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which can be incorporated into the Organic Gardening Project. The funding for .. To create The Principles of Organic Gardening, we have adapted some of the organic farming standards and made them suitable for the domestic grower. Organic gardening is not as difficult as many beginning gardeners believe it is. organic gardeners save thousands of dollars on fresh fruit and vegetables.

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Successful organic gardens are not accidental. They are a result of planning, constant care and attention to how things grow. As you plan your garden you have. The soaring cost of many basic food items, coupled with a general downturn in the economy, is enough to make the idea of growing your own food look. or are just beginning to grow your own food, organic gardening can provide you with peace garden waste, the home gardener can maintain an organic garden.

There are currently no organic gardening extension bulletins or guides specifically written for states in the Northeast region. However, Organic Gardening Techniques University of Missouri Extension , contains information that is generally applicable, with the exception of planting dates on cover crops. Check your local Extension office for more information on cover crop planting dates. Try asking one of our Experts. This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by eXtension. The Garden Professors Blog and Facebook page.

Preparing the Bed Raised beds can be a viable solution for you if you want to grow plants or crops in otherwise inhospitable conditions or compromised soil. If you decide to invest in a raised bed, know that you can create it in any shape that you want. Border the bed with brick, stone or even natural wood to separate it from potential contaminants and make sure that the border is at least 16 inches high to ensure that your garden has protected roots.

Once this is done, you can fill the bed with compost to start preparing the area for planting. Find out which plants or crops thrive in your area to experience the highest yield. Consider choosing companion plants to accompany your primary plants or crops. These companions can provide a practical counterpoint to your primary plants or crops, as they can either provide necessary nutrients to help them grow or specialize in repelling pests that would otherwise be attracted to your crops.

To determine the best companion plants to include in your garden, research your particular crop. This can increase the amount of water that your plants or crops retain while also reducing the likelihood of detrimental mildew or mold forming on your crops. Monitor pest populations. Generally, you should check for pests in your garden at least twice a week. September can be a particularly good month to add compost and manure to your garden. When weeds present, address them as soon as they pop up.

While you can use a hoe or other tools to remove them from your garden, hand-picking can be the less invasive and more natural way to rid your garden of these pests.

Check your garden every day for weed sprouts. To help prevent the formation of weeds altogether, consider mulching with organic material that is readily available, such as fallen leaves from your trees or grass from your backyard. The majority are made from bark, coir, or wood chips, with some even incorporating the material produced from green recycling centers. These products work well, with coir the preferred choice for propagation while the others are more suited for growing plants.

The move toward peat-free gardening has gained momentum. Many amateur gardeners are already following the lead taken by professional growers and choosing, wherever possible, a peat-free alternative. The result is that soils are becoming lifeless and, in many instances, simply disappearing into the sea. Larger agricultural machines have demanded larger fields and, as a result, trees and shrubbery have disappeared taking their dependent wildlife with them.

Plants need a certain level of nutrients for healthy growth so, in order to maintain these levels, more and more chemical fertilizers are poured on to the land year after year, filling the plants we eat with alien chemicals and polluting our waterways.

The traditional practice of mixing and rotating crops has been abandoned for short-term profit with the result that pests and diseases build up to uncontrollable proportions. Killing them with poison sprays becomes essential and, as resistant strains of both pests and diseases develop, more powerful chemicals have to be used.

It is this aspect that is most troubling to us, the consumers of food produced in this way. Every year, some chemical previously thought to have been safe is banned somewhere in the world.

One of the early cases was the insecticide DDT. There is no doubt that it saved many thousands of lives by killing malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but it was also found to build up in the bodies of animals and birds, causing untold losses of wildlife; it was banned in most Western countries before it caused any deaths in humans. This was followed by the soil insecticide dieldrin, the selective weedkiller loxynil, suspected of causing birth defects, and, in most Western countries, the herbicide, trichlorophenoxy-acetic acid, or 2,4,5-T, which has been linked with cancer.

Not only have these chemicals been shown to cause untold damage to wildlife, but some have also been found in alarming quantities in food, even after processing and cooking. In a natural soil there are millions of microorganisms munching away on our behalf, producing the nutrients that plants need for healthy growth.

Ever since I started gardening, I have come across some extraordinary and imaginative remedies for plant ills and some cultivation techniques that stretch credibility well beyond its breaking point.

