The ability of the soil to sustain plant growth and increase agricultural output is referred to as soil fertility. Organic and inorganic fertilizers applied to the soil can aid with this. The best strategies on how to improve soil fertility will be covered in this article.
How To Test For Soil Fertility
There are two ways to test the fertility of your soil. The most convenient way to test soil fertility is through your local agricultural extension office. You may give them a sample using their test kit, and they will analyze it and provide advice on how to improve your soil in return. If you wish to perform it yourself, you can purchase a soil test. The test will assist you in identifying the elements that are lacking and the steps you must take to fix the problem. The following approaches can help you boost overall soil fertility.
Factors Making The Soil Fertile
1. Soil pH
It displays the nutrients that are available for plant use. The soil PH scale runs from 0 to 14, and there is no set soil PH for all crops; each crop has its own ideal PH for growth. Any soil with a pH value above 7 is alkaline, any soil with a value below 7 is acidic, and 7 is neutral. The soil PH indicates a soil’s acidity or alkalinity and provides an estimate of the number of hydrogen ions (H+) present in the soil solution (6.0 – 7.0). The majority of plants prefer neutral soil PH or soil PH that is closer to a neutral level, however, some crops, like blueberries and azaleas, grow best in acidic conditions.
2. Moisture Content
The amount of water the soil absorbs is called its moisture content. Not all water absorbed by plants is available for growth. A significant part is kept in the soil as a thin layer, where it eventually dissolves into salt to create a soil solution that serves as a fertilizer for plant growth. Plants have simple access to nutrients when soil moisture levels are at their ideal levels. Moisture content correlates positively with soil fertility. When the moisture content is high, soil fertility is high, and vice versa.
3. Presence Of Organic Matter
Organic materials include elements that can be recycled or biodegraded and are therefore necessary for the next cycle of growth. Improving soil fertility involves increasing organic matter content.
4. Clay Content
While validating the soil cation exchange capacity (CEC), the clay content is one of the variables to take into account in addition to the types of clay minerals and organic matter present in the soil. It describes the soil’s cation exchange capacity (CEC). Soil CEC is determined by the amount and kind of soil colloids available. Soils with low clay concentration may lose nutrients by leaching, but soils with high CEC do not. When compared to soil with a lower CEC, soil with a greater CEC retains more nutrients for plant absorption.
5. Bulk Density
The soil density is a measurement of the thickness of the soil that varies depending on the kind of soil. It determines the soil’s capacity to support crop development. Very compacted soils are not ideal for growing crops because they prevent roots from penetrating the soil deeply, which limits plants’ ability to absorb necessary nutrients. Therefore plant growth will be lower. The high soil density indicates inadequate porosity, which can be induced by administrative policies such as tillage, grazing, and so on. It inhibits root growth, inhibits the constant movement of water and air within the soil, and exposes the soil to erosion. A significant amount of organic matter is incorporated into the soil to reduce high bulk density.
6. Incompatibility or Hostility of Some Nutrients
Certain nutrients’ availability has an inverse relationship with others. For example, higher potassium levels in soil imply lower magnesium levels.
13 Ways To Improve Soil Fertility
You can improve soil fertility and enhance production by using these few ways:
1. Organic Matter
Including a variety of organic materials is the most effective method for improving soil fertility. The first step is to apply manure to the soil to provide nitrogen, which is a crucial element for fertile soil. In this situation, farm animal manure, such as that from pigs and cows, is a great option. Manure from factory-farmed animals should not be used instead of healthy, free-range animal dung. It contains more pathogens that can infect your crops when it comes from sick or restrained animals. Even if the animal excrement is in good shape, you must wait at least three months before spreading it or harvesting your veggies. By doing so, contamination will be avoided.
2. Avoid Tilling
The soil in your yard can be easily broken up by tilling. It breaks up hard clay, turns the soil over, and incorporates weeds and grass into the soil. You might need to utilize a tiller to get the process started if you need to transform your yard into a garden quickly. Tilling does have drawbacks.
Reduced soil fertility can be the result of tilling the soil, which can really disrupt the normal functions of the soil systems. The natural microorganisms in the soil will first be disturbed by the tiller. It interferes with the soil’s air spaces and porosity, making the bacteria unable to survive. Also, it has the potential to awaken dormant weed seeds, which will then rise to the surface, germinate, and steal the nutrients needed by your preferred plants.
