Signs your soil is healthy

by - February 21, 2012

Last summer when we dug up a new area for the vegetable garden, I decided to quit using pesticides on my vegetables. I had never used them heavily, but as I read about the potential damage to bees and nematodes, I couldn't see how hurting the things that pollinate the plants and the things that nourish the soil had any real benefit. I've also switched to mainly organic sources of nutrients as opposed to conventional chemical fertilizers. Composted manure and yard waste release nutrients over a longer period of time, decreasing the chance of burning up the soil. We also added a French tile drain to help with the wet, squishy areas. I won't claim to notice significant changes over just one year, but every time I dig, I find earthworms, and soil over this year has grown darker and fluffier as I've added compost and yard clippings. This spring and summer will be the true test.

So what are the signs of healthy soil?

  • A strong presence of earth worms can indicate that you soil isn't overly acidic and that there is plenty of organics for them to feed on.
  • Dark soil indicates an abundance of organic (carbon) materials.
  • Reddish rather than blueish soil can indicate proper aeration. When soil remains saturated for long periods of time, the iron that gives soil its reddish color is leached away.
  • Lack of standing water. Good drainage prevents anaerobic conditions and damage to roots.
  • Abundant and diverse weeds indicate good growing conditions (and a looming battle!)
  • Soil that you can easily sink your spade into shows that there is little compaction.  

One added benefit of eliminating chemicals in the garden is that I feel comfortable with my boys going barefoot and getting completely messy in the dirt!

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