New moon, new earth
With the new moon comes a time to take a break from planting and focus on what really matters: soil. Cultivating and reaping, watering and drying, and reaping some more drains our soil of energy and nutrients, so this week we took the time to practice our preventative medicine of soil amendment.
Soil has feelings, too: what does tired soil look like?
As a rule of thumb, healthy soil is dark in color and crumbly, while unhealthy soil is sandy, dry, and dusty. A great way to tell whether your soil is healthy is its moisture retention capabilities. If you water your soil and the water runs right off, it may be lacking in organic material and could use some compost. Moist soil is also home to garden friends like worms and pill bugs— if they like living there, garden plants will probably like living there, too!
- Dark, crumbly, rich in organic material such as leaves and decomposing greens (nitrogen-rich)
- Retains moisture without getting muddy
- Rich in beneficial insects and worms
- Plants growing in healthy soil are more resilient to pests and diseases
- Fruits and veggies will mature more completely
- Dry, dusty, lacking in organic material (nitrogen-deficient)
- May contain an excess of carbons (dry materials) that rob soil of nitrogen
- Does not retain moisture, water rolls off or pools on the surface instead of soaking in
- Ants, but no insects or worms
- Plants may have yellowing leaves, fruit crops may show blossom end-rot
The bottom line: healthy soil means healthier crops, and healthier fruits and veggies. In fact, years ago scientists found that the conventional produce that we buy in our supermarkets today is severely lacking in key macronutrients like calcium, phosphorous and iron, due to the fact that conventional farmers place more precedence on yield, pest resistance and growth rate than on soil health and the actual nutritional content of their produce.
Legumes to the rescue
Our favorite way to keep soil healthy for plants is by planting! Many organic farmers incorporate a leguminous crop into their crop rotation. Popularly used leguminous crops are alfalfa, blue lupins, peas, beans and clover (pictured below).
Legumes are special because they don’t rob the soil of nitrogen. Instead, leguminous plants have nodules on their roots that “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is comprised of 80% nitrogen. These nodules contain bacteria that synthesizes atmospheric nitrogen into “biologically useful” nitrogen that then becomes available in the soil.
You know your leguminous plants have done their job when you see little bulbs forming along their roots, and when they start fixing nitrogen they go from white to pink.
The ideal way to maximize the potential of your leguminous crops is by turning the plants back into the soil, which we did here with a peashoot bed we retired earlier this week.
What else can I do in my organic garden?
Beware of chemical fertilizers, which form a salt called ammonium nitrate. Salinity impacts plants’ ability to uptake water. If you don’t have the time or resources to rotate your crops or plant a replenishing legume, add organic or home-made compost to the soil to give it a boost.
Our favorite soil fixer is pea shoots because they grow fast, they’re easy to harvest and they’re absolutely delicious. Stop by PC Greens this week to try some for yourself!
Spotlight: Pacific Coast Greens
If you’re a Malibu local or spend a lot of time along the PCH in north LA, you probably know and love PC Greens. Our relationship with the friendly Malibu market goes back several years, when we first set up our little fresh farmstand at the corner of their produce section. Ever since, we have delivered our colorful array of the freshest biodynamic fruits and vegetables five times a week.