Ways to Enhance Your Soil

April 18, 2024

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

Indigenous peoples in Central and South America used biochar thousands of years ago because it helped them produce more and better crops. Biochar is organic matter like manure, hay stalks, dead trees, sawdust and the like that’s heated to very high temperatures without oxygen and becomes a powdery, charcoal-like material.

Added to soil, biochar encourages root growth and beneficial microbial activity, helps retain soil moisture, can repair poor, even contaminated, soils and increase crop production. Biochar persists in soil almost forever and improves soil nutrient availability, aeration and water infiltration for the long-term, longer than just about any fertilizer. Perhaps more importantly, it also helps soil store carbon for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and thereby reduce the effects of fossil fuel emissions.


Dish of powdery biochar

Biochar is not inexpensive because production is limited, but it is becoming more available both locally and on-line. Use biochar as a top dressing or mix it into the root zone along with your favorite organic fertilizer. It will improve your soil and help the environment at the same time.

You can also improve your soil by planting a cover crop like buckwheat and turning it into the soil when it’s about 6 inches tall. All that green matter will decompose in situ and improve soil texture and fertility.

And then there’s always compost. Buying compost is dicey. There is good-quality bagged compost out there as well as bad and it is expensive. You never really know what you’re getting with bulk compost. It’s hard to make enough of your own, unless you devote a large part of your property to its production, but it’s still worth doing. Not only because of the compost you do get, but also because composting is a great way to get rid of kitchen scraps, reduce the amount of waste headed to landfills and lower your trash removal bills and expenses.

At Bridge Gardens, we compost all our kitchen scraps. No fats and proteins, just fruits and vegetables. We supplement these with green matter from the vegetable garden, excluding anything stalky and tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash and cucumber plants. Those plants are so prone to pests and diseases, they may infest the compost if it doesn’t get hot enough during decomposition.

We also add layers of autumn leaves, mostly oak, which aerates the compost and attracts earthworms. The layering process continues through summer and fall. Then, the compost sits through winter. During this time, a pile or bin piled 3-4 feet high in October will shrink down to a foot by spring, when it’s ready to be added to the garden.

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