There are various cultivation techniques that you can employ to improve your particular soil.

All soil types will benefit from the addition of bulky organic matter in the form of compost or manure or some other soil conditioner. This is the key to soil fertility, and a healthy, fertile soil is the basis of the organic approach to gardening. In fact it is the basis of good gardening, whether you are committed to organic principles or not. Organic matter will improve the drainage or increase the water-holding capacity of your soil. It will also, over a period of time, increase the depth of usable topsoil.

I have a perfect example of the value of organic matter in my own garden. My soil is a rich, dark brown color, fibrous and full of worms, a reliable indicator of the presence of healthy numbers of other less obvious life. Everything I plant seems to thrive, and the soil is a pleasure to work. This is because it gets the benefit of hefty doses of manure and compost every year. Yet I need to walk only a few feet to the cornfield next door, which never sees any organic matter from one year to the next, to find a soil that is hard, compacted, and airless. It’s difficult to force a fork through the top layer of soil and, when you do, there’s not a worm to be seen. Granted, there are monoculture farmers like my neighbor who still grow very good crops of wheat, year after year, without the soil ever seeing a forkful of manure. With no cattle on their farms it would be difficult to supply the manure and, in the interests of convenience and economy, they even burn the straw after the harvest. However, they do so at the cost of enormous inputs of chemicals and of a steadily deteriorating soil.


There is no doubt at all that, if you put on sufficient well-rotted manure every year, your soil will remain fertile and your plants will prosper. But where is all the manure to come from, particularly if you live in a city? The days are long gone when you could follow the horse and cart with a shovel and bucket. And, if you live in the country, particularly if it is a corn-growing area, the farmer’s children don’t even know what cows look like. So the gardener’s alternative is compost. But is that being realistic? Certainly it looks good during the early summer when you start to fill your compost container with grass cuttings. After a couple of mowings, it fills up to overflowing and you have to start another. Yet by the time it has rotted down completely, it has shrunk to no more than a few bucketfuls.


In fact a normal-sized garden with a productive vegetable plot will simply not produce enough compost. You will have to buy some form of organic matter, and be constantly on the lookout for suitable composting material. Naturally, the more you can gather, the better, because you will have to buy less. Even if you live in a city there are ways and means of doing this. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to garden totally organically, because virtually everything that you might use is polluted with some chemical or other. Straw has been sprayed with weedkiller, fungicide, and insecticide; the cows have been force-fed with growth-promoting hormones; even the leaves swept from the pavements are polluted with lead from gasoline. So, if you are a purist and I am you may feel safer if you compost all imported material for at least a year in the hope that the toxins will be leached out.


Plants need certain nutrients in specific proportions to be present in the soil. These nutrients will be supplied by the addition of sufficient compost or manure, but you may have to use organic fertilizers as well to achieve the required balance. The techniques of feeding and the type of fertilizer you use to feed the soil will vary depending on your soil type, where you are, and how much organic matter is available to you. In addition, the degree of acidity or alkalinity, or pH, of your soil will affect the availability of some of these nutrients . So, you may find that, having established the pH level and taken measures to adjust it if necessary, you release more nutrients, therefore increasing the fertility of your soil.

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