One of the biggest buzzwords in modern agriculture is ‘restorative farming.’ Otherwise known as ‘soil restoration’ or ‘regenerative agriculture,’ this practice allows farmers big and small to produce food that sustainably maintains their land. Restorative farming can take many forms, from livestock cycling and crop rotation to rebuilding organic soil materials. However, there is one critical practice that is found universally among regenerative farmers: soil restoration.
What is soil restoration, and how can it be used to make your home gardens even more abundant? We’re going to take a closer look at a few of the most important aspects of this process:
- The real definition of soil restoration
- Why it matters to small home gardeners
- Ten of the easiest ways you can start practicing soil restoration
What Is Soil Restoration?
Before soil restoration is defined, it will be important to understand the differences between two separate terms: dirt and soil.
Dirt is a flat, dry, or barren piece of sediment. It is often called ‘topsoil,’ and sold at stores for use in potholes or sloping ditches. It cannot be used to grow plants, and it cannot support life very well. Soil is often formed after years of abuse and misuse, which may include:
- Decarbonization (poor fertilization)
- Chemical pollutants
Soil lies on an entirely different end of the spectrum. This unique and rapidly disappearing substance is fertile, rich, and organic material that is made up of thousands of fungi, microorganisms, and small invertebrates. Unlike dirt, soil is actively living, and is symbiotic with plants growing within its boundaries.
With this in mind, soil restoration may briefly be defined as the process of turning dirt into soil. This intimate procedure requires little more than some time, effort, and basic knowledge.
Although small home gardeners may not know how to get involved with this practice, they don’t need to be rocket scientists in order to understand soil restoration and its basic principles.
Why Does Soil Restoration Matter?
Soil is by far the most important aspect of the planting process. After hundreds of years of monoculture, improper tilling, and over-fertilization, the hardiness of our Earth is becoming less and less sound.
Over half of all habitable land on the planet is used for farming purposes. Almost 30% of this land is entirely barren for growing purposes, and is unable to contribute to our world’s growing demand for food. This is a problem that can only be fixed on the home front: with gardeners like you.
Soil restoration may not make you feel like you’re changing the world, but in reality, even the smallest plots of land can make a huge impact on the future of our Earth. Even as a small gardener, restoring the soil around your home comes with many benefits.
- Supporting ecologically diverse habitats
- Contributing to healthy lawns
- Improving local water quality
- Reducing the impact of pollution
- Enhancing productivity
Soil restoration makes your home gardening even more productive. Thicker moisture-retentive earth allows you to grow plants that are bigger and better than ever. Plus, you’ll do yourself a favor by adding home-grown treats into your meals.
10 Easy Ways To Practice Soil Restoration In Your Garden
No matter how big or small your garden plot is, rest assured that you can start restoring your soil in a few simple steps. Note that there are a few preparations you should make before getting started, including having your soil tested. Many local extension offices perform this for you, sometimes for a small fee. You can also purchase soil testing kits to better understand the chemical makeup of your property.
Once you have a baseline established, follow these ten tips:
1. Use Cover Crops
If your soil isn’t growing something, it isn’t receiving any nutritional benefits from plants. Cover crops are an excellent solution to this, helping jumpstart the restoration process year over year.
2. Eliminate Tilling
Although tilling has quickly become a staple of modern agriculture, it is one of the most destructive things you could do for living soil. Instead, look into lasagna gardening, wood chipping, and other layering soil methods.
3. Crop Rotation
The more biodiversity you have in your garden, the more microorganisms can grow and thrive. Start by switching your crops in a pattern that consistently changes over time.
4. Compost Creation
Use your leftovers to create some ‘black gold‘ for your yard. Just make sure to avoid all fatty foods, sugary snacks, or meat scraps.
5. Proper Fertilization
10-10-10 is often the prescribed amount of fertilization, but bear in mind that each yard is different. Have a soil test done to confirm your unique needs.
6. Reduce Pesticides
You may not be able to avoid all pesticides and insecticides in your yard, but more natural methods will protect the biodiversity of your garden.
7. Move Away From Monoculture
Monoculture is the process of growing only one crop in a garden for many years. This is one of the biggest causes of soil depletion, and should be avoided at all costs. Try new and unique plant varieties each growing season, and maybe look for some heirloom types as well.
8. Adding Perennials
Plants that regrow themselves each year not only reduce your to-do list, but they make for great passive soil regenerators as well.
9. Try Out Silvopasture
A unique type of permaculture, silvopasture is the process of combining trees with plants in your growing space. You may want to try out fruit or nut varieties that act as climbing trellises for other plants, such as green beans.
10. Worm Castings
The waste left behind by feeding worms are known as castings. As gross as it sounds to humans, this waste provides some massive benefits to your garden space. You can purchase worm castings online, or even opt to keep your own worms for vermiculture at home.
Still want more help? For more tips and tricks about soil regeneration and soil conservation in your garden, check out the rest of our resources online.
Good luck with your efforts, gardener!