Taking Care of Your Soil Inhabitants
Last week Wendy Johnson asked the Indian Valley Organic Farm class to read Chapter 8 of Pam Pierce's Bay Area gardening bible, Golden Gate Gardening . The chapter is entitled Down To Earth, and in it Pam Pierce writes "Soil care is basically a kind of wildlife management." How fun. I'm going to tighten my hat under my chin think of myself as a small game warden now each time I go out to check the status of the wildlife in my garden soil.
Pam Pierce is talking about the need to make your soil a hospitable environment for creatures of all sizes - everything from microscopic bacteria to big fat worms. If you provide a nice home for these creatures, they will work to break down your organic matter until the chemical nutrients are released. They will also produce antibiotics and prey on pests that will damage your roots. I'd say we gardeners get a pretty good deal, but we do need to be good landlords.
Basics of "Wildlife Management" in Your Soil as outlined by Pam Pierce in Golden Gate Gardening are:
- Provide moisture. That means, keep your soil damp, even before you start planting in the Spring.
- Not too much moisture. Water-logged soil allows for disease organisms to thrive.
- The helpful creatures thrive in warm soil...and will die if the soil dries completely or freezes.
- Provide air. The creatures that survive without oxygen happen to also be the ones that get your roots.
How do you do all of the above? It's pretty straightforward, according to Pierce:
- Dig and turn your soil. This is most important if you have clay soil. You want to let in air so the soil creatures will prosper.
- Add organic matter. Dig organic matter into the top 6-10 inches of your soil, ideally twice a year.
- Avoid toxic chemicals - they kill the helpful wildlife. (Pam Pierce has a section on pg.135 of her book that describes how to use pesticides in the least harmful way in the case that you have to use them.)