Organic soil improvement
The process of organic soil improvement begins with detailed soil
analysis to help optimize the physical, chemical and biological
attributes that are important for sustainable productivity. This is
especially important for those land uses that depend most heavily on
proper soil function:
Pasture is not simply grass, but an
entire community of plants. The members of this community have their own
strategies for competing with the others for space and nutrients in the
soil. This means that pasture management is more like applied ecology
than simple crop production. Sustainable soil management is of vital
importance, but so is grazing management.
- Vineyards, Orchards, Nut & Olive groves
pasture, trees and vines do not have roots evenly distributed across
the whole area. Most of the active feeder roots will be in the so-called
'Drip zone' a few inches either side of an imaginary line on the ground
that traces the outermost extent of the foliage canopy above. This has
implications for organic soil improvement that many people overlook.
- Tropical Tree Crops
of these tree crops are highly specialized, some are best grown (or can
only be grown) under a forest canopy, making the whole subject of
organic soil improvement especially tricky. Here, standard approaches
may actually do more harm than good.
general, the same principles for Orchards and Vineyards will also apply
here, although tree produced for paper or timber may be planted at
higher densities and this can make access more difficult. However,
farm-based agro-forestry for specialized purposes such as production of
logs for Shitake Mushroom growing pose special problems. In such cases,
nutrient inputs must be carefully controlled and biological activity
optimized so that roots and stumps of a previous crop can be decomposed
before the next is harvested - while also minimizing the risk of disease
from these decomposing roots.
While the details may vary for each of these cases, Organic Soil Improvement can be summarized as a 5-step process.
- Identify ProblemsYou cannot fix something if
you don't know what (if anything) is broken. For this reason, the
process of Organic Soil Improvement must begin with a detailed soil
You can download a Free soil testing e-book here.
- Get PhysicalThe most
important requirement is the physical environment that supports it. In a
rain forest, we would talk about climate and geology, but in soil it is
structure and friability.Soils may suffer from a range of
problems. Some may be soft and sloppy when wet and drain poorly. Others
may compact easily or just set like concrete when dry. There are also
soils that seal themselves off with a surface crust or form deep cracks
that tear the roots of plants.The traditional view of such
problems has been that the relative proportions of sand, silt and clay
making up the soil cause all these things, and so are beyond anyone’s
ability to change them.Fortunately, research shows that the
proportions of five elements – Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium and
Hydrogen – work together to determine the functioning and friability of
soil.With good structure and friability, the soil will be more
tolerant of cultivation; it will retain moisture, but drain more easily
and remain well aerated; it will provide better access to roots and
availability of the nutrients they need.
- Plant NutritionThe next step is to provide controlled plant nutrition based on the plant-available levels of nutrients presently in the soil.It
is important, however, not to rush into this too quickly as materials
such as Lime, Dolomite and Gypsum (used in step 1) need time take
effect. Also, Lime and Dolomite can react with many fertilizers
(especially trace elements) to render them unavailable to plants.
- Soil BiologyTo
help get the best results from each of the first two steps, using the
appropriate bio-active materials after each Lime/Gypsum or fertilizer
application will speed up the whole process.
- Monitor and AdjustThe
effort and expense of getting your soil working right does not go on
and on. Repeating the soil test on a regular basis will let you keep
things working properly with only small ‘top-up’ applications, rather
than waiting for everything to go back the way it was and starting
Organic Soil Improvement with Compost.
This page is from our Gardening site, but it covers a number of
simple composting methods, including the biodynamic composting method.
Causes and prevention of soil degradation
Too often, people have problems improving their soil, because
they are unaware to the things they do that cause soil degradation.
While you are here, you can also subscribe to our Free Living Soil Ezine: