Would you love to know how to easily improve your soil? Do you think about soil much, or is it just something you walk around on?

If you’ve been growing fruit trees or vegies for a while, you’re probably well aware of how important soil is. You may even appreciate the smell, look and feel of rich, fertile soil, like Hugh smelling rainforest soil (above).

However, if you’re new to growing your own food, healthy soil might be something you’ve heard is important. Maybe you’re not really sure what that means yet. You might have just moved to the country, or finally retired, and are ready to get started. This blog is for you.

A handful of healthy soil 
Photo credit: Dr. Christine Jones
A handful of healthy soil
Photo credit: Dr. Christine Jones

What is soil made of?

Soil is so much more than most people realise. For example, did you know that one-quarter of the world’s biodiversity lives in the soil!

How incredible is that?

Rather than being an inert, dead thing, it’s actually a thriving community. Healthy soil contains more microbes, worms, arthropods, and other insects than you can even imagine, let alone count.

That is, if you’re looking after it properly.

Digging a hole and examining your soil helps you understand it
Digging a hole and examining your soil helps you understand it

What’s the point of building healthy soil?

Healthy soil is the basis of growing healthy food. It helps your plants get the nutrients they need, when they need it. This means your fruit and vegies will be packed full of vitamins and minerals.

Good soil also acts like the tree’s immune system. Incredibly, this helps to protect the tree against diseases, and even to ward off attacks by insects!

Your soil can be damaged by a number of things. These can include:

  • using chemicals
  • allowing compaction to occur
  • letting the soil get waterlogged or too dry
  • consistently removing organic matter without replacing it .

These factors can all create conditions that prevent your fruit trees from thriving. In fact, they may even encourage diseases to get established. If you’d love to find out whether your soil is healthy without doing expensive soil tests, we wrote a short course just for you!

Filling new beds with soil on the farm to create a perennial garden

Improving your soil – 3 simple ways

So, what to do? Well, it’s pretty simple. We love busting the myth that “it takes 100 years to make 1 cm of soil”. In fact, if you do the right things, you can build healthy soil much faster.

There are lots of different ways you can go about it, but they’re all based on the same principles.

1. Consistently add organic matter to your soil.

This includes anything that is, or used to be, alive. Green manure crops are gold standard. Compost, aged manures, and worm castings are also some of the best. Mulches such as newspaper, straw, and woodchips are also fantastic sources of organic matter.

2. Add microbes to your soil, and then feed them regularly.

Soil naturally contains microbes. However, populations may have been massively depleted if your soil has been badly mistreated. Compost, compost tea, or worm juice are easy ways to return microbes to the soil.

Microbes then need ready food sources. They love to eat organic matter, liquid fish, liquid seaweed, and each other!

3. Grow a wide range of different live groundcover plants beneath your fruit trees.

One of the best sources of organic matter is living plants. They are constantly shedding carbon and sugars from their roots, which is the perfect food source for microbes. They also have a key role in aerating the soil by creating passages with their roots.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and are not sure where to start, we highly recommend that you start your own worm farm. It’s probably easier than you think, and a little worm castings goes a long way in kickstarting your soil health.

Fat juicy worms with lots of food in our worm farm
A worm farm is your key asset in quickly building healthy soil