In between rains, local farmers are still trying to plant their crops and gardeners are hoping to get the last of their vegetables sown. Did you know you can get more out of your soil by using a little tender loving care, which in turn can boost productivity? Here are the “fabulous four” conservation practices to improve your soil’s health and your bottom line.
• Mix it up! Rotate and diversify crops throughout the growing season as well as from year to year. Each type of plant adds valuable organic matter to the soil and feeds unique and beneficial soil critters. Soil with high organic matter and healthy microbial populations reduce plant stress and disease pressure.
• Chill with the till! Farmers use special equipment to carefully slice a hole or strip a narrow row, drop in a seed, and cover the seed — all with minimal to no disturbance of the soil. Gardeners can use these same methods and achieve excellent results. No-till and strip till also protect the soil against wind and water erosion to help keep our streams, rivers, and lakes clean. Disturbing the soil as little as possible saves you time, money, and elbow grease.
• Cover it up! It sounds crazy but growing plants that will never be harvested really is a good use of your time. Unharvested cover crops feed soil microbes through their roots. Cover crops increase the soil’s ability to hold water. In addition, they provide pollinator habitat during the growing season and food and cover for wildlife during winter.
• Perform microbial magic! By leaving leftover plant parts such as leaves, roots, and other organic matter on the ground, you provide food and shelter for the soil microbes. Some feed on the dead plant material and some eat other microbes. As a group they recycle nutrients, build up the soil, and give it structure. These hidden magicians include yeasts, algae, beetles, protozoa, bacteria, worms, and fungi that process the soil into rich, dark, stable humus.
Harvest the benefits that come from loving your soil. You can learn more from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s website at ww.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health/. The information is pertinent for anyone who grows plants, whether it be on large farm fields or in a small garden plot.
Please visit the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District’s website at www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us. Check out our “What is it Wednesday” feature on facebook too. Stay tuned for details on this year’s family friendly Delaware County Farm Tour scheduled for Saturday, July 20.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.