Challenge #32 ~ Healthy Soils

Read the blog post on the October Theme – GARDENING

Photo Courtesy: Katrin Scholz-Barth

Soils are incredible storytellers. Taking a handful of soil gives a whole chronicle of a place – about its origins, structure, consistency, water-holding capacity, nutrient level, health, and suitability to grow something in it.  

Healthy soils are the very foundation for happy healthy gardens and farms, to feed flowers and food a nutritious soil diet. And yet, soils are often referred to as ‘dirt.’ How can anyone want to eat fruits or vegetables grown in dirt? Learning the basics of soil structure, and how to create our own healthy soils here in Qatar to increase plant health and crop yield will also make us fearless gardeners for climate action. It  will have a profound impact on sustainable development and a more resilient Qatar on many levels. 

Fearless Gardening for climate action – Producing healthy soils from homemade compost and natural soil amendments to grow a green oasis from scratch.

Who has such a vision? Or determination? We do, and here is why soils play such an important role!

Soil is a living miracle. Did you know that a handful of soil contains more organisms than there are people on earth? Soils, right under our feet, are an integral part of the carbon cycle. Organic matter in soil is nothing less than stored carbon below ground in the form of decomposing plant (flora) and animal (fauna) tissue. And there is great potential to make much better use of soils, especially urban soils.

Healthy soils contain lots of organic matter that acts like a sponge to draw carbon from the atmosphere. Healthy soils are full of living microorganisms that create channels for airflow to keep soils aerated and full of oxygen, which microorganisms need to further break down plant and animal residues. The channel openings come in handy to hold and store water in the soil pores. The increased water holding capacity of the soil’s root zone allows plants to keep ‘drinking’ even when the soil surface appears to be hard and dry. This is important because it means we can reduce irrigation, saving precious water in the desert. 

Examples of organic matter in soil include plant residues such as grass clippings, leaves, straw, fruit and vegetable peels, manure, and wood chips. Accumulated organic matter creates healthy soil structures for plants to take root and also stores carbon in the soil for the long term. 

Additional natural amendments to produce healthy soils with a little effort are coffee grounds and tea bags, shredded newspaper and cardboard and horse and camel manure – materials that, in fact, are either household waste and/or are freely available in abundance! So instead of putting these items into the garbage bin, consider feeding them to our gardens or compost bin and by doing so help draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere! 

Going hand in hand with applying soil amendments are new gardening practices. Nature works wonders and soils are best left to the microbes for turning. This helps to keep soil structure undisturbed and carbon stored. Plowing and working soils disturbs soil structure and releases carbon. Most importantly, a dense soil cover comprising of either perennial landscapes or richly organic mulch compost helps to keep soils protected and undisturbed. 

Soils have real superpowers! Let’s feed our soils some free organic matter for fearless gardening in the desert and to take up carbon and unlock the potential for mitigating and adapting to a changing climate, supporting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) #11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, #13 Climate Action, and #15 Life on Land

Get started with these tips:

  • Convert discarded material into valuable soil amendments for healthy soils. 
    • Compost your kitchen scraps: Take all your uncooked vegetable and fruit peelings and place in a composting bin. There are ready-made composters or alternatively, you can build your own two-chamber composter from packing pallets or shipping crates. Good compost is a mix of green waste (kitchen scraps or grass clippings), carbon (dried leaves, newspaper and cardboard) and water. Keep compost moist and covered to accelerate the decomposition process. Turn and apply on top of the garden soil or lightly mix under. Avoid putting any cooked food with fats and oils (meats, cheeses, bones, or salad dressing) and avocado peels into the compost bin. 
    • Shredded newspaper and cardboard: Take old newspapers and cardboard boxes and rip them into small strips and pieces; remove packaging and plastic tape; make it a family activity. Apply pieces around plants, along borders, or dig under. Add water to allow paper to start decompose back into its original cellulose fibers to amend the soils and increase water retention capacity. 
    • Animal Manure: Visit a local animal farm and ask for the ‘good stuff’ – pure animal manure. Mix into your soils for added organic matter to increase water retention capacity. 
    • Coffee Grounds: Ask your office personal and/or your favorite coffee shop to collect coffee grounds for you. Collect daily and apply coffee grounds to your soils and compost bin. The acidic coffee grounds help neutralize the alkaline local soils here in Qatar, attract earthworms, and act as a natural pest control to fend off pests and unwanted critters. 
    • Choose materials that are freely available in Qatar, often waste products such as manure, garden clippings, coconut fiber, which we usually do not associate with high value, have invaluable benefits for  climate action ! Get creative and think about where to find and collect these materials to add to our gardens. 
    • Avoid imported materials that destroy natural habitat, i.e. Peat moss and have a large carbon footprint because they have been shipped here.
  • IMPORTANT – Instruct gardeners, helpers and neighbors to work with us! 
    • Instruct gardeners, helpers and neighbors to keep paper, leaf mulch, manure and coffee grounds in place to help produce healthy soils. Plants will be grateful for the added organic matter, quickly take root and form a dense groundcover that protects soils, suppress weeds, and draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 
    • Do not dig or till the soils to keep soil structure intact and undisturbed. Enjoy your free time and watch your garden grow and flourish.
Coffee grounds as soil amendments

Yes, you, too, can make a difference in the world, one person at a time.

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