Topsoil - Growing Topsoil
Building a high-quality topsoil and a healthy soil ecosystem allows you to grow bountiful, nutrient-dense food - all without the addition of synthetic chemicals. Here are five key principles for accomplishing this, whether you’re running a full-fledged farm or simply growing vegetables in your garden:
1. Avoid disturbing the soil microbiome with tillage, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. The less mechanical disturbance the better. The same applies in your home garden.
2. Protect the soil’s surface with cover crops and cover crop residue. In your home garden, use mulch, wood chips or lawn clippings. You never want to leave soil bare, as bare soil will have a negative effect on soil biology and the water cycle. Cover crops and other forms of “soil armor,” such as wood chips, effectively prevent water evaporation and lowers the soil temperature, thereby nourishing and protecting the plants’ roots.
Simply applying biomass will convert to soil in a few years. Ideally, the wood chips should be finely ground and ideally have some leaves in the mix to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio; the chips will convert to soil with high levels of humates. Never plant directly into the chips, only below them. The chips and mulch help retain the moisture and decrease water requirements.
3. Diversify. Having a diverse array of plant life is essential, and cover crops fulfill this requirement as well. Home gardens will also benefit from cover crops, helping to improve the soil, attract beneficial insects and capture more sunlight.
4. Maintain living roots in the ground as long as possible. Maintaining some kind of growth at all times is key. If you have a small vegetable garden, don’t leave it bare once you’ve harvested your veggies. Plant a cover crop in anticipation for the next season.
5. Integrate livestock and other animals, including insects. Flowering plants that attract pollinators and predator insects will naturally help ward off pests that might otherwise decimate your main crop. Meanwhile, grazing animals, be they goats or cattle, mimic the natural movement of wild animals across the landscape. Even just having a few free-range chickens can make a big difference on your property.