Easy methods of adding humus and organic materials to your soil

Now that you've worked so hard to improve your soil, be sure to keep it in its top form. All plants get their nutrients out of the soil. An old saying you should take to heart is, "Feed your soil, not your plants. The plants will take care of themselves."Among other things, lack of nutrients may cause stunting and poor defense against pests and disease. There's no way to test your soil for every possible imbalance, so what can you do to keep your soil in tip-top shape? Emulate Mother Nature. She's been doing this for million of years and has got it right.

The forest floors are covered with twigs, leaves, plant litter, bird droppings, animal and plant detritus. This matter is broken down by the microbes that live in this layer, and it is recycled into a form that is again usable by the plants and trees. Here's two steps that work with nature to give your soil the food it needs to not just sustain your plants, but give them the strength and energy to fight off pests and diseases. The improved quality of your crop is also welcome on the table!

Add compost when you dig your soil. Not the stuff you buy in bags at NurseryWorld, that's mostly wood by-products with some nitrogen added. This should be real compost you make yourself. It doesn't really matter whether it is from a rot pile in a corner of the yard or from a full-scale composting operation with bins or containers, the idea is to add compost. Since this is the main source of nutrients, it is wise to make it with an assortment of materials that can each contribute their own strengths. Go to the beach and harvest the kelp, it adds micronutrients and trace elements not commonly found in terrestrial plants (don't worry about the salt). Find someone with a horse, not too hard on the North Coast, offer to help clean the stall, and bring home the bedding for your pile. Use your kitchen scraps.

Mulch. Keep a blanket on the soil, at least two or three inches thick, preferably more. Use something that will break down into a soil food, like shredded leaves (run over them with a lawnmower). Hay, straw, wood chips or sawdust will take energy OUT of the soil until they are broken down, so mix lots of grass clippings or manure with these. Bury the mulch as compost after a year on top.