With all the horrifying circumstances happening around the world, a funny meme can definitely lighten the mood. A bunch of memes about the year 2020 and its series of unfortunate events have been circulating the web but there’s this one that really caught my attention. It says the year 2020 was written by Stephen King with the direction of Quentin Tarantino as we all know how these two masters are famous for their hand in the grim and macabre. Funny, right?
No, not quite because so many people are suffering right now and millions of lives have been claimed, not just from the COVID-19 virus but from other natural disasters, from the Australian bushfires to the monsoon floods across Asia. We surely don’t want a sequel of this ‘horror movie’ that is life in 2020 but we do have the power to prevent this nightmare from spilling over to the next year. But what can we do?
As the state of our natural environment continues to be threatened by climate change, we must do what we can to help improve the Earth, secure our food and make our communities more resilient.
It’s wonderful to know how so many have turned their attention to urban farming since the pandemic forced local governments to implement lockdown laws. Whether because people are seeking connection to nature in the concrete jungle or just wanting to become more self-reliant, every one it seems is cultivating a green thumb these days.
However, what most people may not realise in their quest to conquer the gardening world, is that when we grow things, the soil gets depleted. And if we consistently strip the soil of its nutrients, the edible plants we grow will subsequently lack nutrients and in turn, we don’t access as much from what we grow and eat either. As conscious gardeners, we can play a bigger role in conserving the environment and growing nutritious produce by replenishing the soil regularly.
As stated in our previous article, soil helps combat climate change because it plays an important role in the carbon cycle by sequestering carbon. So, by making the soil healthy, we can assist in reversing global warming. In a nutshell, gardening is more than a therapeutic exercise that beautifies your surroundings and results in fresh food, when done organically, consciously and regeneratively, it can contribute to improving our planet’s health too!
“A mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.” – Dr Rattan Lal, soil scientist
So if you’re gardening, make sure to keep topping up your soil with nutrients. Here are some natural ways to replenish and improve your soil:
Animal manure is an organic material that is used to improve garden soil. Every gardening book will make reference to the importance of organic matter – any decomposed organic material produced by living organisms such as plant or animal, that is returned to the soil – that helps to improve soil structure – whether it’s a sandy soil or a heavy clay. So, when animal manure is added to soil, it doesn’t just improve the soil structure but it provides rich, nutrient content that can give you healthy, abundant, nutritious, big and beautiful fruit and vegetables.
The most common types of animal manure that gardeners use are cow, chicken, sheep, horse and goat manure.
This needs to be aged before adding to your soil as it contains high levels of ammonia and pathogens. Cow manure is often used as an all-purpose fertilizer though other animal manures have higher nitrogen content than a cows.
Chicken manure is rich in nitrogen and phosphorous but it needs to be aged before mixing with in the soil as it can burn your plants, causing them to wither and die quickly.
Sheep and goat manure
Sheep and goat manure is high in potassium and phosphorous. You don’t need to age this organic material; it can be placed directly onto your garden beds as rich fertilizer.
You need to age horse manure for at least three months in compost before using. Otherwise, this will burn your plants as it is high in E Coli bacteria. It commonly used as an all-purpose fertilizer but like cow manure, its nitrogen content isn’t as high as the others.
Composting is nature’s way of recycling. The process of composting lets decomposers such as fungi and bacteria break down decaying organic material faster so the nutrients can return to the ground for plants to use. This is literally the cycle of life, and composting completes that cycle by returning waste organic material back into the soil for plant usage.
Compost also improves your soil structure. Soil needs water and air and by adding your home compost to the soil, it enables your soil to let the air circulate freely and improves density so that the water is retained in the soil for a longer period of time, which means less need for watering.
Check out our previous post for a step by step guide to Bokashi composting or this article on how to compost even if you live in a small apartment.
Peat moss is an organic material that is made up of decomposed plants. It helps retain moisture in your soil since it doesn’t break down immediately so it can last for a long time.
It is acidic so adding it on the topsoil will help increase the level of acidity of the topsoil which makes a perfect garden bed for your acid-loving plants. However, it isn’t the smartest organic material to use for your sustainable garden as it takes centuries for it to regrow after it has been harvested. So, if you’re looking for an alternative that has the same benefits, coco coir is your best bet.