Moreover, organic gardening does have more than its fair share of eccentrics. And that can be disconcerting. On the other hand, Christopher Columbus was held to be eccentric for saying that the world was round until he actually proved it. And that has been my solution. Over the past 10 years I have been conducting various experiments. The gardener may think, for example, that carrot fly was defeated by surrounding the rows with creosoted string, but how does anyone know that there would have been an attack in the first place?

Unless a nearby row is attacked, the experiment proves nothing. I set up trials to test the many suggested organic controls for cabbage root fly. I grew one row with a bit of rhubarb stem underneath the plants, one row with a few mothballs, one with a layer of comfrey spread over the soil, and another watered with extract of nettle leaves. In order to be as comprehensive as possible, I grew other rows treated with the chemical insecticides dianzon and bromophos. Most outlandish of all, I surrounded each plant in one of the rows with a bit of carpet pad.

And, of course, I grew a control row with no treatment at all. The cabbage root fly did attack and the rows with rhubarb, mothballs, comfrey, and nettles all suffered, as did the control row. Those that were treated with soil insecticides were about 80 percent free, but the row with the carpet pad was completely unscathed.

One plot is treated organically, one inorganically, one traditionally using a mixture of the two methods and, of course, there is the obligatory control plot, which gets no added organic matter or chemicals at all.

Well, of course, that may be so, but I realized that this was the way it had to be. If the experiment was to benefit the average gardener, the organic plot would have to be able to cope with the ills sent from next door. After all, few of us are lucky enough to be completely isolated, and converting the entire street to organic gardening would take much more than gardening skills.

But, amazingly, I found not the slightest problem. Weeds tried to creep in from the next plot but I dealt with those by installing a plastic barrier beneath the fence. Most marvelous of all, the hoverflies attracted by the marigolds in the organic plot, ate the greenfly in the next door plot as well, and the frogs hopped in and took care of their slugs too. What you will discover is a mixture of traditional gardening and modern technology, all of which has been tried and tested over the years in my own garden and proven to be effective.

My aim is to make a productive, beautiful, interesting, and enjoyable garden that provides an alternative habitat for wildlife of all kinds; gives me a happy, healthy, and absorbing occupation; and provides me with food that tastes like nature intended and that I know is free from pollution. This approach does have excellent results, in the short term. In the long term, however, it has two disastrous consequences. Because organic matter is not replaced, the soil organisms die out; without them the soil structure breaks down and the soil becomes hard, airless, and unproductive.

In order to control them, chemical pesticides are used, often with short-term success. But, in killing the pest, they also kill its natural predators so, eventually, the problem gets worse. Stronger and more poisonous pesticides have to be resorted to, and so it goes on. It is a vicious circle that, once started, is difficult to break. The soil is teeming with millions of microorganisms which, in the course of their lives, will release those nutrients required for healthy plant growth from organic matter.

So, rather than feeding the plants, the organic way is to feed the soil with natural materials and allow the plants to draw on that reservoir of nutrients as and when they want them. Plants grown this way will be stronger and more able to resist attacks by pests and diseases.

Improving on nature Natural methods of sustaining plant growth were never intended to support the kinds of demands we make on our gardens. The technique itself is perfect, but, to produce a good crop, we have to intensify it. The main ways of doing this are quite simple: feeding the soil and improving its texture; protecting seeds during germination; making sure that the plants have adequate water; and being vigilant in controlling pests and diseases.

Gardeners, on the other hand, remove much of the organic material from the productive garden in the form of fruit and vegetables, and from the ornamental garden by weeding, pruning, mowing, and cutting flowers.

This organic matter has to be replaced through the compost heap, animal manure, and green-manure crops. It is simply a way of working with nature rather than against it, of recycling natural materials to maintain soil fertility, and of encouraging natural methods of pest and disease control, rather than relying on chemicals. It is in fact far less involved than the methods employed by the chemical grower.

Organic gardening is much more than just a way of growing plants without chemical sprays and artificial fertilizers. It recognizes that the complex workings of nature have been successful in sustaining life over hundreds of millions of years, so the basic organic cultivation principles closely follow those found in the natural world.

In fact, you are much more likely to increase both and, in doing so, you will be providing an alternative habitat for wildlife, while being certain that the fruit and vegetables produced in your garden are safe, flavorful, and chemical-free.

