SOIL, SOIL, SOIL
The secret to a happy, prolific garden is healthy soil. A healthy teaspoon of soil teams with life as it can contain more than 1 billion soil organisms. It contains nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that are necessary for growth. Even the structure of soil matters. If the soil is too sandy, water passes through without time for the plant to absorb nutrients. If it has high clay content, the plants' root system is easily suffocated as the clay tightens around the roots. Good soil is crumbly with pockets of air that provide oxygen for the plant, as well as a place to hold water. This good soil structure allows the plant to absorb the nutrients from the soil, as well as protect the plant from wind, drought, disease, and other unavoidable challenges that farmers, or small garden growers face every day. For this reason, no fertilizer is comparable to the benefits of healthy soil.
That said, soil is a nonrenewable resource. That means that each time something grows, the plant depletes the soil of the nutrients as it converts those nutrients into the fruit or vegetable. As the soil continues to be depleted without return of nutrients, nothing can grow, and eventually can lead to irreversible damage.
RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE
The good news is, you don't have to be a soil expert to manage it well. Composting is one of the simplest ways to restore your soil--and it's hard to get wrong. All you need is a place or container (best in the hot sun to help speed up the decomposing process), and waste to put inside!
Though there are many ways to compost, we use a brown and green layering method that allows the organic materials to break down at a faster pace and is relatively smell-free. The key is to get a good balance of carbonaceous (Brown) material, and nitrogenous (green) materials. Brown materials consist of anything that has been dead for a while; leaves, branches, mulch, etc. Green materials could be anything that is almost living--or materials that are still green. We easily account for our green materials through weeding, and kitchen scraps (we do not compost meat and dairy products because can develop harmful bacteria if proper care isn't taken before and after disposal). After collecting the browns and greens, we layer at a 30:1 ratio. Currently, our brown and green materials are on a changing rotation that looks something like this: mulch (b), leaves (b), weeds (g), soil (b), mulch (b); each layer being about 3-4" thick.
WAIT, WAIT, WAIT
Finally, you wait! If you turn your pile every 2-4 weeks, your pile should be ready for the garden as early as 13-15 weeks!