It is normal in horticulture to return plant residues to cultivated areas where possible. Whether or not the plant remains are worked into the soil in which they have been grown depends upon their nature. The residue of some crops, such as tomatoes in the greenhouse, is removed to reduce disease carry over and because it cannot easily be incorporated into the soil. Other crops, such as hops, are removed for harvesting and some of the processed remains, spent hops, can be returned or used elsewhere. Wherever organic matter is removed, whether it is just the marketed part, such as top fruit from the orchard, or virtually the whole crop, such as cucumbers from a greenhouse, the nutrients removed must be replaced to maintain fertility (see also fertilizers).
Open, easily worked soils are created by the addition of large quantities of bulky organic matter. Clay soils are made easier to manage and their working range increased by the addition of organic matter. Stable, well-structured sands and silts are only possible under intensive cultivation if high humus levels are maintained by the addition of large quantities of bulky organic matter.
Bulky organic matter, such as compost, straw, farmyard manure and peat, is an important means of maintaining organic matter and humus levels. It also 'opens up' the soil, i.e. improves porosity. The main problem is finding cheap enough sources because their bulk makes transport and handling a major part of the cost. They can be evaluated on the basis of their effect on the physical properties of soil and their small, nutrient content.
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