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Updated: May 17, 2021

Before you start adding amendments to your soil you first need to have a goal in mind. A goal to help you layout the groundwork for that ideal soil. But wait, what is the ideal soil anyway. Today I am going to help you figure out what the ideal soil is and understand the importance of having a goal before you just throw amendments at the problem. Let’s get growing.


Today I am going to share with you the definition of the Ideal Soil and how you can make a goal to transform your soil into the Ideal Soil. But first I want to mention that this topic builds from an episode I did a few weeks ago, called What Is Soil Health?

If you feel that something is missing or the connections are just not being made then please go back and listen to Season 2 Episode 1, first.

I am going to give you a slight recap though. So last time we came to the conclusion that soil health can be measured in two ways. One by what your soil produces, like your delicious veggies and two the live in your soil.

If you look at what your soil is producing and know exactly what they need then you will know exactly what your soil needs to be that Ideal Soil. Let me explain!

Ideal Soil Definition

The easiest way to find the ideal soil health is to look at exactly what a plant needs to grow and produce fruit. Remember, one way soil health is measured is if the soil can produce life.

Now there is a list of about 15 micronutrients plants need to sustain plant life. And knowing this list and the percentages needed for each will help you understand what your soil needs to grow those delicious veggies. But, why is knowing the ideal soil health so important?

So, I told you that measuring soil health is difficult because every area and garden is different but what a plant needs to grow is a constant. It is a finite set of rules that can’t be changed but can be measured! So this gives you and I something to aim for when trying to improve our soil health.

This gives you a goal, a road map of sorts.

With this understanding the plant in it’s way is telling us exactly what it needs and, therefore, what needs to be in our soil to grow and produce fruit! You can find out what your soil has and how close it is to the ideal soil or what plants need when you do a soil test. It is very simple and I will walk you through the steps of the application in a few episodes from now. But first, I want to share a story with you on why understanding what a plant needs is so important when it comes to soil health.

Importance of The Proper Nutrient

For the last few years I have been dealing with blossom end rot in my tomatoes. I am sure you know that blossom end rot is caused by lack of calcium. Tomatoes are full of calcium and the very tip of the tomatoes is where it is stored. So when a plant doesn't have the proper amounts of calcium this portion of the tomato does not develop right and thus rots. Now, to try to solve this problem I have done everything in my power to add calcium to my soil. I have placed egg shells in the holes before I planted my tomato plants. I have sprayed my tomato plant leaves with Calcium Bicarbonate in hopes that it would be more quickly absorbed. I have even diluted milk and poured it at the base of all my tomato plants. All of these things did not work.

Another cause of blossom end rot is in sporadic waterings. Plants need a constant soil sludge to adsorb micronutrients and watering is what makes this sludge. The theory is that if you water too infrequently the sludge is not always available for the plant to absorb the calcium it needs. So, I put my watering on a strict schedule and because my tomatoes are grown in my mobile greenhouse I could do this because rain was not an issue. But that didn’t even work!

In fact, this year when I tried all of these things and I had no success. It wasn't until I went back and looked at my soil test and realized something. My soil test told me my soil had plenty of calcium and that everything I was doing wasn't working because of something else that was lacking in my soil. Now remember plants can survive and even produce fruit when there is an imbalance of nutrients. The problem is that fruit can suffer if there is not a balance, aka Blossom End Rot.

My tomatoes were suffering from a calcium deficiency not from the soil but because another nutrient was not being met so the plants didn’t have the ability to gather all it needed. It is kind of like when we just happen to lock your keys in our car. We can see the keys just hanging from the ignition staring us in the face but we still can’t open the door without the key. Maybe I have been the only one to do this, but I doubt it. If we had those keys or even another set of keys we could open the door but because we don’t all we can do is stare at the keys.

When I looked deeper at my soil test I found the key for my tomato plants was nitrogen. Because my tomato plants were lacking nitrogen all they could do was stare at the calcium sitting in the soil. Nitrogen is one of the big three when it comes to nutrients. Life just does not function well without it. So, as a result once I started spraying my tomatoes with natural fish poop, that is high in nitrogen, the blossom end rot disappeared. All the fruit that developed after my change in tactics were beautiful.

