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Soil Fertility for Healthy Crops

As we gear up for the abundance of the summer growing season in the Pacific Northwest, it’s important to start thinking about soil fertility. Good soil fertility is key to healthy plant growth, plays a significant role in climate resilience, and keeps our urban ecosystems thriving.

We can’t talk about soil fertility without talking about compost! Adding organic matter, like compost or manure, is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve nutrient content in the soil. Organic matter helps improve soil structure, retains moisture in the soil to support the garden during the hot and dry summer months, and provides a food source for beneficial microorganisms in the soil, making nutrients more available to your plants.

Working the soil.

Another way to improve soil fertility is to plant nitrogen-fixing plants, like legumes. Nitrogen-fixing is a plant superpower that allows them to take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form other plants can use. A balanced nitrogen level in your soil is essential for healthy plant growth. You can use this strategy by planting cover crops like clover, alfalfa, and vetch or by planting food crops like peas and beans.

It’s equally important to avoid over-fertilizing your soil. Too much fertilizer can harm your plants, lead to nutrient imbalances in your soil, and pollute waterways. If you are considering commercial fertilizers, choose a granular organic one, follow the instructions on the fertilizer package, and only apply the recommended amount.

Crop rotation is another strategy for maintaining soil fertility. Rotating your crops yearly by family helps deter soil-borne diseases and pests, as well as prevents depletion of specific nutrients. Different plant families have different nutrient requirements, so rotating crops helps ensure your soil stays balanced and healthy. 

Testing your soil can provide more information about fertility and determine which nutrients are in short supply. This information can help you make decisions about which amendments to add to your soil or which plants may be best suited for it. Testing with the King Conservation District is a great option to consider.

Covered soil.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we would struggle to survive without nutrient rich soil. The stakes may seem low when we only think of our little plot in a P-Patch, but if we take a moment to contemplate, we remember that living in reciprocity with land is as human as it gets! I invite you to enjoy this practice by considering soil as a community member. Just as we care for each other with loving attention and acts of service, we can nurture our soil in the same way. In time, you will feel the earth loving you back.

About the Author

Tareq Fayyad (they/them) is an environmental sustainability educator and coach serving eco-conscious Seattleites under Trillium Sustainability. They’re living their best life by working with individuals and groups to change the culture of consumption and reclaiming our role as stewards of the land.