Organic Material – Does it Matter?
When it comes to healthy soil, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!”
Organic matter is the decomposed organic material that is added to soil – leaves, plant parts and composted manure – basically, plant and animal remains.
Organic matter is an important component of healthy soil because it improves overall soil structure, increases nutrient levels, improves water-holding capability, helps stabilize pH levels and aids in soil erosion reduction. Organic matter is also the food source for the many microorganisms and earthworms that work away at decomposing the added soil amendments. All of this, in turn, provides the optimum environment for both healthy plants and healthy microbes. Regularly adding organic matter throughout the season will help ensure the soil remains healthy and has the power to keep your garden glowing.
Plant roots also play an important role in organic matter contribution. Dead roots feed the soil microorganisms and live ones release carbon dioxide, oxygen and organic elements that aid in nutrient development and its availability to the plants.
The organic matter in soil provides most of the needed nitrogen for plant growth and the relationship between what lives in the soil and organic matter decomposition is closely intertwined – one cannot function without the other. If that interaction failed to exist the needed nutrients would not be available for the plant life and the soil structure would decline, resulting in an unproductive (and unattractive) garden bed.
There are a number of factors that influence the activity of the microbial community and, therefore, the rate of decomposition of the organic matter and should be considered when adding amendments to the soil. Microorganisms are most effective, and the rate of decomposition more rapid, when temperatures are between 0°C to 45°C. Above or below will slow, or stop, the decomposition process.
Determine your soil’s pH (acid/alkaline). The soil pH directly affects the type of microbe that lives there, which in turn, impacts the level of decomposition activity. The rate of decomposition is greater in neutral soils – pH of 7, so if need be, adjust the pH level to welcome the right microorganisms and improve their ability to do the job quickly and efficiently.
Adequate soil moisture is key for the proper decomposition of organic matter. Most microbes prefer a damper home. However, excessive water will lead to reduced microbe activity due to reduced aeration – the soil pores are filled with water instead of oxygen, a much-needed component for faster and complete decomposition. Waterlogged areas will decompose slowly.
So, keep composting those carrot tops. Shred the late season leaves and dig them into your beds and borders! And don’t consider adding soil amendments as just spring or summer chores. Give your vegetable beds a nutrition boost, reduce winter erosion and keep weeds at bay by planting cover crops (aka “green manure”) such as hairy vetch or winter rye when the cool fall weather arrives. As the summer heat hits once again, your tomatoes and peppers will thank you.