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Gardening with Laurie: How to make your soil come to life

By By Laurie Garretson
Jan. 19, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 18, 2012 at 7:19 p.m.

Laurie Garretson

Last week, I wrote about the importance of a healthy soil to all living things, not just humans. I pointed out some of the effects of using man-made synthetic produces and the negative impacts caused by them.

This week, I'd like to stress the importance of a healthy, living soil and how to make your soil come to life.

Long before man, the soil on this planet grew all kinds of vegetation. Plants would sprout, grow to maturity, produce and die. Dead plant material would then fall to the ground, and with time, decompose along with any other dead organic matter that happened to be lying around.

When animal life came on the scene, they provided different manure that were then added to this decaying matter.

As all these materials decomposed, they added nutrients back to the ground. All these nutrients helped new vegetation to sprout and start the whole circle of life process over again.

I believe this whole process of events that nature started with the beginning of time, is still the best way to build the health of our soils and also one of the easiest and cheapest.

Applying composted matter to your soil on a regular basis is the whole principle of natural gardening, more commonly known as organic gardening.

Compost is good for all types of soils. The nutrients in compost are slowly released into the soil over months and years.

Using compost on a regular basis will actually help the soil to retain fertilizers better. Compost helps to buffer soils, which then neutralizes both alkaline and acidic types of soils.

This process then brings the soils PH levels to an optimum level so that nutrients in the soil are made available to the plant life.

Compost helps sandy soils retain moisture and nutrients. Compost helps compacted heavy soils by loosening the soils structure so roots can spread, so water can drain and oxygen can penetrate it.

As compost changes the soils structure, this then helps also to prevent erosion.

Compost brings and feeds many types of beneficial soil life; earthworms, fungi, insects and more. All this soil life helps to increase the health of plants.

Some of the soil's beneficial bacteria break down organic matter so plants are then able to obtain nutrients from them.

Some of the burrowing types of beneficial life that compost brings to soils, such as earthworms, help to keep soils enriched and well aerated.

All this life in the soil helps to prevent many disease problems and harmful pests.

Microbes that are found in compost are also able to break down certain toxic compounds that can be present.

Compost can be used as a soil amendment, as well as a mulch. Compost is a soil amendment not a fertilizer.

Add a good organic fertilizer to enhance the compost. Always make sure you add lots of compost and natural fertilizer to any flowerbed or vegetable garden when first tilling them up.

Compost and fertilizer can always be applied as a top dressing to any established areas. A thin layer of compost over the lawn along with some fertilizer will help to keep it green and healthy.

Compost is the backbone of any organic gardening practice. I hope this new year you will decide to start gardening in a more natural way, the organic way. Lots of good compost will help you to get started.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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