I still cant get into my garden. The water puddles are gone and the weeds are starting to grow. The soil surface isnt as squishy as it was a week ago, but it is evident the garden is still too wet to begin digging, tilling and planting.
Its important to know the difference between soil that is ready and soil that isnt. Handling wet soil can cause textural damage it wont recover from for an entire year.
This is why, when you read anything in a magazine or gardening book stating you should wait until your soil can be worked, you definitely should not work it no matter how long it takes.
I learned this the hard way several years ago when we did work the soil too soon. What I ended up with the rest of the summer was not a soft, loamy garden, but instead was a hard, rock-like garden plot that, although I planted anyway, was difficult the rest of the year. This spring it has taken longer than usual to get into the garden and till the remainder of last years weeds so we can plant even just the cool weather vegetables.
How do you know when the soil is ready? The best way to figure it out is the same method farmers have used since the beginning of agriculture, pick up a handful of soil and squeeze. Open your hand and see what happens. If the ball of soil stays in a ball, its still too wet. If it falls apart with the consistency of cake, it is safe to start digging furrows and loosening it up for the planting.
All we need is a couple days of warm, dry weather with adequate sunshine for the soil to get to that point. As I type this, we are promised those few days this weekend. I might get those onion starts planted after all.
Soil is a wonderful thing. You might call it dirt, but a gardener will tell you that dirt is what you sweep out of your house. Soil is where you grown your vegetables and flowers.
Soil is alive. We cant see them, but healthy soil is filled with living things including fungi, bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods and earthworms. These organisms all have a purpose. Some feed on decaying organic matter, turning it into compost, which is basically more soil. Still others feed upon each other creating the nutrients that plants need. When all of these organisms are in balance, the soil is healthy. Healthy soil creates healthy plants that are able to fend off disease and insect infestation. Healthy plants offer good health to the people and animals who eat them. Do you see the cycle?
When we use the same patch of soil over and over without replenishing what our plants use, the balance is disturbed. To regain that balance, we need to add compost and other organic matter back into the mix. Just as though we were borrowing a cup of sugar from our neighbor, the polite thing to do is replace what we use.
An important component to soil is its texture, consisting of three types: sand, silt and clay. Clay is the smallest particle. It is sticky and heavy and clings together. Water and oxygen cant get through it. Most of the soil in our area is primarily clay, although there are areas that could be described as primarily sand. Sand is the largest soil particle. It is gritty and coarse and water flows through quickly. Where water cant penetrate clay, it runs through sandy soils so fast the plants dont have time to drink it up. Silt particles are smaller than sand, but not as small as clay. Silt is slippery and fine, like baby powder.
A fourth type of soil texture is a combination of all three and is called loam. Loam is ideal garden soil. Water runs through it at just the right speed so that plants can drink what they need and the rest drains away. Oxygen also penetrates the particles and is used by those organisms mentioned earlier. Plants roots use oxygen to take in water. When the soil is saturated, oxygen is depleted. Roots will rot and the plants will die.
Compost is so easy to create and doesnt have to take up a lot of space that theres really no reason why everyone cant have their own little compost area. Even apartment dwellers can make compost on a corner of the kitchen counter using something as simple as a coffee can. Ill write more about the various forms of compost in the upcoming weeks. Everyone should do what they can to feed the soil.