What would you say the most important part of a garden is?
Is the value in the brand or kind of seeds/plants you grow?
How about the time spent tending to your garden?
Could it be the soil that your plants are growing in?
What about knowledge? Do you need to know everything there is to know before you start?
Which one is going to give you the greatest success in your gardening efforts? Don’t get me wrong. All of them are super important. If you buy seeds from a company that’s not reputable or snag last year’s seeds from a friend, you might have poor germination rates and trouble starting. If you don’t tend to your garden at all and let the weeds take over, you will have problems getting a good yield if you get any at all.
Trying to grow in poor soil that doesn’t have a healthy mix of microorganisms, you will have difficulty getting your plants to grow and you’ll likely battle pests and diseases which could ruin your chances for a successful garden. Not starting a garden at all because you don’t feel like you know enough won’t find your success at all because you never started!
So which one is the most important? I’d say hands down the most important part of a garden is your soil. Healthy soil can help you in all the other areas and that should be your ongoing focus. Throughout the year it is important to keep an eye on ph, mulch regularly, and add organic matter as well as the need to be aware of any troubles that might be beginning so you can stay on top of them.
You can build your way to success when it comes to your garden and that is through soil building. But where do you even start?
First, you need to take a good look at your garden’s soil. Do you have sandy soil or clay? Or is it an ideal mix of sand and clay called loam? Sandy soil will crumble between your fingers but clay soil will form a ribbon when pressed between your fingers. Loamy soil will somewhat hold together but still be loose. Your ideal soil is a deep dark brown color in a layer at least 10” thick that looks reminiscent of a sponge due to the worms burrowing through the soil. You should also be able to see worms and other bugs and beetles in the soil and on the ground.
If your soil that is more sandy or has more clay, then you are going to need to take steps to amend your soil with the goal of creating that ideal loam. It is totally possible! There’s not a quick fix but over time you can create that ideal fertile soil. Sandy soil allows the water to pass through quickly so you will have trouble keeping your garden watered. You will also do a lot of fertilizing because the water passing through quickly will leach the nutrients out of the soil before the plants can fully utilize them. Soil that has a lot of clay will tend to hold water and get really hard during dry spells. This can lead to difficulties with plants rotting from too much water or stunted growth/low production from not being able to extend their roots through the hard soil.
Second, you need to make the necessary amendments with the goal of creating that ideal loamy soil. It is important to add organic matter and compost to both types, for sure. If you are dealing with extreme soil in either direction, you will need to amend specifically to combat the clay or sand. Through the use of certain aggregates and cover crops, you can create a hospitable place for plants to live and succeed at gardening. I would suggest starting the summer or fall the year before you actually plant to give yourself the best start. At the very least consider tilling in a considerable amount of cow or horse manure in the fall and possibly using a cover crop.
Third, you need to start rejuvenating the microbiome in the soil. The ground is teeming with good bacteria, fungi, and parasites that act to feed and nurture the plant. This results in healthy plants that can resist pests and diseases and produce exceptionally nutritious food for us. Once you plant, using compost and mulching bare ground will feed the life within your soil.
Just like a house is only as strong as its foundation, so a garden is only as healthy as its soil. Healthy soil will help you overcome most troubles you come across. And don’t worry about how much you know! You’ll never finish learning. I find the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know!!!