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5 Tips For Healthy Soil

By Aaron French, City Sprouts' Urban Farm Manager

If you’ve ever been to a City Sprouts workshop, read one of our newsletters or even glanced at one of our posts, you know how excited we get when talking about soil. Seriously... we kind of freak out. But why shouldn’t we? After all, healthy soil is the fundamental building block of all of the work we do at City Sprouts. Without it, our community gardens couldn’t function, we wouldn’t have our Decatur Urban Farm to host our summer interns, and we wouldn’t be able to grow the delicious produce featured in your favorite culinary workshop!

Let’s talk through some easy ways to ensure your home garden soil is healthy and productive.

1. Avoid Pesticides

Avoid using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. All of these non-organic materials are detrimental to not just soil and plant health, but also human health! As the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) puts it, “ The presence and bio-availability of pesticides in soil can adversely impact human and animal health, and beneficial plants and soil organisms.” Pest problems? We suggest looking into integrated pest management.

2. Test Your Soil

Know and test your soil: Knowing what sort of soil you’re working with is one of the most important pieces of creating healthy soil. You can get an idea of the type of soil you have by using this NRCS soil survey. However, if you live in the city chances are your soil is classified as 'urban soil.' The second piece is to have your soil tested by a reputable lab (we recommend Midwest Labs, in west Omaha). This will tell you many important things about your soil including your soil organic matter, pH (level of acidity / alkalinity) and macronutrient makeup. For a few extra dollars, you can have the lab make recommendations on soil amendments for you, and it’s totally worth it!

Instead of tilling, we use a broadfork to loosen and aerate the soil

3. No-Till

Avoid tilling your garden! While it may be the traditional way to prepare a garden plot, the act of rototilling is quite destructive to soil. In particular, tillage breaks up well-constructed soil structures which increases the risk of water runoff and soil erosion in addition to destroying habitat for hundreds of thousands of microscopic lifeforms that help keep our soil healthy and break down organic matter. The good folks at Iowa State Extension put together this great guide on the detriments of til