In her book ‘Garden Maker’, Christie Purifoy writes, “Flower gardens don’t begin with flowers. They don’t even begin with seed. They begin with desire and vision, and they begin with dirt.”
It’s this latter element, “dirt” that we are learning more and more about its importance in the health of our plants. First, let’s give it a better name: soil. Soil health is the secret sauce in growing healthy plants in the landscape, in containers, and in the vegetable garden.
What is healthy soil?
First some basics about soil:
How do we achieve healthy soil?
If you are starting a new garden, try the no-dig approach and build your growing bed on top of the ground. Begin with layers of cardboard and newspaper, then add layers of greens and browns which are the ingredients for compost! You can even do this in raised beds. As with all things in nature, it takes time for the layers to break down. Adding topsoil or good compost into the layer mix will speed things up because they contain those hungry microbes.
In existing gardens, adding compost to the beds in the fall is the best time, but a spring application is effective, too. Some vegetable gardeners will add compost between summer and fall crops.
What kind of compost? The best kind of compost is free and in your backyard! Leaf compost is the best amendment for vegetable gardens as well as ornamental beds. This spring you may need to find a supplier, but commit to mulching and composting the leaves from your trees and your neighbor’s trees this fall.
Adding microbes to the soil at planting time is another way to work towards healthy soil. Often they are available in liquid form. A tip that I have learned is that the most effective liquid forms of microbes need to be kept chilled. Dry soil additives that contain mycorrhizae such as Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter are also beneficial. Use when planting and transplanting vegetables, perennials, trees, and shrubs.
And one more free, easy practice to improve soil health is in the perennial garden. Spring is often when we cut back any remaining dead stems. Cut the stems into 4-6” pieces and leave them there - right by the plants. The dead material will break down and provide food for the soil microbes right where it’s needed - by the plant roots. This can be a difficult practice to embrace because we love the look of a neat, tidy, freshly-mulched bed. But by letting go of what WE like, it is actually benefiting the plants, the pollinators, and in the end, us. Be part of the circle and try this new gardening ethic.
So there you have it. The secret to having a healthy garden has been there right under our noses - or rather under our feet - the whole time.
If you'd like to learn more about building healthy soil, join me for our next 'Let's Talk Plants" - a free monthly virtual gardening discussion on Wednesday, April 13 at 6:30 pm. Register by emailing me at email@example.com.
Some things are so beautiful, I can’t help but stop and admire.
Usually it’s nature that catches my eye and steals the breath with it's stunning beauty. Driving past this wrought iron gate had the same affect – caught the eye, pulled off the road, had to get closer to take it all in. Graceful curves, white aged to yellow, chipped and rusted, but to me it was beautiful. What struck me most was the contrast – strong iron shaped into gentle curves. How many years had it stood here? How many storms had it endured? Strong yet so graceful. How hot was the fire that softened hard iron to form beautiful swooshes and swirls?
I see the same beauty in someone close who battled the ugliness of cancer with such grace. Keeping her eyes focused on the ultimate Grace-giver was reflected in her response to what life had handed her. Through the firestorm, her strong faith unwavering was beautiful. Grace under pressure.
Long seasons of testing and trials are made up of small moments that define us. Like fire, they can refine making us stronger or they can consume and weaken us. I think of this as I stand on what seems a mountain of whys and unanswered questions. Trying to be strong as I move forward through the day, my breath a constant prayer, at times I feel I could crumble under the sheer weight of it all.
'. . . we are weak, but He is strong'. Those songs learned at a young age can be such a comfort! Yes, Jesus does love me. He is strong. And it's in that strength, HIS strength, that I can draw strength and find peace; it's in His grace that I see blessings that are still here, amidst all the uncertainty. And I know that all of this is grace.
Maybe you're not in a season like that. The truth is that we all face small everyday fires that can define and refine us. The question is, how do we respond when in the midst of those everyday fires . . .
to the heated moments of a stressful day?
to gossip that surrounds, or pain that hounds?
to words that sting and tempers that flare?
It’s in our nature to react to these pressures of fire with more fire: to be unkind when treated unkindly, to give anger when shown anger, to lash out when lashed at, to break under pressure. But what if we respond with what’s unexpected - kindness. What if we respond with what is undeserved - grace. What if we see our situation as an opportunity?
Each small moment fire can be an opportunity to reflect the undeserved love - unmerited favor - the grace God has shown us. When we react to moments of pressure or a season of trials with a posture of grace, our unexpected response and our attitude could stop fire’s fury, catch the eye, and be something beautiful. Just like that wrought iron gate. Grace under pressure.
May God use whatever fire is in our moments to make us stronger and be a reflection of his grace. ‘Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’. 2 Timothy 2:1
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!