seedling growing in soil
Organic Gardening

How Does Gardening Affect 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.

The Importance of Dirt…. Or Soil Rather.

There is a big movement happening right now in the gardening, homesteading, and farming 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.

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. To me, 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. As I’ve gotten older, the garden has just grown bigger and bigger each year. I went from buying store bought seedlings to growing from seeds. 

We’re in our second year of growing from seeds. This year’s garden is 100% from seed! It feels like such an accomplishment to say that. It’s not always an easy task to start from seed either, depending on the plant. 

I also really dove into a large focus on soil fertility. When we moved to our new home, there was a vast difference in the soil at my parents’ house and the soil here. At our home, the soil was hard, full of clay, full of small rocks, and just really not ideal for growing food.

 It lacked a lot of nutrients so I began researching how to amend the soil, and here’s what I found!

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 then added back in 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. 

According to the USDA (cite),

“Reducing tillage minimizes the loss of organic matter and protects the soil surface with plant residue. Tillage can 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. Each of these potential outcomes negatively impact soil quality. 

A soil’s performance is directly related to a soil’s quality or health. A healthy soil will do a better job at: resisting erosion; cycling crop nutrients; supporting root growth; infiltrating water; and sequestering carbon…” 

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.

A gardener can revitalize the soil by adding back in natural fertilizing components or organic material. The following can be added in:

  • 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. This material is then composted at a high temperature to kill weeds and microorganisms. At some point, mushroom spawn is added to the compost. Once the mushrooms have grown, they are then harvested and 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.

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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