage, on stubble or pre-existing vegetation, no tillage …

Mulching or mulching to protect the soil

The mulching technique consists of putting on the surface of the soil, around the plants, a layer that can be made of different materials (organic or inorganic) that prevents light from passing to the ground and protects it from sudden changes in temperature. and erosion.

In addition to preventing weeds from getting out (due to lack of light and space), mulching reduces soil erosion or degradation and improves moisture conditions in the root zone. There are many types of mulching to improve the soil. Some are inert, such as plastic sheets or gravel , and others, organic mulches , serve, in addition to a physical barrier, to fertilize the soil.

In organic mulches , organic matter gradually decomposes on the ground and becomes humus for plant nutrition. In the post Types of organic mulches you have more information about the types of mulching and the advantages of each one.

Conservation tillage

This ecological technique consists of protecting the soil by means of the remains of the previous crop . With conservation tillage , the tillage of the soil is eliminated or greatly reduced (for example, a tillage can be done in ridges or strips – not over the entire surface – or a tillage on stubble, which is not removed previously).

Like mulch, conservation tillage improves humidity and slows soil degradation , something very important especially in arid areas with rainfed crops.

The main condition is that the sowing or planting is carried out with at least 30% of the residues of the previous crop present on the ground.

Crop residues can be cut and chopped and buried in the soil as green manure or as a hot bed , or, conversely, cut and left on the surface in the form of mulching or mulching .

How to avoid compaction

It is very important that the soil or soil in the garden does not compact. The compaction of the ground damages the development of the crops.

If the soil is too compacted, the roots of the plants do not have enough air to develop.

It is important not to trample the ground too much, because if we step on the ground too much it gradually compacts.

Using wooden or ceramic boards or walkways to walk through the garden is a recommended practice. It favors that the weight of the people is distributed and not everything is concentrated on the same point.

Garden airing

In addition to not treading excessively, or going through the orchard with machines or heavy vehicles, you can also do some aeration work.

For this, there are manual tools or scarifying implements that can be attached to motor hoes or mechanical mules.

Weeding

It consists of pulling out, with the help of a light tool with sharp blades, the roots of the herbs that have emerged between the plants in the garden. The topsoil is removed and aerated or mulled to facilitate drainage and prevent the appearance of scabs.

It can be done with a small hoe or hoe, with a scarifier or scraper for weeds, or with a double-handled pitchfork like the one in the picture. If it is a small garden, in pots or on cultivation tables, it can be weed with hand tools such as the cultivator or the almocaffre.

The hoeing or weeding is not always necessary, but it is important in some horticultural crops, especially if we have not put any padding to protect the floor.

Organic fertilizers to improve the soil

The organic fertilizers are formed by a complex mixture of mineral particles inert and organic matter . The macrobiota and the microbiota of the soil gradually decompose organic matter and extract the nutrients it contains so that the plant can absorb them (mineralization of organic matter).

Organic fertilizers therefore come from decomposed organic matter or ‘living matter’ . The humus present in the soil naturally is usually not enough to nourish the plants, so we must incorporate organic fertilizers or amendments to improve the soil.

One of the most complete organic fertilizers to improve the soil of the garden is compost . It is easy to make homemade compost and it is an ideal fertilizer for vegetables and vegetables.

Other organic fertilizers are vermicompost or worm castings , manure , peat or green manures . In the post Types of organic fertilizer: 10 ecological fertilizers for plants we talk about how they are applied and the advantages of each one of them.

Mineral fertilizers

The main difference between organic fertilizers and mineral fertilizers is that the latter are inert. They are mainly composed of the fertilizing elements in their elemental form (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium …) in a form that can be easily assimilated by the plant.

Unlike organic fertilizers, which need time to mineralize in the soil and make the nutrients available to plants, mineral fertilizers provide directly assimilable nutrients . Due to this, they are absorbed by the plant much more quickly, and, at specific times with serious nutrient deficiencies, they can solve the failure of the crops.

There are two types of mineral fertilizers: chemical and natural. In organic farming, mineral fertilizers must always be natural. Chemicals that have been synthesized in laboratories, such as traditional nitrogen fertilizers and other chemical fertilizers, cannot be used.

To replace traditional fertilizers, organic farming uses organic fertilizers and, occasionally, natural mineral fertilizers .

These are some of the  natural materials to improve the soil through mineral fertilization and that are allowed in organic farming (according to the most important nutrient they provide):

  • Magnesium and Sulfur : natural mineral amendments from dolomite, magnesite, epsonite (with magnesium) or sulfur.
  • Potassium : wood ash, potassium salts such as sulfates or potassium chloride (sylvinite, carnalite, kainite …).
  • Phosphorus : Thomas slag, calcined natural phosphates (such as aluminum-calcium phosphate, which also provides aluminum and calcium) …
  • Silicon : crushed siliceous rocks.

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