Nutrients and soil health: mulch, compost, manure give best results

Celery sprouting from beneath a layer of thick mulch

Chemical fertilizers that some gardeners use sure can feed those vegetables in the patch, but not the soil itself!

As time passes, chemicals alter microbial life and renders soil barren and sterile. It’s best to avoid these environment-killing products and feed your beloved growing soil with natural amendments instead! It would be senseless to do otherwise, since, more often than not, they’re free!

Green manure

Clover is a preferred cover crop to make soil betterScorpionweed, clover, mustard… Green manure groups all plants that excel at restoring soil nutrients instead of depleting them. Usually, they’re planted in the vegetable patch at the very beginning of Spring, at the end of the Summer or in Fall as soon as a plot has been harvested.

Some vegetables such as tomato tend to pump huge amounts of nutrients out of the soil. It’s important to replenish these before planting anything else. Green manure also helps contain erosion and landslides, limits weed growth, and prevents rain from washing nutrients away.

Compost

Two hands holding perfectly ripened compostCompost is a fabulous way to add organic matter! On the one hand, it is incredibly rich thanks to the variety of compounds it contains. On the other hand, it’s free and makes good use of your waste. A compost combines kitchen scraps such as peels, water used to boil vegetables, radish and carrot leaves, eggshells, coffee grounds, meat scraps… together with garden and workshop waste such as lawn clippings, sawdust, twigs, weedy teas, ashes and dead leaves.

This nutrient bomb provides much more than the basic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium mix! Most trace elements necessary to proper plant growth are included, too.

Manure

Mushroom rising from a heap of hay and manureWith high levels of nitrogen and carbon (depending on how much straw is mixed in), manure is an excellent choice to enhance your soil. The advantage is that it’s often very easy to procure. All you need to do is to ask you local animal farms for some they’ll give it to you by the truckful! On top of providing nutrients, manure contributes to soil structure: it loosens it up, lets water and air circulate, and makes it easier to till and work with. You can spread it directly on the plot, or add it to your compost.

Organic fertilizer

Now we’re getting down to business: weedy tea! They enrich the soil and double as excellent pest control agents. It’s a foregone conclusion that every organic gardener will want to avail of fermented tea’s stacked benefits.

Pot with nettle tea mush to use to make soil healthierWhether we’re talking nettle, tansy, comfrey or horsetail, the mechanics are similar:

  • 2 pounds of fresh plant material
  • 10 quarts rainwater (1 kg for 10 liters)
  • Mix and let it bubble for a couple weeks, stirring daily.
  • Filter residues out.
  • After that, dilute it into the water you use for watering.

Remember that animal fertilizer such as crushed horns, dried blood and guano are also extremely relevant! These tend to have lots of minerals, they boost growth together with blooming and fruit formation.

Mulch

In all things nature, the ground is never laid bare. This simple observation led adepts of permaculture to use mulch to cover the ground and enrich it. It also helps preserve soil moisture, insulates from the cold, and even keeps weeds from growing. It breaks down and enriches the soil as it does so.

Hyacinth sprouting from snow-covered mulchMulch must be renewed from time to time, preferably with a new, different mulch than the previous layers:

  • Lawn grass, hedge trimmings and all the green kitchen scraps have lots of nitrogen.
  • Dead leaves, wood chips and straw contribute to raising levels of soil carbon.

Remember to always cover your vegetable patch and growing beds with mulch to keep the soil rich and alive.


Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pixabay: Andreas Göllner, Higher TJ, Joke vander Liej, Manfred Richter, Cornell Frühauf
own work: Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois