(NaturalNews) The first and most important thing a healthy garden needs is strong, nutritious soil to grow in. To grow your superfoods, you'll need to properly maintain your soil so that it will provide you with excellent, tasty, organic produce for years to come.
Soil husbandry used to be the foundation of farming. Agriculture surrounded taking care of the earth beneath our feet so that it would prosper and grow, giving us its bounty year after year. For gardeners, it's an easy thing to do and requires only a little diligence and know-how.
The first rule of good soil maintenance is to never leave it bare. The only time you should be able to see dirt exposed to the elements is when you've planted seeds in it. Your soil should always be growing something or covered to protect it from the elements. Winter time cover crops such as clover, alfalfa, or whatever is common in your area can be grown in the late fall, overwintered, and then turned under to act as a top-layer mulch.
Compost and manure are basically the same thing. Compost is plant and organic material that's been allowed to rot and break down, producing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Manure is much the same, having been processed through the bowels of a plant-eating animal such as a cow or chicken.
When sourcing manure, if you do not have animals to make it yourself, be sure to know what the animals (horses, cows, etc.) have been fed so you know what's going into their leavings. Dairy cattle should be avoided as they are often fed a high-sodium diet. Much of that salt ends up in the manure.
Chickens, geese, ducks, etc. make excellent manure that is rich in nutrients. Beware of commercial farming and agricultural outfits, however, as they often use hormones and other artificial pharmaceuticals to enhance their livestock, which can be passed on through their manure. Stick with local, natural sources and organic farms.
In the spring, three weeks to a month or so before planting, you should cover your garden with a thin layer of compost and (if available) manure. Two or three inches are enough and freezing won't hurt it. This will create a barrier layer between the soil and the air and will eventually turn into more soil. Push it aside and make little divots into which you plant your seeds or seedlings when the time comes.
As you grow your plants, throw any weeds or leavings you trim into a compost heap. Clippings from your garden plants can be left right in the rows to act as a mulch or on-the-spot compost. Much of what you'd normally compost from your kitchen can also be thrown directly onto the garden safely. Coffee should be composted, but tea can be put right into the garden - especially near plants susceptible to snails or slugs, acting as a deterrent.
At the end of the season, you should plant a cover crop (this can often be done in the rows between plants just before harvest). Allow this to overwinter, then pull it up or turn it over in the spring. Alternatively, a thick layer of mulch (3+ inches thick) can be put on top of the garden to protect the soil during the winter.
Both methods can be combined by putting a thinner layer of mulch or manure (an inch or so) over the top of broadcast cover crop seeds.
If you maintain your garden's healthy, natural soil, it will continue to give you nutritious, organic food for as long as you care to plant.
Aaron Turpen is a professional writer living in Wyoming in the USA. His blogs cover organic/sustainable living and environmental considerations (AaronsEnvironMental.com) and the science debunking mainstream medical and proving alternatives (HiddenHealthScience.com).