Plant growth and the optimisation of crop yields are wholly dependent on good soil fertility. A soil’s fertility levels can easily deteriorate if the correct practices and intervention measures aren’t adopted swiftly. To prevent poor soil fertility and major production losses, here are a few practices to incorporate.
You cannot adopt good soil fertility practices without first knowing the quality of your soil currently. It’s important to first test the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous levels, as well as the pH level, to determine the quality of the soil fertility. By understanding your soil’s nutrient levels you can take the right steps to ensure enhanced yields. However, it’s vital that soil testing is done regularly to detect any fundamental soil changes that could impact on crops.
Grain legumes are renowned for enhancing soil fertility through a process known as biological nitrogen fixation. Whether grown as pulses for grain, manure, pastures or tree components, these plants form the basis for all sustainable farming systems as they prevent nitrogen leaching.
By incorporating cover crops, which consist of organic matter, the soil structure will improve thereby promoting healthy and fertile soil. Essentially, the cover crop aerates the soil as the roots grow and die. Also, it holds onto water and nutrients to prevent them from being leached out of the topsoil. In addition, they provide food and habitat for vital soil microorganisms which further enhance soil fertility.
Organic fertilizers are formed out of plant and animal residue, all of which contain the vital components of nitrogen, phenols, and lignin. This is the best option of fertilizer if your soil fertility is severely lacking. The addition of fertilizer enhances the soil nutrients, ensuring a healthy yield of nutritious crops. Fertilisers are, however, a stop-gap method and can harm the environment if not used properly. Rather incorporate other soil fertility-enhancing techniques to avoid future use.
Every farmer knows that the sight of earthworms indicates a healthy soil. These macro-organisms play a key role in recycling soil nutrients and increase their availability to plants. In addition, they feed on dead and decaying material which is digested and excreted as nutrient-rich dung. There is a big movement towards vermicomposting which is the growth of earthworms in organic wastes as they accelerate the composting process.
If the soil is too acidic, it might be time to lime the soil to neutralize it and reach the optimum pH range of 5.5 to 6.5. Anything outside of this range could severely damage plants because of nutrient deficiencies and toxicity.
Adding compost to soil greatly improves its fertility and this can be done either by adding store-bought organic compost or by maintaining your own. Compost is full of organic nutrients and the composition of properly matured compost improves water drainage and aeration in just about every type of soil. With compost, nothing is wasted – leaves, bits of plant, manure and all other organic material will feed the plants. It also helps prevent soil compaction, encouraging the movement of water.
If you are going to create your own compost pile – a very good idea for consistent soil fertility – then adding milk to the pile is a handy trick. Milk (particularly raw and untreated) is a natural fungicide and soft-bodied insecticide as insects can’t digest the sugars in milk. It is also known to improve the soil’s ability to absorb air and water while increasing the beneficial microbe populations.
If nitrogen levels in your soil are low then livestock manure is a fantastic solution. However, ensure that you apply manure with care because of potential pathogens within the manure. Allow for three months between application of manure and the harvest of any root crops or leafy vegetables to protect against contamination.
Wastewater contains most of the essential elements for soil, in the correct quantities. The use of wastewater for improved soil fertility also means less water wastage, which is vital in the current climate crisis.
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