To grow the plant with desired characteristics, checking your soil should be the first step. A plant’s health depends on the soil quality i.e. Its capacity to provide a good place and enough resources for your plants to grow.
What makes good soil for growing vegetables?
- Healthy, high-quality soil must be good at drainage
- Good soil tilth provides favorable conditions for root proliferation and seed germination, allowing plants to thrive
- Soil resilience; can withstand degradation and unfavorable conditions
- Soil fertility; an essential component. It helps sustain plant growth by providing plant habitat and results in high-quality yield
- A good Soil structure is necessary to ensure ample oxygen flow.
- A good quality soil must supply sufficient amounts of nutrients
- Easy to dig and have adequate depth
- Reduce weed pressure
- Must be chemical-free to protect plants from any harm
- The soil must contain many beneficial organisms
- A favorable Soil Microbiota (fungi/bacteria)
Checking soil earlier tells you what exactly it lacks, and you can make alterations according to your requirement. It also describes how well the soil stays in place, even in poor weather.
So how can one determine the best soil to grow vegetables? This write-up tells you all the factors you should keep in mind while choosing the best soil for growing vegetables. Let’s begin!
Soil texture and soil structure; you might have used these two terms interchangeably, but they are two different soil qualities.
The amount of sand, silt, and clay in the soil describe soil texture. Simultaneously, the arrangement or geometry of these three soil particles is what we call soil structure.
We can change the soil structure by changing our management practices, which will determine the soil’s texture. By adding organic matter while plowing and stimulating biological activity, one can improve the structure of the soil.
Good quality soil entails a good soil structure soil. This soil comprises a wide range of pores or empty spaces, such as in loam soil; around 40 to 60% of earth contains blank spaces, which means more room for water and air to fill in.
Soil structure is the combination of sand and silt particles held together by clay, calcium, and humus making small clumps or aggregates. If the spaces between the sums are small, it would be difficult for water and air to circulate and for the plant to fulfill its needs.
On the other hand, large empty spaces allow water and air to circulate, and plant roots will grow down in the soil.
Granular or crumbly is the ideal soil structure. Why granular? Below are some reasons;
- Good at drainage
- It holds water and nutrients well
- Easy to work with
- Resist soil erosion
- Good biological activity
- Granular soil gives good root system development
On the contrary, sand, silt, and clay rarely have an ideal structure. However, all soil types can be improved by investing some time.
Listed below are some recommendations for improving soil structure.
- By adding organic matter daily, for example, compost or composted manure, you can improve the soil structure
- Encouraging biological activity in the soil
- Avoid overworking
- Correct the PH as necessary
To get a more thorough walkthrough on how to create your perfect soil, check out this recent article. Next up is one of the most important qualities of soil, namely its water-holding capacity.
Soil can process and hold a significant amount of water. Water continues to penetrate the soil until all the liquid is absorbed or the soil reaches a state where it transmits the water through the pores into deeper soil layers.
Thus, some water is drained through the soil because of gravity. While some water, despite gravity, gets caught around the soil particles. Retained water, later on, is used by plants and contributes to land productivity and soil health.
Soil particles contain pores that provide retention or passage for gases and moisture. The particle size is the ability of soil to retain water. Water stays more tightly in fine particles of clay than coarser particles of sand.
Conversely, sand particles allow easy transmission of water through the soil profile. Similarly, soil type, organic matter, and structure of soil also influence soil water retention capacity.
Field capacity is the maximum amount of water that a soil can hold in, whereas Wilting is the point at which soil particles do not have enough moisture to release for plants, i.e., the plant wilts. Between the field and wilting capacity lies the range of available water that plants can use from soil to thrive.
Bad soil structure and tiny soil particles can slow down or stop the soil’s capacity to absorb water. In this case, very little water will flow through the soil into deeper layers. The excess water the soil can’t absorb will collect on top (see image above).
Another essential element is the amount of airflow to the roots of your plants. Plants tend to grow better in soil with nice airflow, allowing them to breathe properly and focus on growing.
Airflow for plants is as necessary as it is for humans. It is a vital, invisible ingredient in growing plants. Plants undergo photosynthesis, a process through which they grow and generate energy.
Air is crucial as the relative humidity level will build up around the plant, resulting in low plant development as pollen and dust will clog up the pores needed for photosynthesis.
As plants remain dumped for an extended period because of no airflow around them, resulting in dampness. Dampness provides a favorable environment for fungal diseases like blackspots etc., and pests.
Airflow isn’t only an important factor above ground but also around the roots. Too little airflow around your plant’s foundation can cause root rot and other fatal diseases together with stunted plant growth. All in all, make sure your plant gets some fresh air to ensure its long-term health. Interested in how to improve airflow in your soil? Check out this article.
Does air circulation have any benefits? Lots of.
- Keeps your plant breathing
- It assists in pollination.
- Reduce mold and bacteria
- Keep the temperature constant.
- Stabilizes of Humidity
Even good soil sometimes does not let water penetrate through the mud and may cause problems. Water wisely!
One inch of water per week is enough for most of the vegetable plants, which includes rainfall. Soaker hoses and drip lines are both efficient ways of irrigation. Another great way to provide water to your plants is the old classic watering can.
Drip lines and hoses slowly allow water to release on the target, making them the superior option. Then roots take time to absorb moisture and keep the soil hydrated. This process will keep foliage dry as wet leaves promote plant diseases. To read more about watering, check out this article.
The Perfect Soil Type
Different soil for different plants. There is not one perfect soil that can work for all kinds of plants. As you can choose the soil type based on the following factors;
- Choose the soil according to the plant you wish to grow.
- Identify the quality of soil you already have in your garden.
- Select the place where you are going to grow your plant.
- Next, prepare the soil by changing what is already available in your garden. Thus, by applying additives and compost, you will make the soil ideal for growing desired plants.
There are four different soil types. Here’s a quick overview of these types.
This soil type is perfect for outdoor plants. It has a fine texture that comprises silt, sand, and clay and most often is the result of continuous soil improvement.
During summer, loamy soil can quickly warm up and is best for garden plants and potted plants. Also, this soil is easy to dig.
Best suited for almost all kinds of vegetable plants and berry crops. Perennials, shrubs as dog’s tooth violets, and climbers grow well on this soil.
This soil has a soft and soapy texture as it holds moisture. It has poor drainage as compared to loam soil. To improve the drainage capacity and fertility of silt soil, you usually start by adding organic matter.
In comparison with clay soil, silt soil is more comfortable to cultivate. Almost all kinds of vegetables and fruits grow nicely on this soil. Some examples include; grasses and climbers, etc.
Sandy soil is not ideal for growing plants as it gets washed away during heavy rains, has a poor water-holding ability, and usually lacks nutrients. You can improve this soil by adding organic matter and a layer of mulch. Mulching will help to keep some water around for your plants and slowly release nutrients into the soil.
Sandy soil also has its upsides: It is easier to work with this soil, and root vegetables like potato and carrot will have an easier time developing their roots.
Clay soil usually struggles with drainage, but this soil type has a lot to offer if you take care of its water problems. Some things to keep in mind: Plowing is difficult in this soil, and it doesn’t warm up quickly in spring. This soil is suitable for growing ornamental plants, and with some work, vegetables will also thrive.
Check out this article to get more details about all these soil types.
Optimal Nutrition Numbers In Soil
Seventeen elements are essential for plant growth, out of which 14 are already present in the soil. These elements are considered essential nutrients, without them plants won’t produce any veggies.
Some of these nutrients help in chemical processes, while other nutrients form a compound to make enzymes and cells.
Except for hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, all the other plant nutrients are divided into three categories.
Primary nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
These nutrients contain sulfur, magnesium, and calcium.
It includes copper, manganese, iron, boron, chlorine, nickel, zinc, and molybdenum.
To understand the relationship between these nutrients and their availability we first have to take a look at soil pH.
Acidity Controls: Which Plants Like Which pH?
pH plays a vital role in the availability of your soil nutrients. Some nutrients are easier absorbed by your plants in slightly acidic environments and vise versa. The preferred pH range of your plant is determined by the nutrients it need the most.
pH is a measure of acidity (below 7.0) or alkalinity (above 7.0) of the soil. The ideal pH for most plants ranges between 5.8 – 6.5, which is slightly acidic. Once you determine your soil’s pH, it becomes easier for you to select which vegetable to plant or choose a course of action to adjust your pH.
