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Community Gardening Soil & Composting
The Alameda County Composting Program provides free classes at Oakland's Lakeside Horticultural Center in Lakeside Park. Call the Rotline (510) 444-SOIL for the 2002 workshop schedule and directions.
Excerpt from the West Coast Seeds Gardening Guide Catalogue - 2002 edition.
The building materials of our plants are made available by microscopic flora and fauna found in healthy soils. These miniature creatures are the key to "organic" soil. Knowing that the health of the soil depends on these microscopic creatures, we take every care that what we add to the soil does not harm them but nourishes them.
Compost Adds A Heap of Life To Your Soil
by Roberta Floden
Special to The Chronicle - September 26, 2001
Maybe you inherited poor clay soil...or possibly you have an untended yard of weedy volunteer growth, a wild plant community that you have visions of turning into an assemblage of carefully chosen flowers...
The bad news is that if you want to create a luxurious, life-enhancing organic garden, and you don't have "garden soil" -rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling loam filled with humus and beneficial creatures -you're going to have to put a little effort into it.
But the good news is that the effort can be minimal and your problems temporary. Just improve your soil. There's a sure-fire way. It's guaranteed and it's free. And if you start now, your garden will be on its way, ready for spring flowers, summer vegetables and autumn berries.
Most organic gardeners will tell you that they don't feed their plants, but they do feed their soil. For soil is alive. Even the poorest soil is seething with billions of micro-organisms, over 99 percent of which are beneficial.
The rule is the greater variety of soil life, the more fertile the soil. The point is to nourish that life. You nourish the life in the soil with the addition of organic matter.
Food for the Soil
When worked into or - even easier - spread on top of the soil, the organic matter provides food for the beneficial earthworms, insects, beetles, bacteria and fungi.
In turn, these micro- and macro-organisms, by just living there, cultivate and build up the fertility of the soil, while controlling pests and diseases. They eat, absorb, conserve, transform and then gradually release soluble nutrients into the soil, making these nutrients available to your plant roots.
If you don't let the soil organisms improve the soil and you want a flourishing flower and vegetable garden, you burden yourself with the tedious and difficult jobs that these organisms do simply by instinct. You'll have to pay.
And I'm not talking only money. You'll pay in time and energy as well. Trust me, soil organisms are much better equipped to handle the fieldwork. That's what they're here on earth for. It's part of their very nature. They cultivate the soil because their very nature depends on it.
The question is where do you get this organic material to feed the life in your soil? Where does it come from? Easy. It's all around you. It's anything that once was alive and that can break down rapidly. You can create it yourself. It's called compost.
Composting is neither perplexing nor very time consuming. You don't need a degree in agronomy. You don't even have to be very exact or follow strict rules, since organic material will break down whatever you do. It just may take longer.
A compost pile takes a little preparation, but once started, it will eventually be both energy saving and cost-effective. You can view it as another method to recycle items that would otherwise end up in the landfills...
But the most satisfying benefit of all is that adding compost to your soil is a small way to give back a little to your garden for all the pleasure and sustenance received day after day, season after season, generation after generation.
Organic growers rely primarily on composted plant and animal products, natural minerals and cover crops. These materials contain varying levels of all plant nutrients but there is no single material that can offer a balance.
Composted vegetation (compost) usually contains low levels of the major plant nutrients. The great value of this type of material is as a soil conditioner, providing organic matter, or humus, and a beneficial microbial mix. Soil microlife depends on compost.
Composted animal manures contain small amounts of the nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and are popular with organic growers. Composting this material has raised the temperature so high that disease-causing microorganisms have been eliminated.
Another useful source of nutrients is natural mined minerals. Rock phosphate is one example. This mineral is totally passive in the soil and is not washed away by rains.
Nitrogen is the most difficult material to maintain in the soil because all plants use it and all the soil microorganisms depend on it but some forms wash out of the soil with rain. Yet nitrogen can be "grown" by using nitrogen-fixing cover crops to provide this vital nutrient to the subsequent garden crops. Ground seed meals are another nitrogen source. They will be utilized by soil microorganisms and in the process will make nitrogen available to plants. Using combinations of materials will provide you with a productive soil.