Soil is the heart of every farmer’s or gardener’s business, except if you are using a hydroponic or an aquaponic system in farming. Good soil is a secret to healthy crops and the more you know your soil, the better. Beneath our feet, in the soil, are the organic matters that help the plants grow and produce and ultimately feed us. These organic matters are worms, good bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that work together to help crops thrive. Generally speaking, gardening soil can be classified into three different types: Clay, Loamy, and Sandy.
A Guide to Soil Management
Here are four basic things that a farmer must know for soil management
1. Soil Type
There are three types of soils, viz:
Clay is a soil that is composed of mostly clay particles. When clay contains a lot of water it sticks to your shoes and garden tools, however, when the clay is dry, it cracks. Clay holds more water and not suitable for other plants except for Fern, Aster, and some other flowering plants. As far as growing vegetables is considered, clay is not ideal for growing vegetables, and most of the food crops.
Clay is compact soil, therefore, it does not have good drainage and thus retains water. Due to the compact characteristics, clay makes plants’ roots difficult to propagate. Clay is slightly alkaline in nature. Clay soil type is heavy, stick, and drains poorly. Clay is not good soil for plants, however, if you improve drainage by adding sand and organic matter such as humus, this will be good soil for growing plants. That’s because clay contains a lot of nutrients.
Loam is the most ideal plant-growing medium because sand, silt, and clay together provide desirable characteristics. Loam is full of moisture, humus, and nutrients necessary for plant growth. Loam is loosely packed, which means water and air can infiltrate well, or in other words, loam drains well. The best soil is loamy soil because it contains a good amount of clay, sand, and humus or organic matter. Loamy soil not only has required nutrients for plants but also retains moisture while providing good drainage. Loam is soft and moist. When you hold soil in your fits, it forms a shape.
As the name suggests, sandy soil is the soil that contains a lot of sand particles. Sand particles do not contain much organic matter, therefore, sandy soil lacks vital nutrition for the plants. Sandy soil due to its sandy nature does not hold water, therefore, if you are growing plants in sandy soil you need to water frequently as sandy soil dries pretty soon. Sandy soil is very loose, therefore, it is prone to erosion. Furthermore, sand heats up pretty fast thus, which can be very bad for the plants. However, for some crops sandy soil can be very good. For instance, tubers grow well in sandy soil provided you had a lot of organic matter such as humus and compost and water frequently.
Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral practices. In contrast with clay, sands don’t hold any water and plants will not survive without water. Some plants thrive in sandy soil such as succulents like cacti, sedum, lavender, or euphorbia species.
In general, clay and soil may not be ideal for growing plants, however, you can improve these soil types by adding compost, vermicompost, green manure, humus. In fact, if you add a lot of organic matter to sandy soil, it will be the best soil type for tubers and root vegetables. Likewise, you can also improve clay soil by adding organic matter and some portion of sandy soil.
Loam maybe the best soil for plants, however, you will also have to add organic matter frequently as when you grow plants the nutrients in the soil will continue to be used up and you need to replenish. Here are other ways to improve your soil condition.
2. Soil Testing
Why do we need to test our soil? We are testing our soil to determine what nutrients are lacking in our soil.
So, how will you test your soil? You can go to the Department of Agriculture in your country to seek their assistance in testing your soil. Depending on your location, private companies also provide soil testing services.
3. Required Nutrients in the Soil For Plants to Thrive
What are the nutrients needed on your soil? It depends on the crop you want to grow. Different crops have different needs. So, you need to know the nutrient needs of the crops you intend to grow.
The following soil nutrients should be present in your soil:
- Iron, etc.
4. Cover Crops
Cover Crops are planted on the farm to keep nutrients in the soil and improve soil health and prepare the soil for the next planting rather than depleting it. Usually, they are not harvested because they deliver natural fertilizer to the soil, prevent erosion, and increase biodiversity. Actually, green manure comes from cover crops.
How to Evaluate and Improve Your Soil Condition
Loosen Heavy Soil. If your soil is heavy, for example, contains a lot of clay, or your soil is basically clay, you need to loosen up your heavy soil. When the soil is heavy can compact, plants cannot thrive as they hold water which might damage the plant roots. Please remember that you should avoid tilling your soil when it is too wet or too dry and if possible, don’t till your soil. You can loosen heavy soil by adding green manure, dried animal poop (chicken, goat, cattle), green manure, compost, peat moss, sand, vermiculite, vermicompost, gypsum, etc. You can also add earthworms to improve your compact soil, as earthworms burrow deep which in turn will loosen up the soil.
Improve Drainage. Plants need moisture to grow well, however, too much moisture in the soil is not very good for plants. In other words, the plant needs frequent watering, however, the soil should also be draining well. Good draining soil means soil does not hold water. When soil holds water, plants’ roots will rot. Plants need water but too much water is detrimental for plants to thrive. Generally speaking, when soil is clay type or contains a lot of clay, it has poor drainage. In order to improve your poor draining soil, you can add sand and other organic matter (compost, vermicompost, hummus, etc.). It is the single-most-important soil amendment and should be incorporated as deep as possible. Add things like sand, perlite, or gypsum to improve drainage. In case, you do not have a better option for the soil and you want to grow plants in the soil that does not drain well, you can create raised beds, which will let the sol retain only necessary moisture.
