Five things to do for healthy soil
- Avoid bare soil
- Use appropriate amendments
- Feed the microorganisms
- Maintain proper moisture levels
- Avoid compaction
When it comes to moisture levels, soil is like Goldilocks – not too wet, not too dry, it has to be just right. Ideal moisture conditions come from, you probably guessed it, great soil. Soil that is too wet or too dry can lead to anaerobic conditions and harm the beneficial microorganisms.
What is optimal moisture?
Don’t worry, you don’t need expensive tools to determine your soil moisture levels. A squeeze test is a simple and easy way to determine if your soil is wet enough, but not too wet. Just grab a handful, and squeeze. First of all, you want to be able to grab a handful and not have it slip through your fingers (that would be really dry soil) or ooze between your fingers (like clay would do). Then, simply squeeze as hard as you can until you get a few drops of water. A few drops indicates roughly 50% moisture; a stream of water indicates too wet and no drips indicates too dry. You can try this in your compost pile, or in a garden patch.
Conditions that are both too wet and too dry can lead to anaerobic conditions. Aerobic microorganisms need air and water for survival. Water carries oxygen into the soil and keeps microorganisms cool and content. Too much water will fill airways where oxygen flows and microorganisms move through, wreaking havoc on their homes like a flood would on yours. We’ve all seen worms on the surface after a heavy rain.
Accommodating soil that is too dry or too wet requires a bit more work than just adding water or letting it dry out. It’s likely the issue stems from the soil texture, and will require some high quality compost to improve its water holding capacity. Different soil textures (clay, silt and sand) will hold water differently, fortunately, adding compost to any texture will improve its water holding capacity, and introduce new microorganisms.