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Soil Care Basics: Increasing Organic Matter and Mineral Availability

Table of Contents

IntroductionManuresCompostsFertility PatchesCover Crops

Fertility Patches

As said in “Soil Ecology: The Basics of Fertility”, it may be necessary initially to add slow-release sources of minerals such as rock powders to correct mineral deficiencies. In the long run, however, we can supply needed minerals with less reliance on purchased inputs. The organic materials we add to our soil bring with them, in addition to nitrogen to feed growing crops and carbon to boost humus, most of the minerals healthy crops need. In addition, however, planting “fertility patches” allows us to grow a lot of our own mineral supplementation. Certain plants can function as “dynamic accumulators.” That is, their roots grow down into the deep subsoil, “mining” it of mineral reserves made available out of the parent rock itself, and making them available to more shallow-rooted crops. The roots of comfrey, for instance, can grow eight to ten feet into the subsoil. Stinging nettle may have a bad reputation among gardeners who have felt its sting, but it is an extremely useful dynamic accumulator. Both nettle and comfrey, in addition to high mineral content, are high in protein (nitrogen), and can be used to “fire” a compost heap or for mulches. (More on mulches below.) And both will benefit from massive infusions of organic fertility, in any form you can throw at them, even raw poultry manure.



In addition to their role in bringing mineral content up from the depths, fertility-patch plants can be used to correct mineral imbalances. For instance, if overuse of manures has led to excessive levels of soil phosphorus, alfalfa—which benefits from high levels of phosphorus—can be grown as a “sponge” to take up excess phosphorus in the soil. When cut and used in composts or mulches, it makes the phosphorus available elsewhere on the homestead where it is needed.


Stinging Nettle

If you have some pasture, think of it as well as fertility patch par excellence: Especially when growth is fast and lush in the spring, you should be able to take one or two cuttings, perhaps even more, for use in composting or as mulches. If you do not have any pasture, consider using parts of your lawn instead, perhaps those less visible if you are nervous about a neighborhood outcry. I have begun overseeding my lawns each fall with the same sort of grass/clover mix I use on the pasture. In the spring, I allow some areas to grow about eight or ten inches before cutting with the scythe for fertility applications elsewhere.