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5 Easy Ways to Build Healthy Garden Soil

image of soil

When we moved on our property the garden area was full of clay soil and we couldn’t find any earthworms. Each year I find less and less clay as I’m gardening and more and more earthworms. Each year we spend time and a bit of money building healthy garden soil that is loose, yet holds some water (unlike sandy soil).

Here’s the thing though, good soil doesn’t just happen. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Healthy garden soil is something that takes time and effort.

Even if you truck in topsoil and use raised beds, you still have to think about keeping your garden soil healthy as overtime your plants will deplete the soil of it’s nutrients.

Building healthy garden soil isn’t complicated, although some people have made is sound super complicated, you just need to  be intentional.

image of compost for healthy garden soil

Five steps to building healthy garden soil 

1. Accept that what you have right now is fine to start with. Even if you have clay soil or sandy soil, something will probably grow. Know that it will take a few seasons to get your soil how you want it and just be okay with that. That will eliminate a lot of gardening frustration.

Many times our frustrations are simply because we had unrealistic expectations. So, expect that the harvest from your first couple of seasons might not be super great, but if you wait until you have the perfect garden soil, you’ll never start gardening.

2. Bring in some compost. No matter what kind of soil problems you have, good compost can probably fix it. You can buy compost by the bag at your local nursery. We’ve gotten ours from a local mushroom farm in the past.

You can also build a compost area (we just used pallets) and start collecting leaves from the neighborhood and used coffee grounds from Starbucks.

If you have chickens or other livestock you can use their bedding in your compost. You can also put in any kitchen scraps except meat or fat. Then next year, you’ll have your own compost to use.

The only I would change is that I do put citrus peels in my compost. I use what I can to dehydrate, make extract or cleanser but the extra we put in the compost. I’ve found that they decompose just fine when I add a couple of bags of used coffee grounds on top of them.

If you’re not sure what you can put in your compost, we have a composting graphic in our subscriber library. Just fill out the form below and it will be emailed to you.

image of purple podded beans

3. Rotate your crops. Rotating crops is not only good for the plants, it’s also good for the soil. Some plants like beans add nitrogen to the soil and other crops like corn use lots of nitrogen from the soil. Here’s a great post from Better Hens and Gardens about crop rotation – there’s even a printable graphic. 

image of growing buckwheat as a cover crop for healthy garden soil

4. Use cover crops or green manure. The idea here is that you don’t let your soil just do nothing, you give it a job. So when it’s not growing your normal garden produce, you plant something like rye grass to add nutrients to it. This is something I need to get better at. We garden year round but there are still some beds that don’t get used in the fall/winter and could use a cover crop. We’ve been experimenting with using buckwheat as a covercrop. So far I’m really impressed.

5. Get worms. Worms are amazing for your soil. They tunnel and eat and poop. And that’s all good for the garden. You can raise worms in a little worm farm – this is called vermicomposting. You can build your own with several buckets or buy a complete worm farm. You can also purchase worm castings (poop) if you don’t want to raise worms.

Art of Gardening ebook

The Art of Gardening is one of the most beautiful ebooks I’ve ever seen and it has some really great information on gardening and building your gardening soil. Soil is truly the foundation of your garden, if you want to grow food without having to spend a lot of time or money on fertilizers and pest controllers then build healthy garden soil.

image of garden soil

What are your tips for building healthy soil? 

Thanks for sharing with your friends!


Tuesday 17th of August 2021

Thanks for sharing ways to keep healthy soils! This will help me a lot because I recently started gardening and had no idea how can I keep my soil healthy.

Angi Schneider

Saturday 21st of August 2021

You're welcome!


Thursday 27th of June 2019

I use egg shells, fruit an produce in my compost. It’s oppose to smell like lasagna.. the results are high tomatoes an other bigger things, like my pumpkins are high. Flowers are richer. Have tried the chicken poops also, which is rich. Will try the buckwheat also

Ryan Scott

Thursday 25th of August 2016

Thanks for this post. It is really a great resource.


Tuesday 9th of September 2014

Thanks for the encouragement to be patient... Year two of trying to get sandy soil to produce something edible... :p

Angi Schneider

Tuesday 9th of September 2014

Just keep working on it, it'll come. Now's the time to start collecting leaves off the neighbor's curbs and coffee grounds from Starbucks. You can make a lot of compost with just those two things.

Lon Samuels

Wednesday 30th of April 2014

Good choice, buckwheat is a great cover crop or green manure for the summer season. It's very easy to grow and honeybees love the small white flowers. Buckwheat is a "soft" plant with hollow stems and fine-textured roots, so it decomposes quickly when turned into the soil. For planting other crops after the green manure, buckwheat can be a lot easier to deal with than some of the more aggressive or "heavy" cover crops. For Yanic's no-till permie approach - I like no-till too - you can pull the plants and compost them, or pull or chop the plants down and leave them as a surface mulch to decompose. Have fun and garden on...

Angi Schneider

Wednesday 30th of April 2014

Thanks for weighing in Lon. I was very intrigued by Yanic's comments that I'm experimenting with buckwheat this year. I'm excited about the possibilities and I know our bees will love it which is an added bonus.