Soil: building a firm foundation.
Soil is the foundation behind a healthy garden, orchard, or food forest. You can baby your plants and give them TLC, but all that effort will result in minimum results without a healthy base to grow. Before we go on, I know some of you are in panic mode because your plants are already in the ground, and you think you've messed up. It's okay. There are still ways to help your soil while your plants are in the ground. We will start at the base and work our way to that!
When people ask what I wish I would have started first, my response is fruit trees and composting! Most people are turned off of composting because they think it is hard. But most of the time, that's because they don't understand the way the process works. So, I'm going to break it down into manageable steps!
What is composting? Essentially you are recreating the natural process that happens on the forest floor. You will be creating this ecosystem element and adding it to your system (garden or landscaping). Compost benefits include amending existing soil, improving water-holding capacity or drainage in clay soils. Once you start adding compost to your garden areas, you'll see an increase in earthworm and microorganism populations. Composting is a slow nutrient-releasing source. It is also a money saver; it keeps you from having to buy store-bought amendments.
Step 1: Find a good location, most likely towards the middle or back of your yard. Composting is a system you will not need to attend every day, so it doesn't have to be right next to your house. Overly shady spots where plants have a hard time growing would make an excellent area for your composting pile. Your composting station can be as big or as small as necessary.
Step 2: Getting the right Composting Mixture. 3 Part Brown to 1 part green, add water and air. What is brown & green? Here is a basic list of the brown and green items you can add to your composting mix.
Step 3: Keep the mixture going. Take your 3 Part Brown to 1 part green, mix it together, keep the mix moist, add air by turning the pile twice a month, let the nature microorganisms do their job! Continue doing this.
When is it ready? Your compost will be ready when it is a rich dark color, crumbly to the touch, and smells like healthy earth! Your compost should not smell bad. If it does, make sure the 3 to 1 ratio is balanced, you don't have too much water in your pile, and you don't add any items that will create a smelling rot. Compost can take a few months to a year, depending on how often you add material and tend to it. Not only will it change the soil quality in your garden, but you'll find that it changes your mindset around materials and foods you use around your home. You will start to create a cycling system that runs from your composting pile to your garden, to your kitchen, to back to the building of soil.
Remember, little changes here, and there will lead to big results in the end!