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Apr 22, 2020

April 2020 Happy Homesteader, Natural Soil Amendments

by Melissa, Office Manager

In 1870 Terra Preta was discovered in the Amazon Basin. It is also called Amazonian Black Soil and is incredibly rich. This amended soil made it possible for the ancient residents of the Amazon Basin to successfully grow crops in soil that was otherwise low nutrients. Scientists have disagreed if the local people intended to amend the soil or it was a side effect naturally occurring substances and the people living in the area. Either way the soil is incredibly rich and has remained fertile for thousands of years. The Terra Preta soil was made fertile by the addition of charcoal, bone, broken pottery, compost, and manure. 

If you want to be as successful as the ancient Amazonians in your garden you may want to find ways to amend your soil as well. Amending your soil is different from applying fertilizer. When you are applying soil amendments you are trying to change the condition of your soil to essentially make gardening easier. You will want to first identify what kind of soil you have. The main soil types found in gardens are Clay, Sandy, & Loam. If you don’t know what type of soil you have you can find simple tests to do online. 

Compost is the top thing recommended for soil improvement regardless of the type of soil you have. There are a variety of methods and plans you can choose from depending on the space you have available.  If you don’t have space to compost or you need more compost than you can make you can buy bags of compost at your garden center or you can purchase bulk through your municipality or check with local farms and stables to see if they have it as well. 

The first component of the Terra Preta Soil is Charcoal or BioChar. BioChar is an organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. It increases the activity of Bacteria and fungi. You can find biochar in charred remains of wood or you can make your own if you prefer. Just be sure to leave out barbeque charcoal briquettes. 

To improve water retention and drainage you could either use Greensand or Expanded Shale. Both are naturally occurring substances that can help with both of those problems. 

One of the easiest amendments to make leaf mold. It will help your soil retain moisture as well as improving soil structure and providing an excellent habitat for earthworms and beneficial bacteria. 

Your plants will thank you for the soil amendments and improvements that you do. Who knows thousands of years from now scientist may be debating how the incredibly fertile soil in your garden occurred.  

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