Absorbs and Retains Moisture. It is very important to maintain the proper soil moisture for the plants to grow healthily and produce more. But you must maintain moisture balance as too much moisture will cause root rot and too little will results in wilted or dead plants. To improve your soil to absorb or retain moisture, you may add manure, peat moss, vermiculite, or green sand.
10 Plant Management Tips
We want to buy plants, especially new gardeners because it is easy and ready to be transferred to your garden. But there are important things that you should know when buying plants from a nursery. These tips will help you get the best plants that will survive and thrive after buying them and save your time and money.
How many of you have tried buying directly from a garden store? You must be patient when buying from a garden store because you need to inspect the plants you are bringing into your garden. Buying seeds and seedlings from a garden store, consider following these tips.
- Determine the type of plant you need. When you go to the garden store, you should know the type of plant you want to buy. Visualize your garden, where will you put the plant? Does your garden get full sunlight or partial sunlight, is it shady? If your garden gets full sunlight, then you should consider buying plants that love the sun. In case, your garden is shady, choosing plants that love partial sunlight will be a good idea.
- Familiarize yourself with the plants you are buying. You need to know the name of the plant, how to care for the plant, the type of plant whether it is indoor or outdoor.
- Pick healthy-looking plants. Sometimes, garden stores are spraying something to make the plants look good. Check your plants closely. Look at the back of each leaf if there are any pests. Look at the base of the plants.
- Check for pests. This is important and you must give extra time to inspecting the plants carefully especially at the back of leaves because insects and pests are always hiding there. Check for any curled leaves and if there are any, get another one. Remember, these plants may contaminate your garden.
- Check the soil. Good plants thrive in good soil. Therefore, make sure the store has used good quality soil for the pants.
- Look around the garden store. Is the store clean and hygienic, are the plants healthy? Never buy from the sore poorly maintained.
- Check for weeds. If you see any, do not buy that plant. Never buy from a store that has poor maintenance.
- Check if the plants were fertilized using chemical fertilizers. If they do, don’t buy them because you will have to continue using chemical fertilizer. Using chemical fertilizer costs a lot of money, and furthermore, it is also not good for your health and the environment.
- Never stop asking questions about the plant you are buying. It is your right and you need to know everything about the plant.
Sunlight Requirements for Some Common Vegetables
Human beings need food and water to eat, clothes to wear, house to live in. Just like human beings, other living things have their own requirement. For example, plants need water, sunlight, and a medium to grow. Well, apart from these three things, plants also need nutrients which they get from water and growing medium. Traditionally, and of course, naturally, the soil is the growing medium, however, these days plants can be grown in various mediums. The basic difference between animals and plants is animals are unable to produce their own food, however, plants make their own food. Plants absorb sunlight, which triggers the photosynthesis process, which in return produces starch. Photosynthesis is a process in which plants produce glucose for themselves.
Sunlight is very important for plants, however, the sunlight requirement for plants can greatly differ. Some plants need a lot of sunlight and some plants do not need much. Notice, how some places grow only in a certain season, that’s because the season provides the required temperature/sunlight. As a farmer and a gardener, you must understand the needs of your plants. Some plants can grow well in a shaded area, which means they need only a little amount of sunlight, however, some plants can grow well in only the areas where they can get full sunlight. Here is a list of sunlight requirements for some common plants.
Crops that require a little sunlight
Little sunlight means 3-4 hours of sunlight every 24 hours. Leafy vegetables do not require much sunlight. As long as spinach, kale, lettuce, cabbage, parsley get 3-4 hours of sunlight every day, these vegetables thrive well.
Crops requiring moderate sunlight
Moderate sunlight means 4-6 hours of sunlight every 24 hours. Tubers and root vegetables require moderate sunlight. The vegetables in this group include sweet potato, potato, radish. Vegetables like broccoli and bell pepper also need a moderate amount of sunlight. As long as radish and potatoes get 4-6 hours of sunlight, they also thrive well.
Crops that require sunlight for longer period
Fruit bearing plants need a lot of sunlight, when we say a lot of sunlight, we mean 6-8 hours of daily sunlight. Sunlight makes the fruit grow bigger, healthier, tastier. Vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, cucumber, beans, squash are some of the vegetables that love the sun so much that they require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
When you buy seeds and seedlings, make sure that the sunlight requirement is written at the back or at least ask your seller in order not to waste your seeds. The rule of thumb is you need to plant leafy vegetables in the areas where they can get 3-4 hours of daily sunlight, tubers and root vegetables require in the area where they get 4-6 hours sunlight and fruiting plants in the areas where they get 6-8 hours sunlight. In other words, you plant leafy vegetables in a shaded area, root vegetables in partially shaded areas, and fruit crops in full sunlight. Full sunlight means 6-8 hours of direct sun, partial shade meats getting at least 4 hours and no more than 6 hours of direct sunlight, and shaded area means areas getting diffused sunlight.
While sunlight is essential to most of the plants, there are also vegetables that you can grow without full sunlight.