Mulch is a type of soil cover that serves to retain water, manage weeds, and prevent erosion, all of which improve soil fertility. Mulch comes in two forms: homemade or purchased from a gardening supply store. Use of too-thick mulch could result in the retention of excessive moisture and the spread of plant diseases, so be careful not to apply it.
The fertility of your soil can be organically increased by utilizing any of these methods when they have been thoroughly investigated and applied correctly. It’s a great way to benefit both your health and the environment to have a garden of your own. Yet, soil fertility is important for growing your own vegetables, therefore it’s worth spending some time studying these techniques.
4. Plant Cover Crops
Cover crops are another way to boost soil fertility. Cover crops are produced after the final harvest in the fall, if possible during the winter, or in early spring before planting. You can also plant them in an area that you are preparing to garden in for the upcoming season or in a section of the garden where you are giving a resting period. Every season, these crops will increase soil fertility and enhance soil structure. Compaction, erosion, and nutrient loss are all risks associated with bare soil. In addition to preventing fertility loss, keeping it covered with any of these cover crops will boost fertility.
Initially, the cover crops will cover the field or isolate weeds and control them without the use of herbicides. They will provide a home for helpful insects, and their blossoms will attract them. The roots will decompose and produce channels in the soil, allowing oxygen and water to permeate. You just “cut and drop” the plants after the crop is fully grown.
The cover crop should be cut down with a scythe and left to decompose naturally for the least amount of soil compaction. If necessary, a lawn mower can be used, however, the weight of the mower will compact the soil. Nitrogen fixers such as clover, alfalfa, beans, and peas (also known as legumes) help to balance nitrogen levels in the soil without the use of artificial fertilizers.
Grass can be mixed in with your legumes because it has intricate root systems that will increase the number of pathways in the soil. You can simply use the crops that have been cut down as mulch instead of tilling them into the soil to reap the benefits. Over the season, the cover crops will decompose and act as compost to feed and protect your plants.
5. Avoid Harsh Chemicals
It’s not always possible to avoid using chemicals. To solve certain problems, such as severe insect infestations or major soil deficiencies in the areas of potassium, nitrogen, or phosphorus, inorganic treatments, such as herbicides, insecticides, or fertilizers, may be required. The overall soil fertility may be decreased by these chemical treatments, though, due to potential side effects. For instance, cover crops designed to boost soil fertility can be destroyed by herbicides.
Insects and bacteria that improve soil fertility can be killed by pesticides used to get rid of a particular pest that is a problem. If you use inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, you could unintentionally reduce the fertility of your soil. If this is the case, you might have to make a different decision in order to improve the fertility of your land. The least disruptive methods of weed and pest control appear to be organic ones.
Biochar increases soil fertility by either serving as a direct source of nutrients or by changing the physicochemical characteristics of the soil. Depending on the kind of feedstock used, biochar will have a different nutritional value. It is necessary to utilize ideal pyrolysis conditions to ensure reduced volatilization of vital nutrients. A large amount of the nutrients in biochar should be in the form of bio-available forms. Biochar is a useful slow-release nitrogen source when it is put into the soil. Yet, it doesn’t help maintain soil fertility over time.
The addition of biochar to acidic soils increases the soil pH, which raises agricultural production as well. As a stable carbon source in the soil, biochar can increase soil CEC and help maintain a variety of micro- and macronutrients. As a stable carbon source in the soil, biochar can increase soil CEC and help maintain a variety of micro- and macronutrients. Biochar particle macropores regulate soil aeration, water infiltration, and water holding capacity (WHC). The overall soil enzyme, which is produced by MO, plants, and animals, is improved by biochar treatment.
7. Green Manuring
The primary purpose of a green manure crop is to improve the soil for subsequent plantings. In order to function, green manures must collect nutrients from the soil and store them within their bodies. These crops are tilled into the soil while they are still green rather than being harvested and removed from the land since doing so would remove the nutrients.
