The foundation for every healthy garden is healthy soil. Healthy, nutrient dense soil will help your plants to thrive. Soil damage occurs from rototilling the soil frequently, using pesticides, and from monoculture or planting the same crop in the same place every harvest. These practices not only weaken harvests over time which can result in an increased reliance upon pesticides and can result in issues with erosion. Choosing practices that support soil health will not only improve harvests and help our environment, they will also support the health of the gardener!
What is Healthy Soil?
A soil’s health can be defined as soil’s ability to sustain the living ecosystem. Healthy soil has a good combination of organic matter content, soil biology, soil chemistry, soil structure, and water filtration.
Soil is made up of four components: clay, silt, sand, and loam. Together these create a soil texture. It is important to have a balance of each to promote healthy drainage and optimal conditions for living organisms to thrive. If your soil is out of balance, it can be remedied by amending it with compost.
Rototilling the soil is unnecessary under normal soil conditions. The process of photosynthesis feeds the plant and also stimulates chemical secretions which feed bacteria. These bacteria in turn protect the plant from disease and feed microbes who provide waste providing more nutrition to the plant. Microbes are also eaten by decomposers and arthropods. Decomposers tunnel through the soil creating air pockets which plants need and arthropods are predatory insects who will eat insects that may damage the plant. No-till plots have the highest yields as a result of supporting the ecosystem living beneath the soil!
The practice of rototilling is harmful to the environment because the soil sequesters carbon dioxide and rototilling releases the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By supporting the soil’s relationship with the living organisms that live there carbon dioxide is pulled into the soil.
Pesticides and Synthetic Fertilizer
Pesticides damage the soil because it not only kills the garden pests that eat the crop, it also kills the living organisms vital to the ecosystem within the soil. Synthetic fertilizer dependence results in high nitrogen input and affects the carbon present in the soil. In effect it affects the microbial health of the soil. High nitrogen input also attracts pests like aphids and whiteflies. Testing your soil chemistry can assist decisions around which nutrients can be amended into the soil to prevent pests.
If pesticides or lawn chemicals have been used in your garden you may need to test your garden’s PH. Plant varieties can be chosen based on the soil PH and will improve the soil quality long term. Soil can be amended with organic matter such as compost and balanced by using organic fertilizers. There are several alternatives to pesticide use such as companion planting, interplanting, and releasing insects that will eat the pests off your plants.
Switching to sustainable pest management practices will not only serve the soil, it will also serve the gardener. According to PlanetNatural.com studies have found a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease, autism and child cancers, neuroblastoma, leukemia, chronic infections, bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, infertility, neurological disorders, aggression, and depression.
Planting the same plants in the same place in your garden fails to feed the ecosystem a balanced diet and over time depletes the soil of necessary nutrients it needs to thrive. Plants and crops should be rotated annually to best serve the soil. Ground cover crops will help feed the ecosystem when a crop has been harvested and maintain the soil for the next rotation.
Healthy Soil = Healthy Gardener
Many studies state that gardening is an effective way to support the overall health of the gardener. According to an article by Permaculture College, the chemicals in healthy soil release serotonin, a natural antidepressant in the human body. Harvesting vegetables and fruits releases dopamine and creates happiness in the gardener. The use of pesticides and chemicals in the garden will hinder these natural responses and have the potential to create negative health conditions. Therefore, support the soil in your garden and it will in turn support you.