The most important thing you can do for your garden plants is care for the soil. Treat the soil like a living organism, because it does contain billions of tiny microorganisms and bugs and worms that are so very important for healthy plants.
There is a complicated web of relationships between all the organisms that live in the soil; they feed on each other, decompose organic waste, and share nutrients. They are also able to form healthy relationships with plants that benefit both parties. Bacteria that ‘fix’ nitrogen, for example. This bacteria likes to live in and on the roots of legumes (beans, peas). It can take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that the plants can use. Not only do the beans and peas benefit, but whatever is planted nearby can also use the nitrogen that is introduced to the soil ecosystem. Members of the Brassica family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc) do very well planted next to beans because they are heavy feeders.
Organic gardening focuses on feeding the soil because having these good microorganisms in the soil makes all the difference between having healthy plants and having diseased and weak plants. The healthy microbes compete with the pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes, bacteria, and fungi so they don’t get a chance to destroy the food plant that you’re hoping to eat.
The first step in feeding the soil is to stop using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They ultimately do more harm than good, killing the beneficial organisms along with the harmful ones. It’s better to feed the good organisms and let them do the work of out-competing the bad. Next:
Compost, compost, compost. Organic gardeners don’t use compost just for the nutrients that can be found there. The #1 reason to use compost in your garden is for all the beneficial microbes that live in the compost. Introducing these microbes to your garden is key to growing healthy, nutritious food.
There are many ways you can complicate the composting process. If you wait until you’ve got it all figured out, you might never begin. It’s best to just give it a shot and adjust as you go. Start with the basics.
Simple composting steps:
1. learn what greens and browns are: greens are fresh, like grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps. Browns are dry, yellow, brown, like leaves, straw, sawdust, or black and white newsprint.
2. mix greens to browns 1:2
3. keep it moist but not soaked
4. turn it over every month or so in warm season
5. when it looks like soil, add it to your garden.
If you don’t have yard space, consider composting with worms! They live indoors very easily, and don’t smell bad at all. There’s a very good website that can give you more information about this:
Once you have great compost you can also make compost tea. And if you don’t have compost, you can make plant extracts. The following free white paper download will give you a recipe for compost tea and a recipe for making an ‘herbal tea’ plant extract that you can use to feed your soil.