One teaspoon of healthy soil contains millions of beneficial microorganisms. Feed the microorganisms and they in turn will feed your plants plus reduce stress caused by drought and disease. How do I feed the soil you may ask. The answer is simple - organic matter. What is organic matter? Simply stated, it is decaying plant and animal material, most commonly compost, green manure and animal manure. Applied to the soil they will help create healthy soil which supports healthy plants which help promote healthy people.
The most basic compost ingredients are nitrogen (green plant material or animal manure), carbon (brown plant material such as leaves, straw or hay), a small amount of high quality compost or garden soil, oxygen and water. When managed well these materials will be broken down by microorganisms into a crumbly brown material with a nice earthy smell that is terrific for your garden.
Green manure consist of plants grown for the purpose of tilling them into the soil to add organic matter. Cowpeas and soybeans may be planted in summer to add nitrogen along with organic matter. Sorghum sudangrass, millet and buckwheat planted in summer provide biomass, smother weeds and improve soil tilth. Rye, vetch, austrian winter peas or clover planted in the fall will provide a protective winter cover for the soil plus add organic matter to the soil when tilled in the following spring. Rye, vetch, austrian winter peas and clover also add nitrogen to the soil.
Animal manure may be applied to the soil in composted or raw forms. US organic regulations require raw animal manure to be incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does have direct contact with the soil; or incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles. Compost which contains manure should reach a temperature between 131 degrees and 170 degrees for a total of 15 days and be turned a minimum of 5 times.
Fall leaves are another great way to condition and feed garden soil. Trees have extensive root systems that reach far into the subsoil to gather nutrients. Most leaves contain far more minerals than manure. When incorporated into the soil leaves add nutrients, improve aeration and soil structure plus encourage earthworms. Leaves are not garbage - they are a great resource!