Typically, soil contains microbes that are harmful to plant growth. Some of these harmful microorganisms are popularly known for causing pests and diseases.
As a result, it is essential to ensure you get rid of these microorganisms before planting. Currently, there is a broad spectrum of techniques you can use to kill soil microbes.
A look at seven ways to kill soil microbes.
- Chemical treatments
Farmers use chemical treatments to get rid of harmful microorganisms from the soil. More often than not, chemical treatments are more prevalent in commercial farms.
This is because this technique can work on a large surface area at the same time. When it comes to chemical treatments, you need to choose the right products. Otherwise, you may end up causing more harm to the soil.
Although chemical treatments are effective, they can pose a danger to the soil. This is because they contain toxic chemical ingredients that can hinder healthy plant growth.
Below are some of the downsides of using chemical treatments to kill soil microbes.
- Since chemical treatments contain toxic chemicals, they pose a danger to human health during application. Therefore, if you plan to use a chemical treatment, ensure you wear the right protective garments.
- When using chemical treatments, you cannot use the soil immediately. You have to give the soil some grace period to recover. This time usually allows all toxic chemicals to get out from the soil.
- Failure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions can lead to chemical residue in the soil. Subsequently, this can negatively affect healthy plant growth.
- Using chemical treatments for an extended period makes the soil resistant to the chemicals. In turn, the chemical treatment won’t be effective in the long run.
Did you know that solar can kill soil microbes? A good percentage of gardeners use solarization to destroy harmful microorganisms in the soil. Exposing the soil to high temperatures for an extended period can help you get rid of microbes.
All you have to do is place soil on a large plastic sheet. Then, expose it to the sun for long periods. Alternatively, pack the soil in plastic bags and ensure you tightly seal the plastic bags.
Afterward, place the plastic bags filled with soil out in the sun for a couple of days. The high temperatures from the sun will kill all harmful microbes. A major advantage of solarization is that beneficial microorganisms always find their way back into the soil within no time. Therefore, you need not worry about destroying beneficial microorganisms.
- Heating soil in the oven
The next technique used to kill soil microbes is heating soil in the oven. This technique is popular among residential farmers since you can only sterilize a limited amount of soil at the same time.
If you are using this technique, collect the soil you want to sterilize and pour it into a heat-resistant container. Then, preheat the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 15 minutes.
Afterward, place the soil in the oven and set a temperature of 18- degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the soil to bake for approximately 30 minutes. Leaving the soil at high temperatures helps you destroy all harmful pathogens and microorganisms in the soil.
Once 30 minutes are over, please switch off the oven and leave the soil to cool before using it again.
- Using a microwave to destroy soil microbes
Besides using an oven, you can also use a microwave to kill all harmful microorganisms in the soil. When using this method, collect your garden soil and place it in small plastic bags. Then, place the plastic bags in the microwave.
Note that the size of your microwave determines the number of plastic bags that fit in the microwave. Then, set the microwave at full heat and leave the soil to heat for 90 seconds. Turn off the microwave and leave the soil to cool before using it.
- Soil steaming
Another way to kill soil microbes is through steaming. Gardening experts report that steaming is the safest and most effective technique of removing microbes from the soil.
When steaming, you can choose to use either a pressure cooker or not. Fill a heat-resistant container with water. Place it on heat and cover it with a lid that has an opening to allow steam to escape.
Place soil over a rack and place it on top of the lid. Leave the soil to heat through the steam for a few minutes. Then, leave it to cool before you use the soil for planting.
- Using vinegar
So, you may have to keep on spraying vinegar until the entire weed dies completely. Another disadvantage of using vinegar is that it can affect healthy plants. Therefore, you have to spray it carefully.
When you spray vinegar on the soil, it kills harmful microorganisms. Vinegar also has the potential to kill beneficial microorganisms. So, it would be best to use other techniques of killing soil microbes.
- Starving soil microbes to death
Typically, soil microbes get nutrients from plants. This is what keeps them alive. Thus, denying microbes food can starve them to death. If you want to kill soil microbes, consider leaving your soil bare for an extended period.
Soil microbes mostly require carbohydrates. They get these carbohydrates from photosynthesis. When there are no plants, photosynthesis will not take place. In turn, the microbes will starve and eventually die.
Is killing soil microbes a bad idea?
Not all soil microbes are harmful to plants. In fact, some soil microbes are beneficial to plants. Beneficial organisms in the soil, like worms, improve the nutritional content of the soil.
So, gardeners should focus on destroying harmful soil microbes and preserving beneficial soil microbes. Remember, the living organisms in the soil are responsible for fostering healthy plant growth.
If your soil does not contain beneficial microorganisms, they are less likely to produce healthy fruits.
How to preserve good soil microbes
There are various techniques you can use to preserve beneficial soil microbes. They include:
Add compost to your garden
One way to protect beneficial microorganisms in your garden is to add compost. Compost comprises organic matter like kitchen waste, peat moss, and straw.
Every ingredient in compost is specifically meant to offer various nutrients to the plant. Typically, microorganisms require a lot of organic matter to thrive because their primary energy source is carbon.
Therefore, you have to ensure that your beneficial microorganisms in the soils obtain a consistent supply of organic matter. You can always create your homemade compost or purchase it from your local garden store. The option you choose depends on your requirements.
Plant different cover crops
Another way to preserve the life of beneficial microorganisms is to plant cover crops. Cover crops are well known to improve the quality of the soil. They break down into the soil to promote a healthy soil life.
When you plant cover crops, beneficial microorganisms will find a primary source for their nutrients. Luckily, there is a broad spectrum of cover crops you can use in your garden.
Keep your soil well-watered
If you want to preserve beneficial microorganisms, you have to keep your soil moist. Always water the soil whenever it’s dry.
Determining whether your soil needs watering requires you to insert one to two fingers into the top layer of the soil. Then, check to see whether the soil is damp or dry. If the soil is dry, water it.
Although you should constantly water the soil, ensure it does not get soggy. Soggy soils can destroy beneficial microorganisms and encourage the growth of harmful fungi and bacteria.
Avoid physical disturbances
Tampering with the soil too much can also lead to the destruction of healthy soil microbes. So, avoid tilling the soil frequently as this disturbs soil life. Also, do your best to reduce foot traffic in your garden soil. When you constantly step on the soil, you may destroy the beneficial microorganisms living in the soil.
Mulch your beds
Mulching is one of the best ways to preserve beneficial microorganisms. Some of the organic matter best used for mulching include grass clippings and leaves. Mulching helps in improving moisture retention in the soil.
Also, it improves soil aeration. This helps the beneficial microorganisms to move freely underneath the soil. Mulch also tends to break down to release organic matter into the soil. This way, soil microbes receive the necessary nutrients they need to thrive.
Another way to protect the life of beneficial microorganisms in the soil is by avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. These products often contain toxic chemicals that pose a danger to soil life.
These toxic chemicals are also responsible for causing soil pollution and water pollution. Gardening experts always advise choosing organic fertilizers and pesticides. They are much safer since they contain 100% natural ingredients.
The soil contains various microorganisms that may either be detrimental or beneficial to plants. Harmful soil microorganisms can lead to pests and diseases. Therefore, gardeners need to devise a way of getting rid of them.
On the other hand, gardeners should look for ways to preserve the life of beneficial microorganisms.
Some of the ways you can use to destroy harmful soil microorganisms include chemical treatments and heat treatments. However, when using these methods, you have to be careful not to destroy the beneficial organisms.