Using natural organic matter to improve soil fertility in your garden.

Improving soil fertility is as easy as adding natural organic matter to your yard. The benefits include:

  • Improving soil structure, allowing soil to hold air and moisture in pockets
  • Allowing roots to grow easily through the ground
  • Providing nutrients for insects (worms) and micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi) that contribute to plant health

Your garden’s soil fertility will be able to be maintained simply by adding natural organic matter regularly, about every one or two years.

What types of organic matter can increase your soil fertility?

  • Recycled Green Waste
  • Composted Manure
  • Leaf Mould
  • Nutrient Crops
  • Bark Mulch

Below is a description of each type of natural organic matter. Choose the one that best suits the space in your garden and the time you have.

Recycled green waste from the kitchen or garden

What we are talking about is making your own compost. The main challenge with this method of improving soil fertility is that there is an excess of kitchen material compared to garden material in many small space gardens. One solution is to break down kitchen waste before adding it to the compost pile.

Worm composting can quickly break down kitchen waste. Provide your worms with bedding made of shredded newspaper or leaf mould inside a container. Feed them with waste, though keep in mind that they do not break down weed seeds or diseased material like a hot compost pile would.  Keep your bin in the shade during summer months. Insulate the bin in winter. When you are ready to apply some natural organic matter to your garden using your worm compost, be sure to use the soil from the bottom of the bin. Leave the top layer with the new kitchen waste as this is where the most worms are and dig out the soil below this valuable layer.

Compost pile, compost heap or compost bins.  In the compost bin kitchen and garden waste is broken down by bacteria and fungi. Provide a variety of waste by including leaves, chopped branches, kitchen scraps and grass clippings all together. Grass clippings activate the composting process because of their high nitrogen content. It’s important to have a big enough pile to generate enough heat to kill weed seeds and diseases. A great size for a compost bin is 3 feet by 3 feet.

Manure

Manure can be added to the compost bin, or left in a pile on its own to break down. Manure works well in combination in the garden with the natural organic matter that a worm compost bin produces.  Manure is best when composted for a year or from spring through fall before being added to garden beds.

Leaves

Leaves can be added to the compost, or left in plastic bags to rot. This creates leaf mould. Although leaves do not add many nutrients in your quest for soil fertility, they do add essential structural elements to the garden’s soil.

Nutrient Crops

If you are growing vegetables or leave patches of soil bare through the winter months, growing your own nutrient crops will help to prevent the leaching of nutrients from the soil. Heavy rainfall and precipitation during the winter months strips the soil of available nutrients, leaving soil fertility lower in spring than it was in the fall. Some crops, such as mustard, buckwheat or fenugreek can be grown as quick cover crops between your fall harvest and spring seeding. Choose cover crops that grow quickly in a five to six week period for best effect.

Bark Mulch

Bark mulch is made up of partially decomposed, shredded bark and compost made from recycled green waste. It is a by-product of the lumber industry and greatly beneficial to garden beds. It acts as a natural organic matter by gradually breaking down into rich soil.  This is a great source of organic matter that also protects your plants, prevents water evaporation from the soil and prevents weed seeds from establishing themselves in garden beds.

Any parts of the garden that have been growing plants continually will benefit greatly from the addition of natural organic matter. Shovel in composted materials before planting and use mulch covers to increase plant health.

About Jessica Salvador

Jessica has spent over ten years in the landscaping industry in nursery production, landscape maintenance and garden centre sales. She graduated in 2002 from the highly recognized horticulture program at Capilano University as a Certified Landscape Horticulturist. Higher Ground Gardens, your West Side Vancouver gardening and landscaping professionals for hedge trimming, pruning, bark mulch delivery, yard clean up, and on going gardening and landscaping maintenance. Gardening Vancouver, The Garden Pro's to call from Spring through Fall.
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