A great garden begins with great soil. Sure, plants need water and sunlight to grow, but the soil is where it receives vital nutrients to thrive. Some gardeners are lucky and live in an area that has naturally good soil. Others, like me, have to work the soil to get it the right consistency. The good news is that it’s not hard to do and can be done within a season. Trust me, if I can turn my Georgia red clay into beautiful, nutrient-rich soil, anyone can do this.
Compost is a valuable organic soil food. Whether you make your own or buy it bagged, it’s an easy way to add nutrients to your soil. Making compost takes some time, but it doesn’t have to be difficult, nor do you need to purchase a special compost tumbler. An easy way is the “trench” method. Simply put, you dig a trench approximately 12 inches deep. Add roughly 4 to 6 inches of compostable materials (such as kitchen scraps, spent garden plants, prunings, thinnings and weeds), and bury it with the soil you dug out of the trench. Let it sit for about six weeks (or a season) so it can break down. Then plant on top of it. There’s no pile to turn over or compost to haul.
Poop is good for the soil, but not all poop is created equal. Some gardeners have their favorite animal feces they swear by, but it’s usually horse, sheep or cow. If you live around anyone who keeps horses, they will be more than willing to give it to you for free. Nonetheless, it needs to be aged/composted manure and not fresh. You can add it to your garden fresh, but it needs to sit at least six months before you can plant anything on it. Add fresh manure to your garden bed in late summer or early fall, then by spring it should be ready to go.
Have you ever dug up the soil under a deciduous tree in the woods? The soil is lovely — deep, rich and the perfect texture. That rich soil is the result of leaves decomposing right there on the ground, season after season. You can replicate this in your home garden. In autumn, rake up leaves, and lay them directly on your garden beds. Let them sit over the fall and winter, and by spring, they should be broken down enough to till in. You can also use leaves as a mulch layer to help suppress weeds and help keep the soil moist and warm.
If you are collecting and tossing your grass clippings after mowing, stop! Grass clippings are a great soil amendment. Like the fresh manure, grass clippings need to be aged before you add them to your garden bed. Simply make a pile of fresh clippings in one corner of the garden, and let it break down down for few weeks to a year. Once it’s aged, add it to your garden bed. Alternatively you can pile the clippings on a dormant bed and let it sit for a season. When you are ready to use that bed, till it in.
Green manures can transform soil in a short amount of time. Large-scale farmers use cover crops after harvesting to add nutrients back into the soil. Cover cropping is as simple as planting a spent garden bed, letting the plants grow and then tilling it in a couple of weeks before you plant the next crop. Some popular green manures are buckwheat, rye and red clover.
More: 5 benefits of composting