Soil is life. You’ve heard us say it. You’ve seen it on our t-shirts. But, is it really something we believe in and practice? YES! At Colonial Gardens, we 100% back the notion that healthy soil is the root of all things living. Soil itself is even a living thing. The produce you see in the Colonial Farms Market, the starter plants growing in the greenhouse, the apple trees blooming in the orchards are all created from the very notion that soil is life. But it’s just soil, there’s not much that really needs to be done to it right? Wrong! We’re here to dig into soil!
What is soil?
Besides that brown stuff that gets our hands dirty or cakes into our shoes, soil is the basis of all life. Soil is one of the oldest living organisms on the planet. Think back to the Cavemen, they walked on soil. The Dinosaurs ate plants from the soil. The first houses and structures were made from soil.
Soil is made into layers called Soil Horizons. The top layer is called the O-Horizon, though not always present in all soils. This is the layer of soil we plant in, we dig into, we step on. The O-Horizon is made up of organic material that is still decomposing and feeds down into the A-Horizon. The A-Horizon is your top soil, rich, and full of clay. In this layer, your plants are really growing, pulling up all that organic material from the layers beneath and being saturated from the O-Horizon above. Next, is your B-Horizon. This sub-soil layer is The Zone of Accumulation. It’s full of Calcium, Iron, and other nutrients that are built up and altered. Here, we find those deep tree roots thriving! Lastly, the C-Horizon is where the parent material is slowly broken down and moving up into the other layers.
Each layer depends on the other. Throughout time, the cycle begins that the rain washes down all the organic from the top layers into the bottom layers. That material is broken down then released back up into the top layers producing quality and nutritious vegetables, colorful and strong flowers.
Soil vs. Compost
Soil and compost- both are dark and rich, both are used to plant stuff. Compost is actually an addative to soil. Compost is organic material that is broken down. This can be old plants, food waste, wood chips, or other recycled materials. These materials are broken down with microbes and turned into compost, once it’s broken down and becomes part of the soil it turns into humus. Think of compost as a natural fertilizer.
Soil, however, contains minerals and is made up of compost, those minerals, and rock particles. Soil thrives when we add compost to it. The compost feeds the microbes and in turn, produces healthy plants and food.
Organic soil is very different and unique from other soil that crops and plants are grown in. Organic soil only uses manure and non-synthetic chemicals or fertilizers (animal and plant based) to keep it alive. For soil to be truly organic, it must have only certified organic fertilizers and pesticides used on it in the past 3 years. Organic soil most of the time, does not use compost as it’s microbes are untouched and can thrive on their own.
Soils are broken into Orders based on different factors such as parent materials, climate and topography. So, the soil at Colonial Gardens is a little different say that the soil in St. Joseph or Joplin. And very different from soil in Oregon, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois. Each order is unique in its soil characteristics. Our soil is very versatile, good for growing different plants and crops. Though it may not seem like it, our soil is a thick, soft clay base. It’s prone to compaction and has a high shrink/ swell capacity. Our soil drains moderately well, the sand content is very low and the clay is made up of small particles.
Farming at Colonial Farms
Narrow it down even further, let’s take a look at the Colonial Farms soil used to grow the produce in the Farms market or the fruit trees in the orchards. Our practices here are a mix of conventional and organic farming. We believe strongly in organic practices with synthetic imputes. We like to keep our soil healthy so the produce grows more nutrient and our plants are healthier. We apply organic fertilizers such as the Bio-Life 800+ which is full of microorganism and good bacteria helping to feed the microbes in the soil. Overtime, it is our goal to work the ground less. Letting the soil take care of and heal itself.
At Colonial, we use many practices that help our soil such as planting cover crops. Cover crops manage soil erosion, improve soil fertility, prevent water loss through, suppress weeds, pests, and diseases, increase biodiversity to help always keep the soil working.
So, now that you know a little more about why we’re such soil freaks, you’ll understand why we are so passionate about preserving soil and understanding the true meaning of the concept of soil. We can never make more soil. But what we can do is help preserve it with some of the techniques such as cover crops and good agriculture practices.