Improve Soil With Organic Matter

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto

Some people are lucky enough to live in an area with ideal soil composition and enjoy lovely rich black earth in which practically anything will grow beautifully. Most people, however, don’t have perfect soil served to them on a silver platter and have to find ways of working around what they do have.

We have heavy soil with high clay content around here. When it rains, it’s sticky and slippery, and during the dry season it gets all rock-hard and cracked. Roots of plants hardly have any room to breathe. Pulling weeds is a real pain. I know what kind of soil I would like to have – looser, fluffier and more yielding – but this isn’t a goal to be achieved in a single day.

I’m no expert on soil, but I do know that practically any soil – whether it’s sandy, or has a high clay content, or is somewhere in between – can benefit from generous amounts of organic material being worked into it. Back when we used to keep goats, there was a place in our yard with plenty of brush that needed to be cleared and I often tethered the goats there. Apart from the brush it was pretty arid, but next year, beautiful tall lush grass sprung up there as if by magic. It was goat manure, left over winter to rot and decompose, that did the trick.

If you have the possibility to haul a big load of nice old manure – possibly with old straw or wood shavings, or other organic material – onto your property and work it into the soil, it’s wonderful. Look around you; some people might keep horses, goats or sheep. Friends of ours have recently sold their sheep, and have their old sheep-pen full of old straw mixed with droppings. We’re now working out a plan of getting this organic matter to our place. Free-range chickens also do good, fluffing up the soil where they dig, leaving their droppings here and there and turning the home compost pile.

In other places you might get a hold of organic plant matter, such as bags of dry leaves, or leavings from an olive press or a vineyard. Most people would be only too happy to let you haul these leavings away. These can be added to your compost pile, or worked into the soil directly – in a gradual, mild manner. It isn’t a good idea to just dig a hole and bury a ton of grape seeds and skins in one place!

Overall, the most important thing to remember is that soil improvement takes time. You can’t expect the content and structure of your soil to change dramatically in one year; you must have patience. For us, this has sometimes been rather discouraging as we’ve moved rather a lot these past few years. I do hope that we will eventually be settled in one place long-term, so that we can devote ourselves to gradual improvement of one piece of land. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna’s books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects onher blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here

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