Creating the living soil or potting soil of your choice is an excellent method of building a custom soil. When a gardener constructs an organic soil to meet the requirements of the plants, he will not only experience higher yields but lower nutritional deficiencies, plant diseases, insect infestations, and other ailments which could be caused by inadequate nutrition.
If you are interested in growing plants that require lots of nitrogen, you can try adding nitrogen-rich organic components and altering the soil. It is possible to increase fruit and flower production by increasing the number of elements high in phosphorus or potassium components in the soil’s composition. The experiment, particularly with customized soil mixes, can be an ongoing project for hobbyists. Once gardeners start their experimentation process by making the soil of their choice, they are on the path to establishing the best organic nutrition for their plants.
There are a variety of prepackaged gardening soils or potting soil available to choose from. In particular, the supply of prepackaged organic soils is increasing as more gardeners adopt organic gardening. While prepackaged soils can be practical, there are many advantages to making organic soil on your own. It can be tailored to fit a particular cultivar. The farmer is also aware of which elements the soil is composed of and what his plants are eating.
Another benefit of making organic soil or potting soil by hand is that it’s cheaper when compared with prepackaged soils. In fact, it’s common to receive nearly twice the quantity of soil at the same amount mixing organic soil versus purchasing pre packaged soil. Another significant benefit when you build organic soil is learning by experience. The best method to acquire knowledge is getting hands-on. When you make your own living soil, you are acquainted with the different ingredients and how they impact the soil’s structure.
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Make Your Own Living Soil
The best way to begin making an organic garden is to arrange elements into three groups: the base ingredients, the aeration ingredients, and organic components in their individual forms.
We love to create soil layers using a recipe that you can discover in our article. When you make this dense mixture, you will be able to provide a healthy environment for your plants to thrive. AGRIKULTURE TODAY is here to help you know everything you need to learn about it by reading this article.
The soil is made up of the following elements:
This constitutes dead plant materials such as leaves, stems, roots, and more at different levels of degradation.
Organisms such as animals, insects, bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms eat organic matter and then cycle the nutrients contained in plant matter back to a usable form for plants.
The plants require around 20 nutrients to be healthy. They use these chemicals to perform their tasks ranging from the growth of the first root to planting seeds. These nutrients supply what plants require to thrive. Most of them are derived from the soil.
They are essential and utilized in large quantities, such as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur.
These are essential in lesser amounts, including chlorine, boron, manganese, iron, molybdenum and copper, sodium, nickel, cobalt, and silicon.
This is the inorganic portion of the silt, sand, and clay. Sand particles are larger than silt and bigger than the tiny clay particles. They determine the structure and its texture. The structure of the particles affects how it drains and how nutrients are available to plants.
Make Your Own Potting Soil
The process of making your own living soil or potting soil involves the following steps –
Step 1. Soil Testing
Soil tests aid gardeners in understanding what’s happening in the dirt. Such soil tests will reveal the type of soil, its structure, the analysis of soil nutrients, pH levels, and the quantity of organic matter.
To determine the soil type, you need to look at the soil texture. You can perform a quick test with a clean glass jar with a couple of tablespoons of soil samples taken from the garden and some water.
Fill the jar half with soil and then add water. Place the lid securely, shake the jar vigorously and keep it for some days. The silt, sand, and clay present in the sample will break up into layers. This allows you to observe the shape of the sample clearly. Sand will sit on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on the top. If the sections are identical in size, you have the gold standard, loam!
Tests for Soil Fertility, pH, and Health
AGRIKULTURE TODAY recommends taking soil analysis tests once every few years to assess soil fertility, pH, and overall health.
You can find DIY test kits available online. If you are looking for a thorough and accurate analysis, consider taking a professional test through a commercial testing firm.
Pick three or more samples from various locations in your garden. Label the garden area, for example, “vegetable garden'” or “lawn.” If there are multiple areas that you would like to test, make sure you keep samples from each site separately. So you will be able to make specific recommendations for each place that is being tested.
Such analysis tests offer you recommendations on what you should include. The lab will not recommend any specific item, but the suggestions will tell you how much of a particular element or nutrient you will have to add. Most of the time, a soil analysis will recommend adding organic matter. Well-groomed soils possess a healthy loamy texture, have a nutrient-dense, and retain water, yet drain well and aid in the growth of roots.