In nature, soil texture, aeration, and drainage is maintained by the action of burrowing animals such as worms and insects. Gardeners can improve on this by digging regularly. We can ensure that seeds and mature plants are protected and that the right amount of water is supplied in dry weather. We can deliberately fill our gardens with a wide diversity of plants that we know will attract and encourage the predators of the pests that threaten our cultivated plants.

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THE FINAL CROP Our plant breeders have produced varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases and that will give us bigger crops and more beautiful flowers, while thousands of years of growing experience have enabled us to come up with techniques that will outcrop nature many times over.

But, if we are to continue our success, we must stick to the rules. We may be able to manipulate nature in the short term by using chemical methods but it is folly to think that we can ever assume Worms pull complete control. Worm casts are a valuable fertilizer. As man removes the crops he grows, he must add compost and manure to improve the soil. Man can improve the texture by digging to allow air and water through the soil. In the garden, most seeds will germinate as they can be given optimum conditions and spacings.

While adequate rainfall cannot be guaranteed in nature, in the garden, additional water can be given to the plants in very dry weather. Man can encourage and assist this process while also protecting his plants using artificial means. The harvest from cultivated ground is richer and far more varied. Nature The soil feeds the plants 11 The plants feed the animals Leaves, fruit, and other vegetable matter fall to the ground and decay, adding vital organic matter to the soil.

Plant roots take up nutrients which have been dissolved in the soil. Animals feed on the plants and manure the land. Dead animals decompose and return to the soil as humus. Burrowing animals, such as moles, worms, and insects, break up the soil, helping aeration and drainage. The animals manure the land Fungi and algae help to release nutrients from the soil so that they can be used by plants.

Bacteria perform a number of vital functions, including the decay of animal and plant matter. They also fix nitrogen from the air into the soil. The manure feeds the soil In the garden The natural cycle can be mirrored in your garden.

Fruit and vegetables can be grown successfully alongside a thriving natural community of small animals and useful insects. Adding organic matter from the compost heap and digging the soil imitates nature and maintains the natural cycle of soil fertility. This diagram helps to illustrate very simply how each element depends on the others. However, a large part of its makeup is organic matter—vegetable and animal remains in various stages of decay—along with air and water, which are all essential for the support of plant and animal life.

All of this provides a home for millions and millions of living organisms such as soil fungi, algae, bacteria, insects, and worms, which work to provide just the right conditions for healthy plant growth. These organisms provide the plants with food in a form they can ingest and improve the structure of the soil by breaking it up and allowing more air to circulate.

It is perhaps in the treatment of soil, more than anywhere, that organic gardening differs from other gardening methods.

The very first principle of organic gardening is to nurture and encourage this subterranean life so that it can support a much larger plant population than nature ever intended see also Soil Improvement and Fertilizers, pp.

Clay soils are formed by chemical weathering, where the mineral composition of the rock is changed usually by the action of weak acids. Other types of soil are the result of physical weathering, which does not involve any change in the chemical content of the rock, but gradually erodes it mechanically. This physical weathering may happen within the rock or externally. In hot climates, such as those which prevail in desert areas, the widely fluctuating temperatures of day and night cause rocks to expand and contract regularly.

Over a period of time the stress caused by the continual expansion and contraction leads to the physical disintegration of the rock and the formation of soil particles. In colder conditions, like those that affected much of the world during the last Ice Age, rocks are broken down by the action of water entering cracks in the rock and freezing.

As it freezes, the water expands, forcing the rock to split open. The movement of giant glaciers was responsible for the formation of soil as it wore away fragments of the rock below, and the action of streams and rivers also serves to wear away rocks to form soil. What is soil? The soil in your garden is a very complex structure and its cultivation depends on many different elements. There are several different soil types that all have advantages and disadvantages.

For example, the soil may be acid or alkaline; it may be heavy or light; it may drain well or badly; it may be very rocky. Soil is made up of three layers: topsoil, subsoil, and the soil parent matter. Topsoil is formed over the years by the addition of organic matter that follows the decomposition of dead plants or animals see p. It is inhabited by a wide range of living organisms, and it is in this layer that the majority of the feeding roots of plants exist. Topsoils can be improved and deepened by the regular addition of organic matter see pp.

