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An abundant garden starts with good soil

By Peter Fossel

Good soil is the foundation of a healthy, productive garden. Poor soil lacking in nutrients won’t yield a good harvest.

Feeding your soil is critical, to keep it fertile from year to year, but you also need to know what to feed it, and that’s where a simple and inexpensive soil test will help.

Soil tests are performed on samples collected from your garden and sent to a lab for analysis. But before taking a soil sample, check with your county extension office for a list of reliable labs. Labs will often specify sampling procedures and may provide containers for the samples.

When you receive the results, you can add the nutrients needed.

Keep your soil rich by feeding it all the organic matter you can find: Leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds, straw, rotted hay — whatever you have or can get from neighbors. Kitchen leftovers, except meat, are excellent.

This organic matter may be laid directly on the soil between garden beds and rows, but this may not be as visually handsome as you like. In that case, make a compost pile with it and turn it over every few days. The resulting compost is what they call “black gold” for a garden.

Consider burying your gardens with autumn leaves each fall. These not only decompose over winter, but leave enough to rake aside into paths in spring — and they attract earthworms by the thousands. Worms are one of the best components of a sustainable garden because they digest organic matter, and aerate and fertilize the soil.

As all of this organic material decays, it creates a feast of nutrients, minerals, microbes, beneficial bacteria and fungi — a priceless “micro-herd” of microscopic life that makes soil so valuable in the long haul. These produce some of the healthiest, most productive, and beautiful plants you’ll find anywhere.