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Giving Thanks to Your Soil

By: Anni Jack, Adult Education Coordinator | 10/28/2021

We step on it, dig in it, drop seeds and plants in its space and they devour its nutrients, then we yank those plants out of their happy place and enjoy their tasty, nutritious benefits.

But, are we remembering to give back to our soil, giving thanks for the deliciousness it gives us?  Tis the season for composting and cover crops so we keep our soil happy and enjoy next year’s healthy produce.

Composting and cover crops use natural material to enhance the soil with nutrients as well as other benefits.  Composting is the recycling of organic matter.  It also:

🌱 saves landfill space

🌱 saves money from using landfill space

🌱 lessens landfill methane emissions

🌱 improves soil health by putting those nutrients our soil craves

🌱 helps with water retention and therefore helps with water conservation

🌱 reduces our quantity of food waste by giving purpose to those banana peels

Composting happens naturally but active, purposeful composting (called hot composting), speeds up the process with fungi, bacteria, and decomposers.  The result: matter that is rich in nutrients, often called “black gold.”

Cover crops utilize select nutritious plants between growing seasons to:

🌱 prevent erosion

🌱 supply nutrients that are gobbled up by crops or depleted over time

🌱 improve water retention

🌱 cover weeds and help with pests and disease

If you have an interest in cover crops, check out this handy USDA cover crop selection tool: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/plantmaterials/technical/toolsdata/plant/?cid=nrcseprd894840

You can compost in a ready-made bin, in a trench where your garden will be planted in the following year, in a pile, etc. After you have determined the best compost style that suits you, we need to follow a recipe.

Composting requires a balance of fresh, nitrogen ingredients (greens) and dry, carbon ingredients (browns) with a splash of water and some air.  If the balance isn’t correct the process slows and we could get some gross results. Too much nitrogen-love leads to slime and stink and too much carbon creates a dry crispy compost that doesn’t do much.  Browns are food for decomposers while greens help decomposers grow and multiply.

Compost Recipe

Location: Find a dry, shady spot

Ingredients:

Greens: 2-4 times the amount of browns, grass clippings and food scraps are examples

Browns: ½ to s ¼ of greens, like dead leaves, sticks, paper

Oxygen: layer ingredients in small pieces

Water: the matter should feel like a wrung-out sponge

Aerate the matter about once a week in the hot months and monthly in the winter.  This is done by turning over with a pitchfork or using an aeration bin for composting.  Temperatures should reach 130-140°, which means decomposer babies and breakdown are occurring as well as the death of bacteria and weeds.

There is also vermicomposting which utilizes the awesomeness of worms.  This method can be done indoors or outdoors and it uses worm castings to finish compost matter quickly with nutrient-rich properties.  It requires good drainage, carbon-heavy material, food waste to feed worms.  Red wiggler worms are a great option and temperatures need to be regulated between 55-75°.

Well, how the heck do you know when compost is finished?  There should be:

🌱 no recognizable parts and pieces of the original ingredients

🌱 an earthy, natural odor

🌱 a dark brown color

🌱 a smaller amount, about 1/3 of the original amount

 🌱 temperatures that match the air temperature

Time to say thank you and give back to your soil!  Use your black gold as mulch, mix it into your soil, use it on your lawn, in garden beds, potted plants, and around fruit trees! Your garden will thank you in return with happier, healthier plants and produce next year.