The second layer is the subsoil, which is low in nutrients, generally contains few or no microorganisms, and is therefore inhospitable to roots. Thus, when digging deeply, it is advisable to bring to the surface only very small amounts of subsoil; these can be mixed with organic matter and will, eventually, turn into topsoil.

Double digging breaks up subsoil and improves drainage without bringing the subsoil to the surface see Basic Techniques, p. Generally, it is the nature of the original rock and the size of the mineral fragments that determine the soil type see p. It is important to know what kind of soil you are dealing with in your garden because the way in which you manage it, the timing of cultivations, and the plants you grow will depend to a large extent on the nature of the soil.

However, having said this, most soils contain a mixture of minerals. A heavy soil contains a much higher proportion of clay. This type of soil has very small particles that tend to pack together, preventing free passage of water. Heavy soil is often very difficult to work initially because it tends to be either very wet and sticky or very dry and hard. Eventually though, when it has been ameliorated by the natural drainage afforded by plant roots and the addition of organic matter, heavy soil becomes an excellent moisture- and nutrient-retaining medium.

Light soils, on the other hand, are easy to dig and warm up quickly in the spring but allow very free drainage, which has its own problems. Water and nutrients disappear through the topsoil, go into the subsoil, and eventually out the drainage system. Light soils require constant additions of organic matter to form a topsoil that retains moisture and generally need more applications of fertilizers than heavy soils. The lime content will make a considerable difference to the fertility of the soil and will govern the range of plants you can grow because it has the ability to make some nutrients unavailable to plants see pp.

For a straightforward test to determine the amount of lime in the soil, see p. ROCKS The proportion of rocks or gravel in your soil does not influence its texture classification, but may affect its fertility and drainage.

Rocky soil has the advantages and disadvantages of a free-draining soil see pp.

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If you are lucky enough to have a heavy topsoil and a very rocky subsoil, you have the best of both worlds, with surface moisture and nutrient retention, plus good drainage of excess water. This is a valuable exercise because it enables you to understand the nature of your soil and therefore gives you a clue as to the best way to work it.

The depth of each layer will vary considerably from one area to the next. Topsoil This is the darkest layer of soil.

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It contains the organic matter, fungi, bacteria, insects, and worms necessary for healthy plant growth. The depth of the topsoil can range from 2in 5cm to 6ft 2m.

The deeper this layer, the better, because plant roots have more space to grow and take up nutrients. Depth of root growth Subsoil Lighter in color than topsoil because it contains no humus, this layer is largely devoid of plant nutrients.

The structure of subsoil affects the drainage of the soil. Parent matter This consists mostly of unaltered rock. It is the area least affected by any cultivation of topsoil. The depth at which this level starts depends on the underlying rock and the height of the piece of land.

The nature of the subsoil has a profound effect on the water-holding capacity of the soil in general. If you have light sand or chalk subsoil, which drains very freely, you will need to increase the bulky organic matter content see pp. On the other hand, heavy clay subsoil, which drains poorly, may necessitate the installation of an artificial drainage system see Basic Techniques, p.

The third layer—the parent material—is the original mineral from which the soil was formed. This layer is normally deep enough not to concern the gardener, but may, on high ground, be comparatively near the surface. If this is the case, try to increase the depth of the topsoil by adding organic matter to the top layer. Remember that many soils are a mixture of minerals; the soils illustrated here are as near to the pure mineral as possible.

Each soil type has advantages and disadvantages, so each needs a slightly different management technique and supports different types of plants. This is discussed in more detail in The Ornamental Garden see pp. CLAY This is a heavy, cold soil which feels sticky when moist and hard and compacted when dry. The minute particles are less than 0. This means that clay does not drain easily and is difficult to work in wet conditions.

However, it is possible to turn it into a very workable fertile soil see opposite. Clay soils are normally well supplied with plant foods and are capable of supporting a wide variety of plants. See p. SAND This is a dry, light soil, which will feel gritty if rubbed between your fingers. Sand particles range in size from 0. Sandy soil is easy to work and particularly good because it warms up quickly in the spring and can therefore be cultivated earlier than most soils.

Because it is free-draining, nutrients tend to be lost easily so it will need to be supplemented with a great deal of organic matter as well as extra fertilizer.

