Why Your Garden Needs More Organic Matter And How To Get It

You’ve probably heard the gardening cliché; it starts with the soil. The thing is, clichés are often right on the money, and this is no exception. The soil is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not you’ll grow healthy plants.

One of the most important aspects of the soil is its organic matter content, and that’s what I’m covering in this blog post today.

What Is Organic Matter?

While organic matter makes up a relatively small part of the soil, it is vital. It’s kind of like how you can make bread without yeast, but it won’t work very well. You just need that teaspoon of yeast in there. So, organic matter is as important in the soil as yeast is to bread. You just need perhaps 3% to get you started.

Organic Matter

It includes anything that is living or was once alive. When looking at the soil, we’re mostly referring to fallen leaves or needles and twigs, dead and living plant roots, and dead and living microbes.

All of these can be fresh and whole, in the process of being broken down, or already broken down into their most stable form – humus – perhaps in a compost pile or mulch or right in the soil.

Humus is what we’re ultimately after, but having some coarser organic matter mulch layer on top is important as well.

Why Is Organic Matter So Good?

Organic matter does a lot of good things for us in the garden. It:

  • Increases the water-holding capacity of porous soils so your plants can drink and you can water less.
  • Increases drainage in finer soils so your plants and soil organisms can breathe.
  • Promotes air in the soil and resistance to compaction by encouraging bigger pore spaces.
  • Holds onto minerals because the humus is loaded with positive and negative charges that attract them.
  • Provides fertility because it is composed of nutrients and other substances.
  • Provides a habitat for beneficial soil microorganisms and insects that make the garden work.

How To Increase Your Organic Matter

Nature will increase organic matter on its own, but that takes hundreds or thousands of years. You can drastically speed up the process. Here are the best ways to increase your soil organic matter content:

  • Compost. Incorporating high-quality aerobic compost is one of the best methods. I’ll use as much as 6 inches in a new garden if it’s obviously low in humus and then less than 1/2 inch per year after that.
  • Mulching. Humans compost, but nature mulches. And you won’t see 2 inches of bark on the forest floor. Leaves are actually the best mulch for your gardens. Straw is okay if you don’t have enough leaves.
  • Humates. This is a product derived from Leonardite that is very concentrated in humic acids, which provide many benefits for the soil. It would be expensive to buy a lot, but a little goes a long way.
  • Cover crops. Planting cover crops will improve organic matter because the roots are always dying and growing back, adding to the soil. Plus, of course, you can chop it down for a nice mulch in the spring.

My main goals are to increase the organic matter content and biological diversity of my soil through compost, mulch, humates, and cover crops.

A few years of this and your soil will be so beautiful you’ll almost want to eat it! I advise against that, but if you grow food, that food will taste better, and you can eat it instead. It all starts with the soil.

Any questions? Feel free to ask below.