December 17, 2017

Soil Amendments to Improve Garden Growth

There were a couple comments about poor soil types in the forum and I listed a couple things that could be done to improve soil types.  I thought I would give a few more ideas here for everyone to see.  I don’t personally like using fertilizers in most situations so with these tips you can improve most soil types naturally.

I am by no means a master gardener, but I have picked up a few things over the years.  I wrote an article last spring called Principles of Gardening.  In that article I covered some of the basics of gardening that I’ll not touch on here.


Raised Beds

If you have truly awful soil, you can build raised beds and bring in soil.  By managing the soil in the raised bed, you will, over time, improve the soil below the bed.  I like raised beds for many reasons.  You can read more about it in a review I did of Mel Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening.


Organic Matter

Whether you have too much clay or too much sand in your soil, you can improve it by adding organic matter.  There are a few ways to do this that I’ll list below.



The following is from the article I wrote on Principles of Gardening.

Composting is more than just throwing out kitchen scraps, but that is part of it. Making your own compost and adding it to your beds is a great way to amend the soil and get rid of kitchen scraps as well as leaves and grass clippings. Here is a site with a huge amount of Information on composting. One of the mistakes I made was buying one large bin and continually adding to it. I have heard Jack Spirko from the Survival Podcast say, “That is like adding more cake mix, when the cake is already half baked in the oven.” He recommends using three small compost bins and cycling them, so you fill one, leave it alone and start filling the second and so on.

There are often community compost sites.  Many times you must pay to deposit leaves, grass or other compostable materials.  However, you can, in many cases, take composted material for free.  You just have to shovel it yourself.  These sites may use chemicals to speed the process of composting, so if you want to remain natural, you should check with the facility.

Manure can be a great source of nutrients to add to your compost.  I was able to find plenty for free on Craig’s list.



Mulching is taking organic matter and placing it over the soil.  This will do multiple things; it will bring in other nutrients, it will keep the soil moist and it will prevent evaporation among other things.  You can use many things for mulching: leaves, grass clippings, shredded newspaper and even wood chips.  Carmen commented in the Principles of Gardening about a video done by a Christian called Back To Eden.  It’s about a man who says God showed him how to use wood chips for mulch.  If you leave them on the topsoil this will work great, but do not mix them in with the soil.

Cover Crops

Here is a great article called Cover Crop Basics, written by Organic Gardening, a great publication that we have received for some time.  The article is well worth reading, so I will just touch on the highlights.

Cover crops can help bring organic material to your soil.  They are also a great way to stop erosion.  The process is fairly straight forward.  You plant a crop, give it minimal care and then either chop the top off, letting the plant regrow to chop the top off again later (this process is often called “chop and drop”) or you kill the cover crop completely.  In either case the organic material is left to return its nutrients back to the soil.

There are many types of things you can use as cover crops; ryegrass, barely, buckwheat and legumes, to name a few.  The benefit of using legumes is that they bring nitrogen into the soil, which is often deficient in poor soil types.   You can also use a mix of ryegrass and legumes, to get the benefit of both.


Final Thoughts

These methods will fix a lot of problems with your soil, such as; adding nutrients, stopping erosion and adding organic matter.  While these things can be used to improve poor soil quality, you can keep doing them to keep improving the quality.


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