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The large particles make it free-draining and very quick to lose nutrients and water. Often, the topsoil is rather shallow, making it unsuitable for plants with deep roots. Worse still, chalk is very alkaline; in other words it contains a great deal of lime, making it inhospitable to many plants. The ideal soil has a good crumbly structure, is rich in organic matter, drains well enough to prevent the topsoil becoming waterlogged in heavy rain, and is capable of providing the nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.

The various soil types described on the left all have their own advantages and disadvantages.

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Each type is in fact a mixture of different particles in varying proportions, and a short period of observation and a test will soon establish which mineral predominates.

You can then use one of the following management techniques to get the best from your particular soil. SILT This type of soil is neither gritty nor sticky. The soil particles are small —between 0. When wet, it has a tendency to pack down, leaving the soil cold, heavy, and badly drained, like clay. However, it is possible to improve the texture of the soil by applying liberal quantities of well-rotted compost or manure.

Silt soils support the same range of plants as clay. Identifying your soil type Take a handful of soil from your garden and rub a little between your finger and thumb. Clay feels sticky and will roll into a ball that simply changes shape when pressed.

Sand is coarse and gritty, while silt feels silky smooth. Chalk has a dry, crumbly feel and a grayish-white color, while peat is just the reverse—black and moist. It is rich in decomposed organic matter and therefore requires little additional compost or manure. The younger brown peat is much easier to work and more fertile than the heavier, black, boglike type. All peaty soils tend to become waterlogged, so need to be drained artificially. Peat is usually acid and therefore will need to have lime added to increase the range of plants that can be cultivated.

While clay is beset with problems initially, a little work and sound management can produce excellent results. It is certainly true that, in the early stages of cultivation, clay is not nearly as convenient to work as a light soil such as sand.

When it is wet, it rapidly becomes a soggy mess of mud and, when it dries out, it sets like concrete. Clay is a badly drained, cold, and heavy soil because the spaces between each particle are too small to allow free passage of water and air, so the soil is always in danger of settling down to form a solid, airless mass.

Improving the soil structure can take a few years, but a good clay soil is capable of growing far better crops than a sandy soil ever could. In temperate climates, these times are fairly frequent, but in drier climates it calls for good organization and rapid action when the weather changes.

When heavy soil gets wet and dries out again, it expands and contracts, causing the mass of soil to crack into innumerable small clods. If water then gets into these cracks and freezes, it will force them further apart, breaking the soil down to a sowable tillage. So dig clay soils in the fall, leaving the surface rough and uneven through the winter to expose the maximum amount of soil surface to the elements. At the same time, you can work the organic material into the upper levels. Check the requirements of the plants you want to grow and use as much lime as you can without making conditions intolerable for them see p.

Raising a section of soil above its immediate surroundings will improve drainage considerably, helping the soil dry out and warm up; raise your ornamental beds slightly see p. If you have to walk on it, lay boards down first.

After a few years, when the level of organic matter is satisfactory and the soil is filled with the roots of previous crops, clay becomes much easier to work. In fact, every plant you grow plays its part in improving the soil for the next plant generation. Silt The main problem with a silt soil, as with clay, is one of drainage. Of all the soils formed by grinding, silt has the smallest particles.

Only the particles of clay are smaller, but they were formed by chemical action. The size of the particles means that they tend to pack together very closely when wet, preventing the free passage of water and air through the soil. So drainage is poor and there is a danger of the soil settling down to form an airless mass. However, if you never walk on the soil when it is wet use boards and condition it as recommended here, silt is perfectly manageable and will produce satisfactory results.

Conditions underfoot permitting, aim to dig silt during the fall to take advantage of weather which will help break the soil down to a sowable tillage. Like clay, when silt gets wet and dries out again, it expands and contracts, causing the mass of soil to crack into small clods.

If water then gets into these cracks and freezes, it will force them further apart, breaking the soil down even more. So by digging silt over in the fall, you expose the maximum amount of the soil surface to the elements and work the organic material into the topsoil at the same time.

Raising your ornamental beds slightly and growing vegetables on the deep bed system will improve drainage, helping the soil dry out and warm up. Adding plenty of bulky organic matter to the soil will hold the particles apart so that roots and water can pass through more easily.

If possible, keep the soil covered with a green-manure crop in order to add organic matter and remove surface water see p. Sand A very light soil, sand tends to drain easily and can therefore be cultivated when other soils are lying sodden and unworkable.

