- Soil – the beginning of beginnings
- What is humus and how is it formed in nature
- To dig or not to dig
- Mulching – preserving soil moisture
The ability of Nature to increase and maintain soil fertility can be called a true wonder of the world. Unfortunately, there are not so many territories on our planet where we would not have marked ourselves with a plow. And the most important of these places is the forest. It seems unnecessary to talk about the benefits of forest land. Every self-respecting housewife knows that it is in such soil that houseplants need to be transplanted, and it is such land that is most suitable for growing seedlings. Its fertility is created and constantly maintained by the cyclical life of plants and animals, for which the soil is their home. In this article, we will answer the main question – how to increase and maintain the natural fertility of soils. It is this problem that is at the forefront of the principle of organic farming..
Soil – the beginning of beginnings
Organic (restorative, natural, biological) farming implies not so much a set of practical advice as a deep understanding of the life processes of plants and animals that occur in nature. What is great in one area may not work in another. And no practical advice will help if the owner of the garden does not begin to ponder and search for the internal causes of failure.
From time immemorial, the peasants in Russia called the land – “mother”, “nurse”. And in this case we are talking about its fertile layer. The first attempts to assess various types of soil belong to Chinese scientists and date back to the third millennium BC.
For the first time, soil science, as an independent discipline, was developed by the famous Russian scientist (geologist and soil scientist) Vasily Vasilyevich Dokuchaev. It was he who substantiated the concept of the earth as a living organism. Dokuchaev was the first to give a scientific definition of soil, calling it “an independent natural-historical body.” And from that moment on, soil science develops separately from other agrotechnical sciences..
The soil is distributed unevenly over the surface of the Earth. There are places where there is none at all – mountain peaks, but there are territories where chernozem reaches a thickness of 1.5–2 meters. Vasily Vasilievich Dokuchaev in his writings identified five main elements that determine soil fertility:
- parent (parent) rocks;
- wildlife plus microorganisms;
- topography and age of soils.
To this basic list, modern scientists also add water. If you exclude at least one component, the soil will begin to deplete – to die. Embarking on the path of learning organic farming, each person must learn that the soil is a living organism that lives according to its own rules and laws. And this organism, like any other, can function correctly only with a careful and wise approach..
What is humus and how is it formed in nature
Most lovers of digging in the ground intuitively understand that humus is something very useful for plants. For the organic gardener, this is the main component of soil fertility. Let’s deal with this concept without delving into the complex explanations of scientific books. In terms of organic farming, humus is the main food for plants. If we translate this word from Latin, then “humus” means “earth” or “soil”. This interpretation is not absolutely correct today. For most adherents of biological agriculture, humus is the organic matter of the soil, or rather, it is all organic matter that is obtained as a result of the vital activity of living organisms (worms, fungi, microbes) living in the surface layer of the earth. Humus contains all the mineral components necessary for plant nutrition, and in an absolutely balanced natural state.
Any gardener knows that plants need minerals for nutrition and normal growth. And humus is a huge storage of these minerals. And the main task of organic farming is to increase the humus layer of the earth. If there is no humus in the ground, you need to sprinkle mineral fertilizers, improper application of which is fraught with the quality of the crop, and, accordingly, for the state of your body.
The question is how humus is formed and whether a farmer can influence its amount. Organic matter is needed to form humus. In the wild, this is not a problem; dead plants, fallen leaves and much more are organic here. And all this decomposes in the soil under the influence of microorganisms. In the beginning, fallen leaves serve as food for such large invertebrates as earthworms, which grind up large particles. As you know, cellulose decomposes very slowly, and without the work of worms, the process of humus would continue for a very long time. The organic matter crushed after processing in the intestines of invertebrates is inhabited by soil microflora – aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, which continue to produce its further decomposition. Aerobic microorganisms are those that need air for life, anaerobic ones live in the lower layers of the earth and do not need oxygen.
Now aerobic microorganisms come into play, decomposing organic matter into simple compounds. This process is called mineralization, after which the soil is filled with minerals. Anaerobic bacteria, in turn, convert the resulting substance into humus.
From the foregoing, we can conclude that for the formation of a humus layer, it is necessary that the earth be populated with worms and microorganisms. All these soil dwellers not only digest organic matter, but also make the earth loose and breathable, and oxygen, as you know, is extremely necessary for the normal development of plants. Therefore, the main task of the gardener is to create favorable conditions for the life and reproduction of earthworms and aerobic and anaerobic bacteria..
