02 May 2011

Increasing Your Garden's Fertility & Productivity

Adding organic matter can be the best thing you can do for your garden soil.  It is the only amendment that affects both fertility and texture of the soil.  Organic matter is simply dead or decaying animal or plant material;  i.e.  animal manure, green manure such as a cover crop planted specifically for tilling into the soil, or garden compost such as grass clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps.  Organic matter provides nutrients for your soil and also provides beneficial microbes, which help make the nutrients readily available for your plants as well as helping to keep disease from your soil. 
It is usually best to allow organic matter to decay for a period of time.  If using manure, allow it to decay until it turns dark brown in color and has no odor.  Nutrients found in manure are generally readily available, but if overused, can provide excessive amounts of some nutrients.  A good example of this would be ammonia.  Excessive amounts of ammonia can burn your plants and while fresh manure is great for heavy feeding crops such as corn, it may not be best suited for use on crops such as greens.  Also with fresh manure, is the possibility of crop contamination.  If you are planting greens or root crops, then you’ll want to compost the manure for about three months prior to spreading to avoid the possibility of contamination.  If you are planting flowers, or taller crops such as staked tomatoes or corn, then this is not a concern. 
Composting bins provide plenty of nutrients for your soil also.  Do your research as there are many different types of composting bins and certain types of scraps and waste should be added in certain proportions.  You can even make your own composter.  Kitchen scraps, recyclable papers, twigs, hay, straw etc can be added to the compost pile.  Compost should be turned weekly and some gardeners turn their compost after every new addition.  Aeration, moisture and warmth are all important in the composting process.
A great way to speed up your composting  is by investing in a worm composter.   Most gardeners realize the presence of worms in the garden indicate a nutrient-dense soil.    Worms can live in a worm composter while eating and breaking down your kitchen waste and recyclable paper and turning it into compost for your garden.  One pound of worms will consume about one pound of food daily.  Worm composting bins are self-contained systems and the worm compost is virtually odorless.  There are even small worm composters that you can keep right in your kitchen!   Red worms have the best appetite and breed quickly, thus are the most popular for this purpose. 
There are other types of bins and composts worth looking into as everyone’s needs differ.  Work your compost into your beds well before planting and you will have nutrient-rich, well developed soil and a more productive garden.

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