How to build good soil
Good soil is the foundation of your garden. A healthy garden soil contains roughly equal parts of sand, silt and clay particles, resulting in a loamy soil rich in nutrients, oxygen and organic materials. Good soil allows excess water to drain while still retaining enough moisture for your plant uptake and use.
The addition of compost and amendments to your soil helps to create the good soil you need to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and shrubs. Whether you’re just starting a garden or are in need of revitalizing your existing soil, building good garden soil requires an initial investment of time and labor.
Determine your soil type
Wet a small portion of your garden soil and scoop up a handful. Squeeze the soil with your fingers. If the soil feels course and holds together in a «ribbon» shape, it’s likely to be mostly clay particles. Pick the ribbon of soil up between your fingers of your other hand. If it holds its shape, you have clay soil.
If the ribbon crumbles after you release the pressure you may have sandy soil. Rub some of the soil between your fingers. If it feels rough, it is likely to be sandy soil. If the soil feels smooth, like mud, it is silty soil.
To amend clay soil, add a sand and gypsum mix to your soil. The mix should also include compost. To amend sandy soil, select a mix high in manures and compost. For silty soil, you’ll need a mix of sand and clay along with compost.
Water the garden area the night before you intend to add your amendments. Early in the morning, use a shovel and turn the soil, digging down approximately 4 to 6 inches.
Spread the amendment onto the turned soil and allow the soil to rest. The following morning, turn the amendment into the soil using a shovel. Smooth the surface with a rake and lightly spray with water.
Wait five to seven days and repeat the procedure. The first layer of amendments aids in changing the composition of your soil. The second addition makes the soil more workable throughout the season.
Add a layer of compost to the soil. Lay the compost onto the surface of the soil and dig the compost into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil. The compost adds nutrients and organic material to the soil.
Fertilize and mulch
Add your plants to your garden according to your garden plan. Add organic fertilizer to the soil to meet each plant’s specific needs. Avoid using a broadcast, generic synthetic fertilizer as these tend to neutralize the naturally occurring nutrients you’ve added to the soil when you added compost. Instead use plant specific formulated fertilizers and apply it only to each plant’s immediate plant area.
Spread a layer of organic mulch on the soil surface around your plants. The mulch helps keep the soil moist, thus reducing water usage. It also helps to reduce pest invasions and as it breaks down, adds nutrients to the top layer of soil.
Build or obtain a composter so you can make your own compost from yard waste and kitchen scraps. As your compost becomes available, spread it across the top of the soil, digging it in only 1 to 2 inches into the soil. Cover the newly added compost with mulch.
At the end of the growing season, remove plant debris and chop it up. Spread it across the soil surface and cover with a winterizing mulch such as wood chips or pine needles.
At the beginning of the new growing season, turn the plant debris and wood chips into the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. Apply a fresh layer of compost, add your plants and cover the surface with mulch.
Continually layering compost and mulch creates a healthy top soil, which in turn attracts microbial life forms to live in the soil beneath.These layers of soil, then, are undisturbed and continue to produce nutrients for plant uptake. The top layersof soil feed into the lower layers, creating a foundation of good, healthy soil for your plants.