087Soil is one of the most important components in a successful garden. When we talk about having good soil we are referring to the fertility and the texture of the soil.

Fertile soil contains a balance of the essential nutrients needed to support microbial and plant life. The 3 primary nutrients used by plants are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is responsible for healthy leaf and stem growth.  Too little nitrogen and plant leaves become yellow. If nitrogen is too high, your plants may get amazingly green but never set fruit. To much nitrogen can also burn your plants.

Plants need phosphorus to help transfer energy from the roots to the flower and then into the seed and/or fruit. Often fruits and seeds will have a bitter taste when there is too little phosphorus.

Potassium is needed to activate enzymes, to form sugars and oils. Proper potassium levels improve cold weather tolerances in plants and help in fruit development.

Herself’s Houston Garden has some good, basic information about these 3 primary nutrients.

As seasoned gardeners, Rhett and I have learned to pay careful attention to our plants. We watch for the signs of deficiencies and can adjust our nitrogen, phosphorus  and potassium levels with worm castings, compost tea or bone meal. However, we still rely on frequent soil tests. Basic soil tests will tell you the pH, organic matter and available nutrients in your soil. Soil fertility changes from year to year depending on what you have grown in a specific area and other environmental factors.

The best practice is to keep soil balanced so that you do not have to react to nutrient deficiencies. It’s like eating health organic foods to avoid getting a cold vs. drinking echinacea tea when a cold starts to come on.

Soil structure is also incredibly important in building healthy soil. Soil with a healthy structure will allow for proper water movement, heat transfer, and aeration but lets talk about that tomorrow……. Stay tuned!

This is part 3 of a 5 part series on compost and healthy soil. Read the other articles here:
Part 1: “Building Healthy Soil with Compost
Part 2: “Vermiculture: Let the Worms do the Sorting!
Parts 4 and 5 coming soon