If you have sent the samples to a lab, you should receive your report within a few weeks. The test results will tell you:
- pH levels. pH stands for “potential for Hydrogen” and indicates how acidic or alkaline it is. Zero is highly acidic, 14 is highly alkaline, while seven is generally regarded as neutral. The majority of plants prefer acidity between six and seven. It is determined by minerals content and texture, climate, and water. The majority of the elements listed above cannot alter – gardeners should select plants that can thrive in the soil rather than attempt to modify the pH!
- Health and fertility. Tests tell growers the amount of nutrients available in the soil and if one is deficient. Tests can also inform you whether it is lacking in organic matter.
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Step 2: Know The Nutrient Cycle
Life in the soil is composed of organisms busy recycling garden waste into nutrients. It requires protection and continuous replenishment. It also requires organic matter and living organisms to break organic matter. This is an ecosystem made up of:
- Inorganic material that forms the structure
- Organic matter in different stages of decomposition
- Insects, centipedes, microbes, nematodes, worms, fungi as well as bacteria feed on that organic matter.
Organisms release nutrients to the soil in a form that plants can take. This is known as the process of nutrient cycling. Through these nutrient production and nutrient cycles, the soil is in a position to sustain life.
Step 3: Secure and Enhance What You Have
Before we start making our own potting soil or living soil, we should look at the things in our gardens already. The maintenance or protection of your soil is as essential as creating one. To ensure your garden stays in the best condition it can be, take a look at the following tips:
- Grow cover crops. Also called green manure, cover crops are planted in order to be integrated into the soil after the growing period. The plants like annual ryegrass, winter wheat, and clover can help replenish micro and macronutrients and transform nitrogen from the air into plant-friendly substances (nitrogen fixation). Cover crops also help stop erosion, and their roots provide the space for water and air to flow across the ground.
- Feed microorganisms. Let organic matter, often referred to as dead leaves, dead plant roots, and stems, stay in the garden, allowing it to decay.
- Avoid doing any hurt and try not to compress the soil. Avoid driving on it using heavy equipment, walking on it, or working on it in wet conditions.
- Return what you took away. Start a compost bin where dead plants can be reused, broken down, and absorbed by microbes. Then, you can put the compost back into your garden’s soil.
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Step 4: Living Soil Recipe
Natural soil development could take years. However, we can create garden soil high in organic matter that feeds bugs, worms, and bacteria, returning the nutrients to the plants.
The Base Mix
- 1/3 part sphagnum peat moss
- 1/3 portion pumice or perlite for aeration. This will allow air and water to move through the soil and provide the space needed for the root system to develop.
- 1/3-part high-quality compost and/or Worm castings.
You can also include any of these amendments in accordance with the requirements of your garden.
- Wood Ash – It has high levels of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, zinc, and iron. It helps reduce acidity.
- Kelp meals – This dried seaweed provides essential nutrients from oceans into your garden – N-P-K, along with small amounts of micronutrients – particularly zinc, calcium, manganese, iron, copper, sulfur, and magnesium.
- Crustacean meal – Also referred to as crab meal, it is different from the ocean, which is a source of nitrogen and the mineral phosphorus.
- The green manure – These are cover crops that assist in fixing nitrogen in the soil.
Mix the ingredients gently in a bowl, and then let your living soil rest in the sun for at least 2 weeks or more. The microbes begin breaking down organic matter and also for their colonies to expand. Use this mix of dirt to make planters, container gardens, elevated beds, or even as a topping for your garden beds or vegetable garden. Maintain the organic matter in your soil in top condition by making sure you continue to create more compost.
Step 5: Create a Compost
Making compost is the most efficient method of building organic soil. The smaller the pieces are, the more quickly the microbes take them apart. It usually takes a couple of months or even a whole year to get compost “finished.” The compost that has been finished appears as deep, dark, and healthy soil. You can then incorporate the compost in your garden at a rate of 1/4-1/2 cup of compost that is finished for every cubic foot.
Include in Compost
- Garden debris, fallen leaves, and twigs.
- Vegetable scraps from the kitchen.
- Teabags and coffee grounds.
- A few live earthworms.