Traditional farming destroys organic matter. Many of us like to put things in order in the garden – remove the tops from the beds, weed so that not a single root remains in the ground, burn foliage in the fall, and so on. All soil animals leave such land for the simple reason that they simply have nothing to “eat”. And there are no worms and microorganisms – there is no one to create a humus layer, and the earth dies. We buy expensive fertilizers, we bring tons of black soil and manure to the plots – and nothing helps. Without soil inhabitants, the earth cannot be revived. The destruction of organic matter is the main mistake of the traditional approach to land cultivation. So draw the appropriate conclusions.
To dig or not to dig
The main occupation of gardeners is digging. Digging in the spring, digging in the fall – and this hellish work is considered extremely necessary! Is it necessary to do this?
By turning the earth over at the moment of digging, a person makes a real revolution among soil inhabitants. This leads to disastrous consequences. Bacteria that need oxygen end up deep underground and die. And those who live without air, respectively, find themselves on the surface and also feel extremely uncomfortable. However, they are not the only ones who suffer..
Some microorganisms need warmth, so they live on the surface, while some, on the contrary, prefer coolness and hide deep in the ground. Digging changes their places. And most importantly, when we drive a shovel into the ground, we destroy the passages and holes of earthworms, and in many cases the worms themselves die..
Man does this pointless and fantastically hard work just to kill all soil inhabitants. And there are no worms and bacteria – there is no humus layer, without which the earth completely loses its fertility and becomes dead..
Many gardeners are convinced that if you do not dig, the earth will become hard and overgrown with weeds. But in nature, no one loosens anything – humus and the work of earthworms make the soft soil. And when digging, the soil, on the contrary, is compacted, since we break large particles into small ones, which mix with water, and dirt is obtained. The dirt, drying out, turns into stone – and we dig again, and so on ad infinitum. Does it make sense?
If, nevertheless, it becomes necessary to loosen the soil, then this should be done at a shallow depth. With this treatment, the upper part of the fertile layer is perfectly mineralized, filling the earth with substances necessary for plants. At the same time, the lower part of the soil remains untouched, and the process of humus formation constantly takes place in it. An indispensable tool for such processing is the Fokin plane cutter. How to use this tool correctly and how to tame weeds, we will talk with you in the following articles..
Mulching – preserving soil moisture
Fear the bare ground! – one of the main tenets of organic farming. If the surface of the earth is open, then the topmost fertile layer is in a very dangerous position. The rains wash away nutrients, the earth dries up in the heat and freezes in frost. Its inhabitants leave the open soil, as it becomes unsuitable for life. In general, bare land loses its fertility. How to avoid this?
In organic farming, mulching is used to improve the structure of the land and preserve soil moisture, that is, covering the soil with various materials. As mulch, you can use straw, hay, shavings, sawdust, fallen leaves, as well as paper, textiles, burlap and polyethylene. Compost or humus is an excellent material for mulching. Compost protects plants from disease and helps fight weeds. We examined the correct recipes for making compost in the article: “Organic farming: making the earth good”.
What happens when mulching? When the ground is covered with a thick layer of mulch, this humid and warm atmosphere is simply teeming with various useful soil inhabitants. In this situation, organic mulch serves them as excellent nutrition, and, decomposing, enriches the soil with humus.
Mulching is also useful for plants. The covered soil retains moisture for a long time, and mulch suppresses weed growth well. Under the layer of organic matter, wonderful conditions are created for the life and reproduction of earthworms. The covered soil is not covered with a crust after rain, which means there is no need for loosening. As you can see, mulching is a great way to improve the structure and fertility of the soil, while eliminating some types of heavy work, such as weeding and loosening. There is a very popular saying among organic farmers: “He who does not respect mulch does not know the value of humus.”.
Many people, unfortunately, are accustomed to treating the land only from the point of view of the consumer. We need vegetables – we dig, plant, fertilize, water, harvest. And we do not at all think about how the earth will react to all these our manipulations, is weeding and digging useful for it? And this is precisely the main problem. Take care of the land – and then there will be no need to take care of the harvest, healthy living soil will do everything by itself, and much better and faster.