Finnriver Farm & Cidery Journal
Feeding the Soil Organically
Last Fall’s rains and harvests may have depleted our soils of the nutrients that will determine the fate of our crops and the health of our garden this year. Early spring is a great time to add soil amendments because the rain and warmer temps will awaken soil microbes and bring those nutrients into the root zone. It is often said that we need to put a healthy dose of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) fertilizers on our lawn and gardens every year. However, it is important to first know the components of your soil in order to understand what you may or may not need to add. At the Finnriver orchard, we test our soil every year as it lets us track how our soils are improving or being depleted by our fertility management program.
With a soil test in hand, you can apply the appropriate amounts of amendments. By adding amendments such as lime (for alkaline) and sulfur (for acidic), you help "unlock" fertilizers that are bound to soil particles and increase the absorption of other amendments you add this year. It is essential to be careful about over-applying which can cause problems downstream when leached nutrients travel into storm water and aquifers that ultimately pollute river mouths and other bodies of water.
This is why we encourage the use of organic means to amend soils. For example, a gentle means of replenishing nitrogen is to apply a 2-inch layer of compost onto your beds or around perennials. Earth worms and other arthropods will break down the compost and slowly release its nutrients to your plants. After a few years of composting this might be the only source of nitrogen that you need to add. Homemade compost from kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and leaf debris is a fine way to start. Other good commercial options are NutriRich (pelletized chicken manure) or Mushroom Compost in bulk. For more detailed information about the health of soils, I recommend “Teaming with Nutrients" by Jeff Lowenfells and “Soul of Soil" by Grace Gershuny.