As it also warms up quickly, it is an ideal soil for raising early crops. However, sand is also hungry and very demanding. So the price of having an easy soil to work is the need to apply extra organic matter and plant food, in the form of fertilizers see pp. It is not necessary to leave a sandy soil rough during the winter months for the frost and 17 DRAINAGE During the year, sandy soil will tend to lose water, both through surface evaporation and free-draining, and this could be detrimental to the plants.

To reduce the problem, spread organic matter, or mulch, over the beds between plants as often as you can see p. This lowers the evaporation rate and improves the soil structure. Because of the quick-draining nature of the soil, the organic matter will work down into the subsoil very quickly so, to save work and to put it in the root zone, dig the organic matter into the top few inches or spread it over the surface.

In the vegetable garden, it is a good idea to grow a green-manure crop during the winter when the beds are empty and to dig it in during the spring see p. This will not only hold many of the nutrients in the soil during the winter, but will also add large quantities of organic matter.

Chalk There are two big disadvantages with chalk soils. Plant nutrients, in the form of organic fertilizers, will therefore need to be added to the soil.

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Secondly, perhaps even worse, chalk is a very alkaline soil, and so unsuitable for many plants see p. Like sand, chalk soils are normally dry enough to work, even in the depths of winter.

It is not necessary to leave a chalky soil rough during the winter months for the frost and rain to break down. Instead dig it in the spring a few weeks before sowing. Because the topsoil is usually not very deep, digging should be kept shallow and, if the area is fairly small, it could be worthwhile adding a layer of topsoil to the surface.

This can be done by adding bulky organic matter that will also help to acidify the soil. Grow a crop of green manure during the winter and dig it in during the spring see p. During the growing season, it is even worth sowing a fastgrowing green-manure crop between vegetables, just to keep the soil covered. Mulching, or spreading organic material on top of the soil between plants, is also important during the growing season.

You should use acid materials, such as peat, grass cuttings, compost, or manure, in order to counteract the alkalinity of the soil. Peat If you are lucky enough to be growing on peaty soil, grow as intensively as you can, as it is always potentially very fertile and usually easy to work. Properly managed, a peat soil is superb but, like other soils, it does have its problems. Most importantly, peat soils are liable to be acidic and will therefore need generous applications of lime to restore the pH balance in the fruit and vegetable plots see p.

In the ornamental garden, provided you choose the correct plants, this should not be necessary see p. Furthermore, when they are drained, peat soils tend to dry out quite rapidly in hot weather. If they are allowed to dry out completely, they will shrink and may be difficult to get wet again. To prevent this, some hand watering may be necessary in dry weather. It is not necessary to leave peat rough during the winter. Peat, unlike the other soils, is largely made up of decomposed matter.

It therefore has a low mineral content but contains an excess of organic matter. However, the soil is likely to be low in nutrients to start with so you may need to add fertilizers see p. The large particles make it very easy to cultivate to a fine tillage anyway, so it is best to dig it in the spring a short while before you intend to sow or plant.

If you never venture on the soil when it is so wet that it sticks to your boots, you will not go far wrong. All soil types will benefit from the addition of bulky organic matter in the form of compost or manure or some other soil conditioner. This is the key to soil fertility, and a healthy, fertile soil is the basis of the organic approach to gardening. In fact it is the basis of good gardening, whether you are committed to organic principles or not.

Organic matter will improve the drainage or increase the water-holding capacity of your soil see pp. It will also, over a period of time, increase the depth of usable topsoil. I have a perfect example of the value of organic matter in my own garden.

My soil is a rich, dark brown color, fibrous and full of worms, a reliable indicator of the presence of healthy numbers of other less obvious life. Everything I plant seems to thrive, and the soil is a pleasure to work. This is because it gets the benefit of hefty doses of manure and compost every year. Yet I need to walk only a few feet to the cornfield next door, which never sees any organic matter from one year to the next, to find a soil that is hard, compacted, and airless.

Granted, there are monoculture farmers like my neighbor who still grow very good crops of wheat, year after year, without the soil ever seeing a forkful of manure. With no cattle on their farms it would be difficult to supply the manure and, in the interests of convenience and economy, they even burn the straw after the harvest. However, they do so at the cost of enormous inputs of chemicals and of a steadily deteriorating soil.

There is no doubt at all that, if you put on sufficient well-rotted manure every year, your soil will remain fertile and your plants will prosper.