Can You Dig It?
My brothers and I love watching the movie, “The Warriors”. This 1979 film follows a gang in New York City as they try to escape from the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island. One line, which is yelled by a character named Cyrus, always stands out, “CAN YOU DIG IT?” We quoted this continually when I was growing up.
While growing up there are times when my brothers and myself were working in the garden. While tending the soil one of us usually yells, “CAN YOU DIG IT?” Therefore, I associate this phrase with “The Warriors” and tending our garden’s soil. Soil is the most important component of our gardens. Soil is the foundation of our gardens, the foundation of plant growth, and the foundation of life on Earth. In the garden, we grow, but the soil is the most critical, yet overlooked component of our gardens. For this part of the “In the Garden, We Grow” gardening article series, let us focus on soil.
Soil is Alive
Soil is alive. Within a small amount of soil, gas is being exchanged with the atmosphere, organic matter is being broken down and recycled, and provides a habitat for millions of species. The soil organic matter is the decomposing plant material and humus. Healthy soil organic matter is a powerful tool. It retains nutrients for plants, improves nutrient exchange with plants, reduces soil compaction, retains soil moisture, and increases water filtration. Building soil organic material depends upon the living organisms within the soil and the dead organic material.
Maintaining healthy soils drives the success of our gardens and landscapes. Providing organic material to our soils helps drive our garden’s success. We lose soil organic matter as it is used within the garden. Therefore, maintaining healthy garden soils is a continuous process.
Amending new landscape or garden beds with organic soil amendments three to six weeks prior to planting jump starts a new garden. To do so, apply two to three inches of a soil amendment to the landscape or garden bed and till it into the soil. If your garden or landscape bed is already planted, you may sprinkle the organic soil amendments around the existing plants.
Composted Animal Manures
I separate organic soil amendments into two categories: animal and plant manures. Composted animal manures from chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, horses, and rabbits contribute significantly to building healthy soil. Animal manure is high in nitrogen and phosphorous. Therefore, without properly composting we risk damaging our plants. You may apply 25 – 100 pounds of composted animal manure per 100 square feet prior to planting or side-dress your plants with 5 pounds per 100 square feet. If amending a landscape bed with mulch, pull back any mulch prior to applying the composted animal manure.
Composed Plant Manures
Plant manures include compost, vermicompost, and cover crops (green manure).
Composted materials from your kitchen and garden help build organic soil amendments for the garden or landscape. By mixing a combination of different green and brown materials, you can build a nutrient-rich soil amendment from kitchen and garden scraps. For more information about composting, check out this EDIS publication: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP323
Vermicomposting produces worm castings, which is a great organic soil amendment. If you are tight on space and can’t compost, vermicomposting allows worms to do all the work for us. The worm castings help build a strong soil. For more information check out this online resource: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/vermicomposting/
Lastly, cover cropping, or green manure, is a practice of planting nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes or other cover crops in our gardens. Once they mature, we knock the plants down and till them into the soil or do the “Chop and Drop” method. For more informaiton, check out this publication on cover cropping and green manures: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/alachua/word/images/pdf/CoverCropsGreenManureYourGarden2.pdf
In the Garden, We Grow – Can you Dig it?
When we consider the importance of soil within our gardens, we create a foundation for success. Healthy soils mean healthy gardens. Working with the garden’s soil allows the garden’s soil to work for us – a mutual relationship. As you move forward into your summer gardening activities, think about the important role our garden’s soil plays in its success. Can you dig it?