Plants progressively break down and release all of these nutrients to the next crop when they are returned to the soil. In addition, a variety of soil organisms and microorganisms use green manure as a food source. For healthy soil, there should be a lot of soil fauna. They facilitate the spread of organic matter in soils through their movement and activity and by feeding on it. It is simple to implement green manuring on both big farming plots and small vegetable gardens.
8. Crop Rotation
A planned chronological cycle of crops in a single field over a number of years is known as crop rotation. If done correctly, it has both positive individual and cumulative impacts, including benefits for previous crops, control of undesirable species and weeds, and enhancement of soil fertility through a rise in humus, nutrient fixation, and mobilization.
Another advantage of different crop rotations is that they increase biodiversity in agricultural environments. Furthermore, it alters and improves environments, ecosystems, and landscapes. The organic method has proven to be the most effective and beneficial to both the soil and the farmer. However, one big disadvantage is that the outcomes take a long time to become obvious.
9. Mixed Cropping
Sowing many crops in the same area to minimize soil erosion and the spread of soil-borne plant diseases is a lesser-known method of boosting soil fertility. Adding nitrate to the soil will also help the legumes grow faster. In order to naturally increase soil fertility, use deep-rooted vegetables whenever possible.
10. Add Additional Sources Of Nutrients
- Add Nitrogens
- Although you can add nitrogen to your soil directly with kelp meal, it is an expensive option. Potassium, sulfur, magnesium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and potash are all found in seaweed. An expensive addition with a high nitrogen content is called a blood meal. It must be done with caution to prevent burning plants. Fish emulsion or fish meal is also high in nitrogen, however, because of additions in the product, they may not be considered organic.
- Add Phosphate
- Phosphates can be added using a variety of mineral sources, including colloidal phosphate, soft rock phosphate, and hard rock phosphate. The best results can be achieved by composting these sources after mixing them with manure.
- Add Calcium
- Lime improves soil pH by adding calcium. Gypsum contains calcium and sulfur.
- Add Potassium
- Granite dust contains potash, although it does not totally degrade in your soil. Glauconite is a slow-release mineral that permits potash to gradually degrade in the soil. That is really pricey, though.
11. Worm Castings
Worm castings are renowned as the “black gold” of gardening since they are gentle and organic while giving a plethora of benefits such as disease protection, better plant productivity, increased soil moisture retention, and delivering minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, nitrates, potassium, and magnesium.
The plants will be more resistant to pests and disease since they improve plant health by enhancing soil fertility. Worm castings are widely available, but you can save money by raising your own worms for their worm castings. These steps may be sufficient to get you moving toward more fertile soil if you are having trouble with soil fertility.
12. Coconut Coir
Coconut coir or egg box packing cushioning makes excellent mulch, acting as an extra soil layer to save soil, retain water, reduce weed growth, and improve aesthetics. It contains a lot of carbon and can be used to generate compost. It is one of the cheapest and most effective methods of increasing soil fertility.
13. Natural Soil Additives
There are a variety of soil additives that you might already have at home or have easy access to that will help you improve the fertility of your soil, particularly in confined areas.
- Peeled Bananas
- Bananas not only supply potassium for humans, but the peels also provide potassium for your soil and plants. To give potassium to the soil, compost your peels or bury them in the garden.
- Coffee Grounds
- Your garden is fortunate if you enjoy coffee. Coffee grinds will improve the acidity of your soil by adding magnesium, copper, potassium, and phosphorus. If you don’t have enough of your own coffee grounds, see if you can borrow some from the neighborhood coffee shop.
- Fish Manure
- If you have a fish tank, you have fish manure. Use the fish tank water to water the base of your plants each time you switch it out for a mixture of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium to improve the fertility of your soil.
- Autumn Leaves
- In the fall, gather your dried, fallen leaves to use as mulch in your garden and flower beds. If you don’t have enough, ask your neighbors and the township. You’ll help them save money on leaf collection. In exchange, you’ll receive mulch that protects your plants and also has 11 of the 15 nutrients.
- The Tea Leaves
- Tea leaves supply nitrogen to your garden.
- Ash From The Fireplace
- You can supplement your garden with fireplace ash to increase calcium and potassium levels.
- Dried and crumbled eggshells will provide calcium and selenium. The sharp pieces may also serve as slug-repelling grit.