Downright Curb Appeal!
“Restore the Soil Food Web & Watch your Existing Urban Garden Flourish!”
|If you want to have a beautiful garden with lots of color, texture, lush vibrant growth, you can have that. It’s definitely not out of reach and you don’t have to live with the image that you have 2-black thumbs.
The easiest way to move in the direction of a gorgeous garden is to get the garden, as a whole, to do its’ own work. This is what Mother Nature intended in the first place, and once you familiarize yourself with the practices you’ll find that it makes a lot of sense.
We gained a lot of inspiration for moving towards healthier soil practices as the result of looking towards organic farming. A farmer with limited acreage knows the importance of growing healthy soils to produce healthy plants and ultimately yield. And what are they so aware of? What does the vineyard up in Sonoma that practices biodynamic land management do that we in urban gardens, as professional or hobby gardeners don’t do, or do religiously.
Does it really matter, land management practices, if we’re not growing for quality grapes for wine production? We think it does. And hopefully, you will too, after we go through some of this.
Goal: Work Towards Building Healthy Garden Soil Full of Life!
If you want things to look good above ground, as most people with gardens or plants do, you’ve got to get your head around what’s going on below ground. Surprisingly, there is more life, more biology in a gram of healthy soil than there are people on the planet.
The life in healthy garden soil includes beneficial micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye such as: beneficial fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoa; and, larger soil dwelling and inhabiting organisms like arthropods and earthworms. All of these animals and soil organisms are part of what is called the soil food web.
If you take a look at the image to the left, of the soil food web, you’ll notice that the various soil ecology, invisible organisms to animals are not islands unto themselves, but instead related to the plant, its’ roots and shoots, organic matter, each other.
The interconnected web is like a community or an orchestra, where each participant plays a vital role in the process and production of a piece of music. Without the players in the orchestra the piece would be impossible to play.
Similarly, without the complex web of soil ecology, plant life above ground, as we see it, would look in need of life support.
Without healthy soil ecology present, the natural processes set-up by Mother Nature which are designed to provide needed plant food, maintain good soil structure, combat pests and disease agents and such is missing in action!
This means that instead of nature working on behalf of your garden plants 24/7, someone and something outside the system has to do so. And, are you really up to that task, when healthy soil ecology is going to do it better, cleaner and safer, plus more efficiently and thoroughly than you or we can?
Disturbed Urban Garden Soils
Unfortunately, the plant life support of our times is chemically formulated, and it wreaks havoc on the good micro-organisms and life in our soils. Salts, which are inherent in chemical fertilizers, are toxic to soil life. Teaming with Microbes authors Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis state: “Good garden soil contains anywhere from 10 to 50 earthworms per square foot.” But you won’t find them, or many of them, in disturbed soils where plants are chemically fed or treated because the chemicals and salts irritate the earthworms.
Because your ultimate garden goal is to have healthy soil thriving with enormous and diverse populations of good life, it stands to reason that curbing quick fix chemical practices to deal with plant related problems such as nutrition, pest and disease, is essential. Though chemically based garden products are not the only culprit killing biology in our garden soils, as you will see below, their omnipresence in most small to large garden centers and box stores compared to completely organic products, is vast.
Disturbed soils also result from construction projects like home building, grading, cut and fill. Both heavy equipment which causes compaction, and tillage, harm beneficial microbe populations. Though building your house was probably done long before you bought it, there’s a strong likelihood that you have inherited disturbed soil.
How to Restore the Beneficial Biology to your Soil?
Two Ways to add life, feed and restore biology to your soil are:
How to Protect and Maintain Benefial Biology in your Soil?
Also, avoid practices that will harm and disturb soil ecology. For an existing established garden there is no need for tilling.There may though, as a last resort, be a need for chemical control. If this is the case, reintroduce biology and food.
In the short and long run growing healthier garden soil will reward you with a healthier more vibrant garden. As for curb appeal, you bet!
Eliot Coleman. 1995. The New Organic Grower. Chelsea Green Publishing Company