A good garden soil is one that is loose enough to allow roots to expand easily,
well drained to prevent roots from rotting, and high enough in organic matter that it is
able to store moisture and nutrients for the plant. This type of soil very rarely
exists around peoples homes. There are basically 5 types of soils :
Clay soils : Soils that are dense heavy and hard to work often contain
to many clay particles. The soil when wet is very sticky and can be rolled into a
ball very easily. Clay soil particles are so dense they do not allow room for much air.
Very few plants will tolerate a heavy clay soil.
Sandy soils: This soil is easily identified and has just the opposite
characteristics of clay. It will not stick together and will not hold moisture or
Silt soils: This soil type is somewhere in between clay and sandy and
provides a very good starting point for good garden soil.
Peat soils: Peat forms from wet, acidic conditions where organic matter
did not fully decompose. They are rich in organic matter but are often to acidic for
most plants. With a little work this type of soil can be very productive and
Saline soils: This type of soil is found in arid climates and tend to be
very alkaline and infertile.
** The most accurate way to find out what type of soil you have and to find out
the pH of the soil is to have it tested. Your local
county extension office can do this for you for a small fee.
Improving your soil:
Building a proper garden soil is not rocket science. While you can read
mind numbing scientific details on soil structures it really comes down to some simple
steps that you will repeat over and over each time you plant a new garden. The key
ingredient to any soil will be loads of organic matters such as compost, sphagnum
peat moss, rotted manures and if drainage is a problem some sand. Use a shovel and
turning fork to work in the amendments to depth of at least 8 inches - preferably 10 - 12
inches. If your soil is to acidic work in some hydrated lime. If your soil is
alkaline work in some sulfur. (pH levels are where your county extension agent can be of great help) . Now is
also a good time to work in organic fertilizers such as bone meal and blood meal.
Organic products help build the soil which will be more beneficial to proper plant
growth in the long run that a "quick fix" chemical based fertilizer. Tip
>> never work your soil when the ground is wet, you can actually do more damage than
good. The soil will form big clumps and compact so tightly that when it dries it will be
one big mess.
Organically managing soils:
Conventional water soluble fertilizers work by making the chemical
nutrients directly available to the plant itself. The organic method on the other
hand works as nature intended. Organic fertilizers basically feed the soil (or the
millions of microbes that live there) which then make the nutrients available to the
plant. Believe it or not a single teaspoon of garden soil contains more
microorganisms than there are people living on the planet. These tiny organisms
break down compost, manures, and other organic materials that are added to the soil and
provide a steady supply of nutrients for the plants roots to absorb. Soils that are
built using organic methods tend to produce much healthier plants that can withstand
disease and pest problems. To learn more about organic gardening see our Introduction to Organic Gardening page .