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Basics to Healthy Soil
Growing a green garden means managing the quality of the soil in order to promote healthy soil fertility. Begin with virgin soil, free of any chemicals. If pesticides have been used in the past, it will take time for the residue to leach out, but it will happen in time. Consider growing a raised or perma-garden if there are concerns about the purity of the soil. Raised gardens allow one to begin with virgin soil. A raised garden is a simply-constructed bed placed above-ground. The essential point is to begin with the freshest and richest soil possible. Commit to organic gardening from the beginning.
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Improve the soil with organic nutrients to ensure fertile crop yields. Manage your garden as the living system that it is. Provide appropriate organic matter to supply the soil with necessary nutrients. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers guidance for organic matter in soil. Organic matter includes "plant and animal material that is in the process of decomposing." Once decomposed, organic matter becomes humus, which maintains the integrity of the soil's structure. The condition of the soil depends upon what improvements need to be made. If beginning with sandy soil, for example, add organic matter to help the soil retain water. Add humus to clay soil to loosen the soil.
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Recycle Kitchen and Yard Waste in Your Garden
Gardens are perfect places to recycle household and other waste materials. Follow simple steps and the act of improving soil becomes a green initiative. Recycle household waste in the form of compost. Composting is the process which condenses organic materials into humus. Organic materials include leaves, decomposing animals and any parts of dead plants. Classic, sheeting and vermicomposting with earthworms are three composting options. Manure from livestock adds nitrogen to the soil. However, use caution. Manure can leach out of the soil only to pollute groundwater. Mother Earth News recommends allowing three months from application to harvest root and leaf crops.
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A Note of Caution
Some gardening techniques that are taken for granted are not healthy for soil. For example, the NRCS cautions that tilling the soil disturbssoil's organic reserves. Minimally till or do not till at all. Use a pitchfork to loosen soil from above. Concerning fertilizer, human manure should be used only with great care. Since there is a risk of disease and pollution, one should educate oneself about the proper use of human manure to improve soil.
With commitment and education, one can improve one's soil to its best condition to grow healthy crops. While there is a learning curve to soil management, the lessons are valuable and offer ample rewards. As the seasons pass and the garden is well-managed, soil will improve and one's garden will be truly "green."
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Agricultural Agencies and Other Resources for Information on Improving Soil Health
There are agencies and websites that offer specific advice for soil in every region of the country. The USDA and university agricultural extensions provide services, white papers, information, and classes to guide organic gardeners through the important aspects of soil improvement and healthy soil fertility. Publications such as Mother Earth News and The Farmers Almanac are valuable resources. Local community colleges and whole food grocers often offer organic gardening classes.
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Raised Bed Gardens: http://www.gardenersnet.com/gardening/raisedgardenbeds.htm
Organic Matter in Soil: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard/orgmtrsl.html
8 Steps for How to Make Better Garden Soil: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Modern-Homesteading/2007-06-01/How-To-Make-Garden-Soil.aspx
The Farmer's Almanac: http://www.almanac.com/
Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HandsInSoil.jpg