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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are your tips for building healthy soil?