Plants rely on proper soil conditions to give them nutrients and minerals, and sometimes can become depleted. This can be due to several factors, including the plants that have been grown there in the past. Some plants add to the quality of the soil, but many can actually drain it of those all-important elements. However, there are things you can do to improve soil quality to ensure that next year's garden has a better chance of success. It is best to start preparing in the fall for the spring growing season. That way, your amendments have the winter to break down and enrich the dirt.
One of the best ways to improve soil's nutrient content is by adding organic fertilizer. This is usually in the form of manure from cows, pigs, rabbits, bats, chickens, and horses. Do not use droppings from carnivorous animals. Manure should also be aged properly before it is used. This can be done by allowing the manure to dry or by composting it. Once you add it, mix it into the soil well. If you are adding it in the spring, make sure to do it several weeks before you begin planting.
Adding compost will always improve soil quality. It is comprised of decomposed or partially decomposed organic matter that provides nitrogen and potassium to the soil. Compost also encourages the growth of microorganisms which break down many minerals into a form plants can more easily absorb. The microorganisms and worms also act as natural aerators in the soil which help supply oxygen. You can use regular compost which includes yard wastes and organic kitchen scraps or leaf mould, which is a compost comprised solely of leaves.
3. Wood Ash
If you have a fireplace, you can add some of the leftover ash to the soil. Wood ash provides nutrients and will also absorb toxins that the soil has accumulated. Break the charcoal into small pieces and work it into the soil.
Tip: If you need to raise your soil pH, ashes from your fireplace or wood stove make a great amendment.
Biochar is charcoal that is made in a controlled environment. It helps hold nutrients in the soil and absorbs toxins like regular ash. It is also considered to be carbon-negative.
Do not add charcoal briquettes from the grill to your garden. Some briquettes are made with additives that may be toxic.
4. Green Manure
Green manure is actually a crop that you plant, usually in the fall, that adds nutrients and enriches the soil when it decomposes. Some green crops you can use include alfalfa, hairy vetch, and clover. Clover can be started while other crops are still growing without killing them. It needs very little moisture to thrive and will take over when your other crops are done. Alfalfa has very deep roots, which makes it ideal for breaking up soil. In addition to providing nitrogen, alfalfa adds protein and calcium to the soil.
When these green manures begin to emerge in the spring, you can just break them up and work them into the soil. As they decompose, they will continue to enrich the garden further.