In "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible," Edward C. Smith quotes folk wisdom: "A poor gardener grows weeds, a good gardener grows vegetables, and a very good gardener grows soil." He explains that improving garden soil is an investment, and that soil is more than dirt. It is nutrients, organic matter and living creatures including worms, beetles, bacteria and fungi. Plants need a range of nutrients from rich soil with a continuous supply of organic matter to grow well.
Organic matter in the soil supports microorganisms, worms, bugs and other creatures that live in and under the soil. The best organic matter is compost, also called garden gold or black gold. Compost consists of certain decomposed and decomposing materials. Items used to make compost include farm animal manures, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable peels and rinds, dead flowers and leaves, hay and straw, and lawn and hedge clippings. Organic matter needs time to decompose. When it is complete, it is a rich, black material ready to add to garden soil.
Mulch is chopped or shredded matter put on top of the soil keeping sun off and retaining moisture in the surface of the soil. At the end of the growing season, mulch tilled into the soil to break down in the winter improves the organic matter content and builds up the soil. Materials used for mulch include chopped straw or hay, shredded leaves, twigs, bark and tree matter, and shredded newspaper or cardboard.
Nutrients and Minerals
Soil testing reveals levels of acidity, alkalinity and nutrients in your garden soil. Limestone and wood ash improve acidic soils, increasing the alkalinity. Sulfur and sulfate improve alkaline soils by increasing the acidity. Increase low nitrogen for healthy leaf growth by adding blood meal or fish emulsion, or a garden fertilizer with a high nitrogen content. Other nutrients and minerals plants need include phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, boron and chlorine.
Green manure is the planting a fast-growing cover crop and then plowing or tilling it into the soil. Crops, such as clover, vetch, cowpeas, soybeans and alfalfa, are planted in early spring or early fall to add organic matter and nutrients like nitrogen. Green manure fertilizes and builds up the soil, adding bulk and releasing necessary plant nutrients. Green manure crops are also used as living mulch, interplanted with an annual or perennial crop.
- "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible"; Edward C. Smith; 2009
- "Composting for Dummies"; Cathy Cromwell and The National Gardening Association; 2010
- "Organic Gardener's Composting"; Steve Solomon; 2010
- "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web"; Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis; 2010
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
How to Fix a House Foundation
Your home’s foundation is the important structural base that supports the rest of the house. Whether it’s a full basement or just...
What Does Adding Lime to Soil Do to a Vegetable Garden?
Agricultural lime, also known as ground limestone, is a compound of calcium or calcium and magnesium. The main purpose of lime is...
What Garden Plants Put Nitrogen Back Into the Soil?
Certain trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables and crops are nitrogen-fixing plants, which return nitrogen to the soil.
How Do I Add Iron to My Garden Soil?
Plants rely on iron for the most basic aspects of photosynthesis. Without this essential nutrient, plants can't create chlorophyll and in turn,...
Can I Use Bleach in My Backyard Pond?
It might be tempting to pour some household bleach into your backyard pond to clean it up, but unless the pond is...