“Frank, Frank, Hi! What are you doing?!” my neighbor called out from across the street. I was spreading some bone and blood meal into my garden beds. She mentioned that she started a vegetable garden for her step son, and she asked me about when a specific plant should go into the ground, and about my fertilizing efforts. I had the impression after our talk that she thought of what to do for the plants to make them healthy concentrated on the plants. However, dirt is where it is at.
This past weekend another neighbor saw me working in composted manure into one of my beds. I prepare beds that are fallow by this means, and in Houston, we can plant in September for another harvest, but I wanted the bed a chance to live before replanting. Again, they pushed the idea of focusing on the plant than on the dirt. This prompted me to think of this post.
There are nutrients and fertilizers that the plant can take directly through their leaves, but most comes through their roots. For most plants, this means that the building blocks for a healthy plant has to be in the dirt. That is why I tell people to work on having healthy dirt, rather than a healthy plant. Good dirt will last longer than an immediate fix for the plant.
I use organic chemicals rather than inorganic ones, but I try to limit how much I add. The main ones that I apply are bone meal, blood meal, and the remains from my fires. These ingredients add the basics for creating strong root and stem growth. I figure that flowers and vegetables will come to a plant that has strong roots to access water, and strong stems and leaves to deal with the elements outside. I do add agricultural gypsum on occasion, since we have heavy clay soils here, and this will help break the clay down.
Basic care of your dirt involves aeration, mulching, and organic matter. I dig down anywhere from a foot to two feet when preparing a fallow bed to help loosen the soil, but through out the year, I till the top six inches two or three times a year. Allowing air spaces to be created helps encourage life to flourish in the dirt as well as creating pockets for water. A well aerated soil retains more water from rains or your hose, so it means less watering. Water will run off if it has no where to go.
Mulching creates a blanket which keeps water in the soil, while helping to main a constant temperature. Look at a bare patch of ground, you can see that the sun dries out the dirt, which means that the water is not there for the plant. Many plants have roots that stay near the surface, so they would need to be watered more often. By maintaining a constant temperature, you place less stress on the soil and plants in it. The mulch will become organic matter.
Organic matter is needed to create the environment that life needs to thrive. From micro-organisms to earthworms, animals live in the dirt. They help to create the locale required for healthy plants. Earthworms create air spaces, and their excrement provides nutrients for plants. Ants are better at aerating the soil, but most people do not wish to have ants biting them. I wash them away if they become a problem, rather than use a pesticide. You have to disrupt their home a few days in a row to cause them to move on.
If your soil becomes healthier, you will find that you will need less water and fertilizers. That fact can only be a good thing.