1. Stop tilling 2. Stop weeding 3. Stop fertilizing 4. Plant cover crops 5. Add compost 6. Add microbes 7. Add worms
Thousands of years of agriculture have destroyed most of the soil on Earth, so chances are if you’re starting a garden for the first time, your soil is dead, dry and rock hard.
Below are seven EASY steps to bring it back to life, as laid out in the book The Soil Will Save Us, by journalist Kristin Ohlson.
1. Don’t Till It.
After thousands of years of turning the soil upside-down, farmers are finally realizing they’re killing the microorganisms that keep soil alive. Faced with losing the farm, more and more are converting to the ancient “no-till” method gardening.
“Underneath our feet is this incredible world teeming with billions of microorganisms that have been working in the soil for millions of years,” Ohlson says.
Plants are utterly dependent on these microbes for their nutrition, water, and protection against chemicals, diseases, and insects, she adds.
2. Don’t Weed It.
Ohlson says weeds feed the microorganisms and pulling them out by their roots disturbs the soil.
“I go around with scissors and snip weeds off at the soil level instead,” says Ohlson.
She scatters clipped stems and leaves as mulch/compost.
The more different types of plants and trees you can pack in, the healthier your soil will be Ohlson says. Plant diversity helps maintain soil microorganism diversity.
4. Keep it Covered.
Cover crops’ roots and tops protect the soil from water and wind. They also hold the soil together when your food crops are harvested.
In small gardens, simply clip cover crops with scissors and scatter over bare ground.
Ideally, you want cover crops that are native to your region (perhaps those weeds we mentioned earlier — “but really, I think people can use almost anything, as long as it grows,” Ohlson says.
5. Don’t Fertilize. Compost.
Fertilizers reduce the number of microorganisms in the soil. Compost, full of carbon, causes them to thrive.
“I also put sticks, some food waste, and dead plant matter around my living plants. That keeps the benefits of compost happening on the most basic level,” Ohlson says.
6. Add microbes.
At some point, the goal is to have a self-sufficient ecosystem, in which the bacteria and the plants feed each other and don’t require much help from you.
7. Get Worms.
Worms are vital to creating more nutrient-rich, healthy soil.
So buy some red wigglers, and throw them into your compost and soil.