Not To Include in Compost
- Weeds that have already grown to seed
- Eggshells and meat cooking oils (these attract rodents)
- The weeds that can be poisonous or toxic (like poison Ivy)
- Diseased plants (diseases can be transmitted when you spread compost!)
You can transform degraded soil into healthy soil through consistent organic amendments and compost application. The return of dead plant material back to the soil so that organisms can reuse it keeps the cycle of nutrients going on and helps keep it going. Soon you will see improvement in the soil health of your garden and its vigor.
So, don’t be apathetic about your soil. Treat it as the living thing it is.
Things to Consider When Building A Living Soil
With just a tiny amount of effort, you can make your own living soil by using various local items, saving money, and creating the best soil for your plants.
- It all starts with a solid base mixture. AGRIKULTURE TODAY recommends mixing around 50% sphagnum peat and 33 percent air aeration, and 17% premium earthworm castings and/or compost. It is also possible to make use of coco coir or other substrates instead of peat moss.
- The second thing to consider is the primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur). All of these are essential to the growth of plants, so you will need to include amendments that supply these nutrients in both fast releases as well as slow-release varieties. You can look at the N-P -K on an amendment to determine what percentage of each macronutrient is a part of.
For instance, the organic fish meal can be regarded as a rapid release of nitrogen source and generally contains about 10% nitrogen and 44% phosphorus. This gives plants the best start for the development of their roots and also in vegetative growth as it progresses through the life of the plant. You will also require slow-release nitrogen sources like feather meal to ensure that the plant will get nutrients throughout its life cycle.
- Calcium and magnesium are both essential and in the proper proportions. Most soils are lacking in calcium. Earthworm castings can provide calcium; however, you will need lime, gypsum, soft rock phosphate as well as oyster shell flour to improve calcium intake to about 70 percent from your CEC (cation exchange capacity) and magnesium to around 10 percent. Together, they shouldn’t exceed 80% in your CEC.
CEC is a massive sponge that holds all the nutrients that the soil can store. The more powerful the CEC is, the more nutrients the soil will hold and the more significant nutrients you will have to “fill” your sponge. A CEC of 25-35 is optimal for what we seek to achieve.
- Trace minerals and micro-nutrients are essential! This is where the majority of commercially-produced soils fall short. Ensure to include the kelp meal, plant growth hormones, regulators, rock dust as well as good earthworm casts to ensure that the plant gets all the nutrients it requires to be well-nourished and healthy.
- The most significant factors are the biological diversity and biomass in the soil. That is the thing that triggers the process of nutrient cycling, which makes all the great nutrients accessible to plants. Ideally, you’d make your own compost in a worm bin or a static compost pile; however, it takes time and is not a viable option in all circumstances. If you must purchase compost or worm castings, search for companies that have performed biological testing of their compost and will give it away.
At a minimum, do not buy cheap municipal compost or anything that has just been sitting for an extended period or baked in the scorching sunlight in a parking space and expecting it to contain healthy microbes. Compost teas that are enriched with aeration are a great way to boost the activity of microbial organisms in your soil if you are concerned over the grade of the compost you have purchased.
- Let the soil rest. It is ideal to allow your soil to cook for at least two weeks; however, at least a month is ideal. This will allow the microbes to break down the amendments and cycle them into plant-friendly forms. Also, it prevents burning caused by the soil being “too hot.” It is vital to keep an adequate amount of moisture throughout this period. The best way to gauge this is to pick up a small clump of soil and squeeze it with your hands. It will appear to be in a state of equilibrium, but it will break into smaller pieces. You will feel that the size of a drop is squeezed out of it.
- Consider reusing your soil. The soil will continue to improve because the microbes convert nutrients and help to build soil structure. It’s crucial to be aware that you are taking organic matter and nutrients out of the soil each time you pick plants. They will have to be replaced every cycle. You can use your nutrient pack or create your own recipe for re-amending.
Additionally, AGRIKULTURE TODAY recommends adding approximately one cubic foot of top-quality compost or earthworm castings per yard of soil that has been used to add organic matter back into the soil. Additionally, it would be best to consider adding aeration to the soil at the appropriate level to maintain the porosity of your soil and drainage. We have found that one cubic foot per yard, each cycle, is effective in the majority of cases.