How to Build a Healthy Soil Community

Try using a no-dig method to help build a healthy soil community in your garden.

| October 2014

Make beneficial wildlife part of your food-garden ecosystem. Tammi Hartung shares her successful methods for attracting pollinators, nourishing soil and deterring pests in The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener (Storey Publishing, 2014). Learn how to build healthy soil in the following excerpt from "Encouraging Friends from the Underground."

Purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.

How to Build a Healthy Soil Community

How you choose to prepare the garden for planting will have an impact on the soil community, so it’s worth putting some careful thought into how you’ll proceed. If you have very compacted soil where you plan to put your garden, you’ll definitely need to use a more aggressive method to prepare it, such as double digging or rototilling. If you can accomplish your garden preparation using a no-dig method, however, you won’t disrupt the structure of the soil community, which will allow your plants to benefit more immediately from all the positive attributes soil-dwelling creatures have to offer.

Once the initial soil preparation has been completed, it’s equally important to keep the soil in good condition. Preventing soil from becoming compacted is crucial to how well and how quickly your plants will establish themselves and grow. Ensuring that your garden soil maintains a good level of organic matter will not only support the plants living in that soil, but will also foster the creatures and microorganisms that live in the soil as well. To that end, providing adequate moisture is something every gardener must have a plan for. Finally, mulching helps keep precious water in the soil, and smothers weeds at the same time.

Work the Soil Gently

Keep in mind that aggressive soil disturbance will cause damage or destruction to the soil community that may take a very long time, sometimes many years, to repair itself. Because of this, it’s wise to carefully consider how you’re affecting the soil when you prepare your garden beds.

Some gardeners feel that double-digging the soil when the garden is first prepared is the best way. This process — which involves digging a trench, placing the soil off to the side, then digging a second trench and filling the first trench with the topsoil from the second trench — may be helpful for dealing with compacted soil, but it also ends up inverting the layers of soil structure and puts organisms used to dwelling in the topsoil layer down in the subsoil.

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