We often take for granted all the things that are happening in the dirt. We get the idea that we can simply take a seed or a potted vegetable plant from the store, plop it in the ground and pooooof! Bean stalks to the heavens and an abundant harvest. While in some cases luck allows this happen, it actually is a little more complicated. There are billions of bacteria in a handful of dirt. It's a web of micro life that does all the work. in order for dirt to become soil, it needs to be alive with these microorganisms. Good soil is a mix of sand, clay and silt. There's a lot going on in there. It is a constant life and death cycle. Living organisms grow and die, other organisms consume them and turn them from organic material into humus (electrically charged chains of carbon that attract nutrients). The clay has a charge and it attracts nutrients. All of it has surface area that is great for bacteria to colonize. The plants actually secrete different types of sugars to feed the bacteria. Fungi send out long strands and weave throughout the soil. Bacteria is cultivated by the plant, they also eat organic material, protozoa eat the bacteria, worms eat roots, fungus, bacteria, protozoa, then insects and small animals eat the worms. It's an amazing process. This cycle provides what the plants need...and its not Brondo! Of course nothing is ever perfect so we have issues that interfere with this process. It could be as simple as a lack of water or as complicated as water that is too acidic. Some plants have adapted to certain conditions. A cactus in Arizona survives just fine without much water but Kentucky Bluegrass will never grow naturally in that environment. So, sometimes we have to make adjustments in order to put the soil to work for us. For example, here in Western Kentucky, the soil is usually too acidic. This interferes with the electrical charges within the soil particles and prevents the uptake of nutrients by the plants. We add pulverized calcium carbonate (lime) to adjust the Ph while it also adds calcium (cell structure) and magnesium (chlorophyll). This allows for improved uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in acid soil. Out west, some soils are alkaline. The weathering of organic materials, high in calcium carbonate, in arid environments increases the Ph level in the soil. This limits the uptake of other nutrients like iron, copper, zinc and manganese. Sulfur, sulfuric acid, aluminum and iron compounds will help adjust the Ph. Peat and ammonium sulfate fertilizers as well as the addition of organic material can help as well. BTTL header By far, the best things you can do to help improve your soil is to mulch, cover crop and compost. By applying a cover of  organic mulch (as opposed to plastic), you keep moisture in the soil, which is good for the bacteria. It creates humus, draws beneficial creatures like earthworms that will till the soil and provide aeration and increased surface area for more microorganisms. It is basically composting on top of the soil with the side effect of keeping weeds from growing around your plants. Cover crops are plants that will cover the soil to prevent weed growth, prevent erosion with their extensive root systems while also pulling nutrients from deep within the soil, and when tilled in, provide organic material to feed the soil. The addition of this organic material helps break up the soil, especially the clay aggregate, into small, well mixed particles. This increased tilth, provides for better aeration, water infiltration and drainage. For those of you that live in an apartment or subdivision, all this information still holds true. You can cheat by putting soil in containers or by purchasing potting soil, peat moss, composted manure and vermiculite in equal amounts and making your own soil. It is surprising how much food one can grow in a 4ft x 4ft raised bed filled with this mixture. While I don't think this method suited to large scale production. I have emulated it in my garden. I was overwhelmed with joy while driving through the Israeli countryside and I saw the same technique being used on a grand scale. [caption id="attachment_2431" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Chickpeas Wide raised rows of garbanzo beans.[/caption] A soil test kit is a good investment. After a while, you will get to know your soil and your plants. They will tell you what they need. There are maladies that can be seen on the leaves and on the fruit.....but that's another lesson. AL Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training