To read more about my soil health journey you can check out my book, Dirt: Finding the Solution to Building Soil Health.

Understand the Life in Your Soil

Understanding the proper plant nutrients is going to help you develop the ideal soil and subsequently proper soil health.

Now that you understand why soil health is connected to the fundamentals of plant life. I want to share with you how you can test the other part of soil health, the life in the soil.

Remember soil health can be measured in two ways, by what it produces and the life in the soil. But, first let’s look at why having life in your soil is so important.

First of all, life is the difference between soil and dirt. Second, life in the soil is going to help break down the nutrients in your soil so they are in the proper size and form for your plants. Yep, we are going to talk about the soil sludge again.

Nutrients in your soil and even the natural amendment that are added to soil to improve soil health are usually the wrong size for plant absorption. Plants need a liquid diet filled with micronutrients and nutrients that build soil health and are just not that small to begin with.

Why Chemical Fertilizers Are Not the Answer

This is kind of a little side note but this is also a reason why quick chemical fertilizers are only that, a quick fix. They are only going to fix the immediate problem and are not going to be available to your plant for the long haul. There are so many other reasons why chemical fertilizers should not be used but I am not writing this book to discuss them. I just wanted to give you a reason why I won't be discussing them here.

Natural Nutrient Definition

Natural nutrients and I guess I should also explain why I am calling them natural and not organic! Organic nutrients are nutrients that come from plants or a plant's death. They do not include things like rock phosphate and other minerals. So when I say natural nutrients I mean both organic and minerals!

Why Your Plants Need Microorganisms

Okay let’s get back to the sludge! Plants need a liquid diet but not all of the proper nutrients come in this form naturally. So, that is where the microorganisms come in! They break down these large nutrients and make them readily available for the plant. Why is it so important to use natural nutrients? The answer is that they are going to be retained in the soil longer. When you go back to the definition of soil you find that one important factor is time! When you are building soil health you are not just throwing in things here and there. You are building an ecosystem of living organisms that work together to build your soil. Things that last were never built in a day and the same goes with building your soil health. Time is what is needed to change dirt into soil.

How Do You Measure Life In Your Soil?

How do you measure life in your soil? You first start by looking at what a soil ecosystem is and how it functions.

A soil ecosystem if full of both living and nonliving matter with a number of interactions happening between the two! You have the microorganism, but you also have worms, fungi, and this list could go on and on. The diversity and abundance that exist in soil is greater than any other ecosystem on earth. We know that this life breaks down nutrients in what is called the nutrient cycle but this, itself, can be only measured by what is produced from the soil and that brings us back to the first way soil health is tested. I told you that there was another way, so that must mean that soil has other cycles that we could use, right?

The Other Cycles In the Soil Ecosystem

The soil is part of the water cycle, nitrogen cycle and carbon cycle! All of these cycles were probably covered in your high school Earth Science class. But, today we are going to focus on the carbon cycle. I am sure while sitting in that class you thought, how will knowing how dinosaurs turned into coal and diamonds ever be so important that you would use this information in real life. I know I did!

Now, we are not going to need to discuss the geological carbon cycle that takes billions of years to complete but instead we are going to get into the biological/physical carbon cycle that is happening right now in your garden.

The biological/physical carbon cycle occurs over days, weeks, months, and years. It involves the absorption, conversion, and release of carbon by living organisms through photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition.

Photosynthesis is performed by plants, of course, and respiration is the living organism in your soil but decomposition is done by the organisms in your soil. Decomposition is another job that the organisms do and can only be measured by the organisms themselves! By testing decomposition a gardener tests the amount of and quality of life in their soil and I will tell you exactly how to do this in a few episodes!


I know it may seem that I took the long way around to get here. But, what I want you to see is that this is information you already know but that you probably never thought you would have to use. You can be an expert of your own garden soil! You can test your soil health and know exactly what to do. You, not me, will be the expert of your own soil! And to learn more about how you can be the expert of your soil then check out my book, Dirt: Finding the Solution to Building Soil Health.

Thank you for joining me and as always,

Don’t let the World hold you back, Pray, Just Plant!

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