The soil is one of the most important issues for any gardener farmer or homesteader. Building your soil doesn’t have to be expensive to be extremely healthy. These natural soil amendments can give you that lush garden you desire for less than you would imagine.
You can’t have a healthy civilization without healthy soil
There is no shortage of big companies that make bookoos of bucks on selling synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, with the promise of better soil and lush green plants, backed by million dollar science research.
The thing is that mother nature still tops… science. Maybe that is because mother nature is still the science teacher and we are all still really the students.
So what is the home gardener, the low budget homesteader or the natural loving green thumb to do to build soil in a natural and budget-friendly way?
In the gardening world, we are used to hearing about amending the soil, that is materials you add to the soil to improve its physical or chemical properties. Here are 7 of the best natural soil amendments you can do at home for free yes FREE (or nearly free).
Natural Soil Amendments
25 years ago the word compost was almost as extinct as the practice itself. Luckily nowadays this green and renewable practice is making a comeback, and for a good reason. The nourishing capabilities of compost in the garden is not easily topped by anything that comes from a lab, and most certainly costs a whole lot less.
With not much more than a wooden-walled box (upcycled pallet, bin, or any homemade contraption) you can easily turn kitchen scraps (minus dairy and meat) along with old newspaper, cardboard, lawn clippings, and leaf mulch into a material that your garden and wallet will love.
To be fair this is more like a subpoint of compost, in fact, it’s more like the beefier cousin of compost on steroids. I know that may sound intense but it pretty true. Bokashi is a Japanese composting technique, that would be more accurately described as fermenting compost.
The benefits of bokashi over compost:
- is that it is in a closed system, therefore, produces no real smell.
- can compost meat and dairy which normal composting cannot.
- no need to worry about C:N ratio or “greens to browns” ratio
- produces no pest problems
- no nutrient loss
- greenhouse gasses are not produced
- no turning is needed
- composting is finished much quicker
Bokashi becomes the easy answer for the apartment dweller with the patio garden or those with little outdoor space and does not wish to use that space with big composting bins.
The use of manure, it goes back, and back and… You get the point. In fact, if you do some research into French market gardeners in the 1800’s you will find manure was a key factor in providing year-round (yes, you read that right) fresh veggies and even melons in the dead of winter, in FRANCE! Manure is wonderful for the soil, great at adding nitrogen and in the case you need it, even heat.
Wait, your saying, I don’t have a herd of goats, a horse with a BFF donkey, or even a flock of chickens. I live in the city Lady, where will I get manure for free?
Well, as promised this post is about building your soil for free or (nearly free). That being said there are many ways even city dwellers can get a fair share of manure for free. Most cities have places like equestrian riding centers, horse sanctuaries, stables people can rent, or even a nearby goat, horse or chicken farms. In most of these cases, people will likely give you the manure for free for just your removing it. That’s a win/win a workout for you, food for your garden!
This may be my favorite and the western world’s most under-appreciated soil additive. Biochar is an ancient natural soil amendment that goes back more than two and a half millennia in the Amazon basin. Terra preta that still covers vast amounts of the Amazon is a result of the ancient practice of using biochar to improve the soil to retain nutrients that would have otherwise been lost.
Consequently, this anciently discovered natural soil amendment is not just amazing for the soil, it is also a very strong contender for solutions to global warming with carbon farming.
Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonization thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment ~International Biochar Initiative
Biochar is a soil additive made from burning things like wood, twigs, sticks, etc in a low oxygen environment. Yes, you can buy biochar, or for a small investment, you can buy a canister to make biochar in again and again. Adding to your every single garden bed, potted plant, flower bed, landscaping you name it.
This is the one where for nearly free you can do your garden and the world a whole lot of good, with this one cool tool called a Biocharlie.
5. Worm Castings:
With a pretty easy and cheap set up a worm farm can be a nutrient producing powerhouse for the garden. Worm castings are the waste products left after they pass through a worm’s body. So yes worm poo. But unlike most other forms of manure, it has little or no smell and lower levels of nitrogen. They also make soil retain moisture better, have more microbes and worm casting also contain humic acid which, incidentally, helps plants to absorb nutrients more efficiently.
6. Green Manure
Ok in case you are wondering “when is this lady going to stop with the manure already”! This one is really not as its name implies, it’s not any sort of poo at all, so there, I’m done with poo for the day. Green manure is a name used for plants grown to sow back into the soil as a natural soil amendment.
Crops like alfalfa, peas, and clover are some but by no means all of the crops grown for the specific purpose of turning back into the soil to enrich it. A simple way to let soil make its OWN natural soil amendments, it doesn’t get any more simple than that!
7. Wood Chips
Last, but certainly not least, the wood chip garden it a miracle, made of course by nature but popularized by man. This style of gardening was popularized by Paul Gautschi in his Back to Eden garden film. Wood chip gardening takes much of the work out of gardening while adding many layers of protection from drought protection to pest protection.
Wood chips are used as a covering just as you would see them in landscaping. Keeping a soil-protecting layer on the ground keeps the soil from blowing away or compacting while still helping it to retain more moisture, giving your plant roots exactly what they need when they need it. Coving the ground is a huge help to any garden, but covering the ground with nutrient-rich decomposable soil builders? Yup, that’s even better.
Many cities, landfills or tree trimming companies give tree mulch or wood chips away for free. In many cases, it’s simply a matter of tracking down the right place and people to ask.
Let’s sum it up
To a gardener soil is important, but important doesn’t have to mean expensive. Mother nature thrived long before scientists in lab coats ever thought of creating synthetic fertilizer. For that reason, classic is still the best. Natural soil amendments like a little manure, bokashi, and biochar will take you leaps and bounds further than any bottle on the home improvement store shelf and certainly, you will be the healthier for it. So go get your compost and garden on my friend ♡♡♡
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Beth is a mother of 5 living on a handful of acres in an old farmhouse in central Kansas. Beth has a background in the military and health and fitness however her passions come from her homestead life. Beth is an enthusiastic homeschooling mom, avid organic gardener, chicken & goat wrangler, who is obsessed with herbs and natural remedies and maintaining an all-around Do-It-Yourself lifestyle. Beth loves to share all she has learned about and sustainable living. While striving for a healthy, natural life, family-centered life.