Know Your Soil
Soil also contains organic matter, the dead plant material that "glues" mineral particles together. Unless you are trying to garden in a peat bog, all soils can benefit from a dose of organic matter.
Organic matter is the food source for organisms that live in soil, from bigger critters like insects and earthworms, to tiny microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. These creatures are essential to healthy plants because they break down materials into nutrients that plants can use. Many plants depend on naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi to feed them nutrients, such as nitrogen. Microorganisms can also bind up or break down many pollutants.
Soil organisms are very sensitive to pesticides, so use integrated pest management methods (see The Ten Most Un-Wanted Pests for more information) to keep your pesticide use down.
In the Lake Whatcom watershed, the native soils are generally well-draining loams. However, over the past 30 years, it's become common practice to clear a parcel of land for development by stripping it of vegetation and its layer of topsoil. The soils on your property may have changed dramatically from what was originally there- for instance, organic matter, which is highly concentrated in the top few inches, has probably been lost; soil texture has likely been changed; heavy machinery may have compacted the soil, crushing pores. You may have a tough time growing plants in these conditions, so be prepared to spend some energy on restoring your soil's structure.
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