Nutrient-rich compost can help improve all soil types. ATTRIBUTION: Joi Ito (Flickr)

Healthy, organic soil is the foundation for a thriving garden. Your plants are likely to grow better, they’ll be more resistant to pest and disease problems, and the absence of chemicals is better for the environment. Organic soil plays many roles, supporting bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, as well as bigger creatures like worms. It takes time to build healthy soil, but the long-lasting results are well worth the effort. Follow these tips for making your soil more organic.

Incorporate Manure for Nitrogen

For many gardeners, manure is an inexpensive and readily available source of organic matter. Manure is an excellent source of nutrients, such as potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and nitrogen. When manure is incorporated into your garden, these nutrients are released into the soil. The benefits are determined by the type of soil. For example, manure is often added to dry, sandy soils to help increase and retain moisture levels.

Make a Compost Pile

Composting is a simple way to add essential nutrients to depleted soil. Building your own compost pile also introduces beneficial organisms to the soil and reduces landfill waste. All types of materials can be added to your compost heap, including table scraps, eggshells, grass clippings, leaves, shrub prunings, pine needles, flowers, wood chips, and shredded paper.

Plant Cover Crops

Cover crops are planted primarily to prevent nutrients from leaching, land from weeding over, and soil from eroding. These crops are typically separated into three main categories: grasses, legumes, and non-legume broadleaves. When tilled into garden soil, the top growth adds organic materials into the soil and loosens the soil to improve air and water movement.

Enrich the Soil With Organic Mulch

Mulches offer numerous benefits to soil, including moisture conservation, prevention of weeds, and the reduction of disease. Mulch can also help to minimize soil erosion and give your garden a more finished appearance. Organic mulches are derived from plant materials, such as grass clippings, pine needles, straw, shredded bark, and dried leaves. As organic mulch decomposes over time, nutrients are gradually added to the soil.

Curb Excess Tillage

Tillage is the preparation of land for growing crops and is typically accomplished by stirring, digging, or overturning the top layers of soil. Each time soil is tilled, it is aerated. The introduction of oxygen into the soil increases microbe activity, which feed on organic matter. The more tillage that occurs, the more the organic matter is broken down. By cutting down on tillage, you can prevent the substantial loss of organic matter.

Sprinkle Rock Phosphate

Rock phosphate is an effective fertilizer that adds phosphorus to your organic soil. The fertilizer contains both limestone and clay and can be beneficial to soil that is lacking this essential nutrient. However, too much phosphate can be harmful to the microbe population in the soil. Before using rock phosphate, undergo a soil test to determine the pH level of your soil. Sprinkle rock phosphate in your garden during the early spring. It can be used in both flower and vegetable gardens safely.