When we use the energy in the soil to make food for ourselves, we borrow a part of the soil. We can only have a good relationship with the soil if we return what we take. Nature is always productive. Nature gives without conditions. We need to learn to love and respect. It takes some effort and time with the soil to understand it and start creating a healthy habitat for the soil organisms but the intention should be to heal the soil and not to make it productive. The more we learn, the further we find ourselves from complete in this knowledge.
By mimicking how nature provides nutrition for all plant life (trees, vines, shrubs, grasses etc.) in a forest, we can help to restore soil’s health.
Feeding the soil with fresh green biomass (not woody, not dry).Fast growing plants with extensive root systems, to recycle nutrients from deeper soil layers), (like mustard, radish, turnip, beans) are ideal for use as green manure. Green manure plants act as mulch even when they are growing and hence considered as living mulch.
Composting returns the nutrients to the soil in a short time, making up for the degeneration over thousands of years.
Insulating the soil life from sun and cold by mimicking a forest floor of fallen leaves and biomass.
By allowing plants with different root systems to grow, better use of the space and available air, water and nutrients in the soil can be made. Different root systems also help maintain a good soil structure. (We also plant root vegetables with leafy vegetables or beans). By creating a diversity in the garden, we increase the relationships existing between the soil, microbial world, insects and other natural elements making the system more productive while minimising our impact (we plant the vegetables with herbs, flowers, near fruit trees).
Compaction affects soil structure by decreasing its porosity and preventing roots of plants from penetrating deeper into the soil and having access to more water, air and nutrients.
by sizing the beds appropriately or by making pathways in the garden, we can avoid walking on the soil.
Fast flowing water erodes the soil and carries away the nutrients. By slowing down the course of water, erosion of soil can be prevented and more water will infiltrate the soil.
Making swails, streams and ponds will not only protect the soil from erosion but also conserve water.
Mulching the soil not only protects the soil life from sun and cold, but also the soil itself from erosion by wind/water. Mulching also retains water in the soil by preventing evaporation.
- When young succulent material is chopped, it should be left on the soil for at least a month before a new crop is sown. This is because in the initial phase of decomposition some substances are released that can affect the seeds and young sprouts and make them sensitive to pathogens. If the material chopped onto the soil is older and woody, it will decompose much slower and supply nutrients to the soil over several seasons. To decompose old, woody material, many organisms are needed. Before these organisms start to digest the organic matter, they need to multiply themselves for which they use available nitrogen in the soil (this could lead to competition with the plants, nitrogen immobilisation). Thus a good C:N will allow nitrogen for both young plants and the microorganisms decomposing the dead organic matter. Or the plants should be grown after the decomposition process is over, about two months.
- Bacteria can feed only on exposed surfaces of organic matter. Hence, bacterial growth is slow until the worms/insects chew their food and fragment the matter into smaller bits. The fungi however can extend their hyphae to penetrate through matter. Also fungi have evolved over time and have an enzyme to break down lignin, a chemical complex in the plant body (wood). Thus fungi are more effective in decomposing plant matter. It can be said that bacteria are the primary decomposers for most animal matter while fungi are the primary decomposers for most plant matter.
While building soil, the quantities of animal manure and plant waste should be balanced (if you have both) to provide food for both bacterial and fungal colonies.
Besides the technicalities, if our work with the soil is honest and not motivated by production alone, the soil will respond. We do use scientific understanding while working, but the best indicators for us have been the sight, feeling and smell of the soil.