Coconut coir comes from the outer husk of the coconut (that dry hairy bit) and is used as an alternative to peat moss as a growing medium as well as for mulching. It has similar benefits as peat moss but unlike the peat moss, which is highly acidic, the coco coir has a neutral pH level which makes it a great soil supplement for growing vegetables and flowers.
Coconut coir contains very little nutrients but it can improve soil drainage. Because of its texture, it can retain moisture in quick-draining soils. You can plant herbs in your garden bed mixed with coco coir as herbs will develop quality flavors in this soil mix.
As mentioned earlier, composting is nature’s way of recycling trash and be able to produce rich soil amendment for your garden. Worm composting is also known as vermicomposting where the worms in your worm bin break down your kitchen scraps and other organic waste and produce a worm compost that contains potassium, phosphorous and nitrogen.
The best types of worms to use for vermicomposting are African night crawlers, red wrigglers or red worms which can often be sourced from your local nursery. These worms feed on organic bedding, compost and vegetable waste and can compost in plain soil. Read our previous post for a quick guide on how to set up vermicomposting.
Seaweed is often used as an organic fertilizer, plant growth stimulant and soil improver as it is rich in minerals and trace elements that you find in the ocean which can help increase the mineral content of your soil. It’s also a great source for plant nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium.
Remember to wash the seaweed first before using them because the salt in it can either burn or kill your plants. Once your seaweed is ready, you can add it in your compost in wet or dry form.
If you don’t have access to seaweed, you can also purchase a ready-made seaweed fertiliser such as Seasol from all good plant nurseries and household hardware stores such as Australia’s Bunnings and Home Depot in the United States.
Fallen leaves need not be thrown out. You can use them to improve the quality of your soil where the soil will absorb the nutrients from the dry fallen leaves as it is rich in minerals.
There are two ways on how you can use them to improve your soil. First is to mulch the leaves and use as a weed deterrent for your garden. Next is to create a leaf compost.
To create a leaf mulch, wait for your fallen leaves to become fully dried before chopping them into tiny pieces. When added on to your soil, aside from returning nutrients, microbes, minerals and other rich substances back to the soil, leaf mulch doesn’t require you to use a lot of fertilizers or a lot of water to grow lush and healthy produce.
Leaf compost is only made of leaves. Pile all the leaves you’ve gathered in a bin or a sack and poke holes to create ways for the earthworms to enter. Soak the leaves every month with a garden hose to add moisture to the leaves then turn everything with a pitchfork or if using a bin, turn your compost bin. As it decomposes, it gets smaller and you know that it is ready to be used when it turns dark and crumbly and almost soil like in appearance.
Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen but are known to be highly-acidic so using them as soil amendment is beneficial for your acid-loving plants. Mixing them in your compost will improve the soil structure and can help in repelling pests. A great tip is to mix them in with the chopped leaves to create a more balanced mulch.
If animal manure doesn’t shock you, I bet learning that human urine can be used as a soil amendment will. But yes, as it is sterile, high in nitrogen and contains phosphorous and potassium, it can be used if you decide you want to (though most people prefer to keep any human waste, even pee, away from their garden beds). A note; urine can be too concentrated so if you are going to use it, dilute it with water. That’s of course, if you’re not peeing directly on to your mulched garden beds.
Just like us humans, soil needs a balanced diet with the necessary nutrients and minerals. According to Eco Farming Daily, the four main minerals to consider adding to your soil: calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and boron. When adding any minerals to your soil, make sure that you mix in organic matter as well because the organic matter will help stabilize the pH level of the soil.
Your soil will generally contain the minerals needed to grow food, but many gardeners will add more. Instead of using commercial fertilizers, you can get minerals from some kitchen scraps. Here are some to consider:
- Banana peels add potassium
- Chicken feathers adds nitrogen
- Eggshells add calcium
- Epsom salts add magnesium
- Lobster shells add phosphorous
- Wood ash neutralizes the soil
Now, with all that said, go pee on your plants and save the Earth!
Keen for more plant inspiration? Check out our post #Plantstagram: 10 Green Instagram Accounts to Follow for Plant Inspiration.
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Cover image by Gardens by Design.