seedling growing in soil
Organic Gardening

The Anatomy of Soil: How to Improve Soil Fertility

There is a big movement happening right now in the gardening and homesteading world. Lots of people are realizing the effects of commercialized farming and focusing on growing their own food, knowing where their food comes from, and what their impact is on not only our overall environment, but on the fertility of the soil.

This post is all about soil fertility.

Originally post July 5, 2022
Updated March 14, 2024

The Importance of Dirt…. Or Soil Rather.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m extremely passionate about moving towards a more and more sustainable lifestyle. For those of you that don’t, ever since I was little we always had a summer garden, or at least a few tomato plants. Not having a summer garden doesn’t feel right to me. It’s something I really can’t be without. Being able to grow your own food and later harvest it is just so rewarding. Over time the garden has just grown bigger and bigger each year. I went from buying store bought seedlings to growing from seeds. 

The Challenges of Growing From Seed

We’re going into our fourth year of growing from seed. We’ve been growing solely from seed, however, this year I’m going to maybe get tomato seedlings from the local nursery. Although I’ve been having a lot of success with tomatoes, it’s hard to grow them indoors since we don’t really have the right set up. But we’ll see. I might just wind up growing them from seed anyway!

Updates From Amending Our Soil

It’s such an accomplishment though to grow from seed. It’s not always an easy task but the hard work is worth it!

During the initial posting of this blog post, I really dove into a large focus on soil fertility. When we moved to our new home, there was a big difference in the soil at my parents’ house and the soil here. Here the soil was hard, full of clay, full of small rocks, and just really not ideal for growing food. We’ve installed raised beds in the section with all the rocks, and we’ve continued to amend our in ground garden area. In our in ground garden, the soil has become much more loose and has a dark, rich layer now. We’ve been amending with mulched leaves, lots of compost with minimal tilling, and applying wood chips.

There is another section of our backyard that I need to start working on, which is SUPER high in iron.

Commercialized Farming Versus Growing Your Own

With commercialized farming, a lot of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides are used. All of these chemicals strip everything that’s good and needed to grow food. The stripped nutrients are added back into the soil with synthetic fertilizers. The process of stripping and adding back in just causes a vicious cycle. Not only does it strip the soil of its nutrients, but it also kills off beneficial insects, bacteria, and nematodes in the soil. These are important to have in the soil and garden to help ward off pests that cause harm to food. Additionally, pests eventually become resistant to all of the different chemicals.

This is all coupled with deep tilling. 

Tilling is the process of breaking up the soil and mixing it. It may not seem like that big of a deal. However, studies have shown that tillage disturbs the soil, which is basically a large ecosystem. You can even find the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) now does not recommend fall tilling and to avoid it. states,

“Tillage management: Reducing tillage minimizes the loss of organic matter and protects the soil surface with plant residue. Tillage is used to loosen surface soil, prepare the seedbed, and control weeds and pests. But tillage can also break up soil structure, speed the decomposition and loss of organic matter, increase the threat of erosion, destroy the habitat of helpful organisms, and cause compaction. New equipment allows crop production with minimal disturbance of the soil.”

Soil quality for the environment (2011, sept 19). Soil Quality Management: Key Strategies for Agricultural Land.

Tillage contributes to a lot of the soil erosion.

Growing your own food, you have more control over how your food is grown. You know where it comes from, what was used in the garden, and it didn’t travel far to get to your table. You have more control over the fertility of the soil and amending it.

seedling growing in soil
seedling growing in soil

A Gardener’s Touch – How Gardening Affects Soil Fertility

The biggest difference between commercial farming and the backyard garden, besides scale, are what’s used and their actual practices. Many gardeners have moved towards a no-till method, which involves little to no tillage of the soil. There is now a greater understanding that minimal to no tillage is an essential aspect towards having more fertile soil.

Organic Fertilizers

A gardener can revitalize the soil by adding back in natural fertilizing components or organic material. Consider the following to add to your soil:

  • Good quality compost: there are a number of good composts on the market. 
  • Composted manure:  if you don’t have access to any farm animals, getting some composted manure is your next best option. I always add in Black Kow.
  • Mushroom compost: is a process that’s based on an organic substance like straw or hay. The material composts at a high temperature to kill weeds and microorganisms. Next the mushroom spawn is added to the compost. After the mushrooms grow, they’re harvested. The spent mushroom compost is used to enrich soil.
  • Cover crops : cover crops are a very hands off type of way to add in elements like nitrogen and phosphorus, while also loosening the soil. Check out when to plant them, how to plant and mulch, and where to buy them in my post about cover crops.
  • Bone Meal: is typically used in organic growing. It adds in phosphorus, calcium, and nitrogen.
  • Blood Meal: is another fertilizer used in organic growing. It contains nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It can also be used as a deterrent for rabbits, deer, and moles. It slowly releases over a 1 to 4 month period of time.
  • Liquid Fish Fertilizer: or fish emulsion, is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, plus trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, and sodium.

This post was all about soil fertility.

Other Resources about Soil Fertility

If you’d like to look more into soil fertility, see the below:

“Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture” by Gabe Brown.

Soil fertility decline” by the Queensland Government

Recommended resources from Regenerative International

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