Ask any great chef the key to successful cooking, and they will say the ingredients. The same is true for gardening, and your main ingredient is soil. Healthy soil is the key to a beautiful and productive garden.
But what is healthy soil? Healthy soil tends to be darker and loose enough for drainage, with a pH balance between 5.5 and 7.5. It is composed of 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air, and 5% organic matter. Healthy soil is full of living organisms whose presence constantly improves your soil structure. This, in turn, leads to healthy flowers and crops in your garden.
Here at A Garden Patch, we created a guide to rate your soil. If your soil turns out to be substandard, you need better ingredients! We suggest you try Jobe’s Organic Fertilizer in your garden, which improves soil quality and overall garden health.
Also, remember that we designed our GrowBox specifically to have perfect plant spacing, automatic fertilization, and nutrient packs that take all the guesswork out of giving your plants everything they need to grow properly (including dolomite for tomatoes).
Healthy Soil Structure and Texture
Healthy soil allows for the easy passage of water and air to nurture your garden. Unhealthy soils are tough and restrict the necessary flow of water and air in your garden. If you would like to test your soil structure, follow these steps:
- Dig a six-inch hole in your soil
- Remove a chunk about the size of a soup can
- Break it apart
If the soil is difficult to break apart, you likely have hard soil. Water and air cannot pass through hard soil easily, which results in stunted growth in your garden. On the other hand, if your soil breaks apart easily into round chunks, your soil structure is healthy and allows for healthy root structure development and a productive garden.
If your soil is hard and compacted, you should focus on improving soil structure. Stick a wire into your soil until it begins to bend. Then measure the depth the wire penetrated before it bent. If the wire bends before it reaches one foot deep, your soil is compacted.
Understanding Soil’s Water Infiltration and Holding Capacity
Water infiltration measures the ability of water to reach the roots and aerate the soil. Holding capacity determines your soil’s ability to retain water. Both infiltration and holding capacity are essential to answer the question, “what is healthy soil?”
To determine your water infiltration rate conduct the following test:
- Remove the bottom of a coffee can so that both ends are open
- Place the can into your soil, leaving only three inches exposed above the surface
- Fill the visible space inside the cylinder with water
- Measure the amount of time it takes for the soil to absorb the water
- Repeat until the rate of absorption is steady
If the absorption rate is less than one-half to one inch per hour, you have poor water infiltration, and your soil is likely compacted.
You measure the holding capacity of your soil slightly differently. To determine your soil’s holding capacity, you must wait for heavy rain. Then track the time from the rain until your garden requires more water.
If your garden requires water more frequently than what is average for your area, then your soil has poor holding capacity and needs aeration.
If this all sounds too complicated, you can bypass the soil testing and aeration with a GrowBox. This self-watering planter comes with pre-aerated soil ready for planting and holds up to four gallons of water, so you won’t have to spend time every day watering.
The Biology of Healthy Soil
Your soil is not simply dirt! It is home to numerous creatures that impact oil biology, like earthworms. The earthworm digs tunnels under your soil, which improves water flow and aeration. It also provides needed organic matter, bacteria, and enzymes for your garden.
To determine if your soil biology is healthy and has enough earthworms crawling around, you can conduct the following test:
- Dig a six-inch hole in your soil
- Count the earthworms
You should find at least three earthworms. Any less, and your soil’s biology needs to be improved. The ideal number of earthworms is around five.
Of course, the earthworm is not the only member of your soil’s ecosystem. You need plenty of other organisms, like spiders, centipedes, and beetles, to create thriving, healthy soil.
A second test to assess your soil’s biology measures for these other organisms. To conduct the test, dig a six-inch hole in your soil and observe the hole for four minutes.
Count the number of living organisms you observe. In healthy soil, you should count at least ten organisms. Anything less indicates that your soil is not healthy.
Root Evolution in Healthy Soil
A healthy root system is essential to a healthy plant. However, your plants’ ability to grow strong roots also depends on your soil structure, including air and water.
If you want to learn more about the root health in your garden, find a weed to remove in your garden and examine its root development:
- White, stringy roots indicate robust growth and healthy soil
- Brown, squishy roots mean water drainage problems
- A stunted, unusually short root system indicates disease or pests
If you discover anything other than white, stringy roots, you need to take steps to cure the problem. Attempt to aerate the soil if you find brown roots. You will need to eliminate the disease or pest if you find stunted roots.
Healthy Soil Made Easy with Grow Patch
Constantly fighting your soil to ensure that your garden thrives is not why you love to garden. Instead of wondering, “what is healthy soil?” use the all-in-one Garden Patch GrowBox to take the worry out of maintaining your soil. We can help you turn bad soil into good soil!
Let the GrowBox take care of automatic fertilization with nutrient packs that take the measuring and guesswork out of growing lush, thriving plants in healthy soil.
Healthy soil leads to healthy crops, so order your GrowBox online or call A Garden Patch at (800) 519-1955.