For Instance, Blueberries only grow in acidic soil with a pH ranging from 4 to 6. It might save you lots of trouble if you grow them in pots should your garden be on the alkaline side.
You can check the acidity of your soil by using a testing kit. There’s a range of them available online, such as a soil pH meter, which is the easiest option. Push the pH meter into the ground and it’ll show you the current pH.
Other methods like color tubes or charts give more accurate results than the former method. Take a fresh soil sample from your garden and place it in a polythene bag. Label each bag with the name from the area you have taken it.
Allow the soil to dry. Next, follow the kit instructions carefully. These results can help you choose your garden’s optimal area for the plants you want to grow.
Cultivate a Good Microbiome
Your soil’s microbiome is essential for decomposition and making nutrients available for your plants.
Fungi live in the root zone of plants. Mycorrhiza is an example of fungi that facilitate the plant’s roots’ uptake of nutrients and water. This microbe produces sugar, amino acid, and other nutrients for the plant.
It is the most crucial living form in the soil. It helps in the breakdown of nutrients and releasing them at the root area of the plant.
In this article, we talked about creating your own perfect soil. The Microbiome is far too complex to adjust it separately from other soil factors, but the more you improve your soil, the better your soil’s microbiome will become naturally.
Other essential soil health parameters
You can measure soil health directly by three soil health indicators they are as follows;
- Soil respiration; shows the microbial activity of soil by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide microbes produced.
- Microbial Protein; protein-containing nitrogen will break down in the soil to be available for plant uptake.
- Organic matter; influences water retainability.
- Active carbon; measure food stock availability for microbes that help promote nutrient availability and cycling.
- Aggregate stability
- Water retainability; capacity of soil to hold water
- Soil compaction; as both air and water have less room in soil because the high amount of soil compaction influences water drainage and infiltration
- Soil electrical conductivity
- pH of soil
- Soil nitrates
These are some of the most important factors to understand the quality of your soil. They help you figure out where your soil might need some improvements and, more importantly, what’s already doing great!
Organic matter comprises mulches (grass clippers and garden compost), microorganisms, decomposed plants, and small animals. Mulching adds a layer of organic matter on the top of the soil layer that drastically slows down evaporation from the ground.
Adding organic matter improves the water holding capacity of the soil and resists soil compaction. Together with other factors like biological activity, root growth, and soil aeration.
Usually, a garden or a landscape consists of around 2% organic matter. However, having high organic matter content (20-30%) in the top 8″ will help provide optimal conditions for flower and vegetable growth.
Live In Soil
Earthworms present in soil are essential for soil function, such as improving nutrient cycling, water movement, soil structure, and plant growth. They are great indicators of soil health, and growers can brag with high numbers of worms in their gardens.
Earthworms mix different layers of soil and add carbon to it as organic matter. This mixing process diffuses the organic matter throughout the soil and provides nutrients for plant growth.
Hence, Earthworms act as conditioners by improving the biological, physical, and chemical properties of soil. Let’s see how:
- Carbon and phosphorus dynamics
- Soil aggregation and aeration
- Feeding of microbes
- Play a role in nitrogen fixation
Certain agricultural practices can be harmful to your earthworm population. Heavy Tilling, high amounts of chemical fertilizer, and minuscule organic matter content contribute to lifeless soil.
How to attract earthworms to your soil:
- Provide plenty of organic material in your soil as feed for soil creatures
- Add kitchen scraps to your soil (beware of rodents!)
- Mulch your soil to give worm excess to the topmost soil layer
- Keep your soil moist but not drenched
- Don’t cook your worms; they like it cool
They live mostly in places where there is organic matter present. The area with the highest organic matter contact probably contains the largest population of earthworms.
To choose the best soil for growing vegetables it must contain these qualities; a good soil structure, its capacity to hold water/air, and other parameters such as its nutrition and pH value.
Soil biota is essential for healthy soil function. It includes beneficial insects, organic matter, and some microbes. Happy gardening!