My first experience with soil amendments was when my first garden completely failed. I had ordered soil from a local company that specialized in garden soil. They brought a lot of soil and dumped it in the driveway of our tiny house in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
My husband and I added the soil to the newly constructed raised beds and then I did what any gardener does, I planted. It was summertime and I was so ready to try this garden thing out. The transplants I added to the two garden beds were beautiful, all from a local nursery.
Within a month, every plant had barely grown and was turning yellow with no fruit being produced. What had I done wrong? I was ready to quit this awful experience.
I called the soil company and told them about my garden. They said, “Oh we forgot to put some nutrients in that soil.” They came over and threw stuff in the garden and raised beds. I threw seeds for fall in and watered. Then something miraculous happened. That garden grew green, beautiful, and was extremely productive.
In this article I’m going to share how to know soil conditioner how to prepare garden soil for next growing season for great success.
Soil vs. Dirt
Let’s start with the basics. The first concept to understand before even starting to prepare your soil for your next garden season is to know the difference between soil and dirt.
What is Soil Made of?
Soil is defined as a complex mixture of mineral particles, organic matter, water, air, and beneficial soil organisms. It is the foundation for growing productive and healthy plants. Soil is home to a diverse community of microorganisms that play a crucial role in decomposing organic matter and releasing nutrients for plants to absorb.
What is Dirt Made of?
On the other hand, dirt is simply a collection of mineral particles without any organic matter or living organisms. Dirt lacks essential plant nutrients, and microorganisms, making it unsuitable for growing plants. It is often compact and lacks air spaces, which can suffocate plant roots and inhibit their growth with soil compaction. Dirt or heavy clay soil also has poor water-holding capacity, which can lead to waterlogging and root rot.
The differences between soil and dirt can be seen in their texture, nutrient content, and the presence of organic matter. Soil has a loose texture that allows for air and water flow, while dirt is often compacted and heavy. Soil contains a wide range of macro and micronutrients with beneficial soil organisms that are essential for healthy plant growth, while dirt lacks these nutrients. Soil is rich in organic matter, which provides a food source for microorganisms and helps to improve soil structure, while dirt lacks organic matter.
Soil and dirt are two very different things when it comes to growing a vegetable garden. Soil provides the necessary nutrients, water, and air for plants to grow and thrive, while dirt lacks these essential components. Understanding the differences between soil and dirt can help gardeners choose the right soil for their vegetables, resulting in healthier, more productive plants.
Soil Types in Your Backyard
One of the most important aspects of gardening is having good, nutrient-soil for raised beds. There are five primary types of soil: sandy, clay, loamy, silty, and peaty. Soils have a combination of these types.
Sandy soil has large particles, drains quickly, and sandy soils doesn’t retain water well.
Clay soil, on the other hand, has small soil particles and, retains water well, but doesn’t drain very well.
Loamy soil is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay, making it ideal for growing most types of plants.
Silty soil is comprised of fine, powdery soil particles and is prone to becoming waterlogged.
Peaty soil contains high levels of organic matter, which can make it acidic and nutrient-rich but also makes it more susceptible to drying out.
Figuring Out Your Soil
To determine the type of soil you have in your yard, you can perform a simple, soil surface or soil texture, test. Take a handful of soil and add enough water to form a ball. If the ball crumbles easily, you likely have sandy soil. If the ball holds its shape and feels sticky, you have clay soil. If the ball holds its shape but breaks apart easily, you have loamy, soil texture. If it feels smooth and doesn’t hold its shape, you have silty soil. If it feels spongy and dark, you have peaty soil. You want to build up poor soil.
Soil test kits are available in most garden centers or you can get my favorite soil test HERE. This Soil Kit uses a little bit of soil from all over your garden, you send it in using a paid envelope, and then get the results within a week in your email box. With the results, there will be suggestions of what to add to your garden to create a balanced growing space with the right soil ph level for your next season of growing. I usually do this once a year at the end of summer for good garden soil.
While each type of soil ph has its benefits and drawbacks, you can improve the quality of your soil through composting, mulching, fertilizing, and other effective techniques. These three techniques will be shared below.
A healthy soil foundation is an essential ingredient for a successful home garden. Soil Amendments can help to create healthy garden soil.
What Happens to Soil in Your Backyard Garden?
A few years ago, I planted lettuce seeds into a new raised garden bed. That lettuce grew so abundantly that I couldn’t keep up with eating all the greens that it produced. The next cooler season, I went ahead and planted out lettuce seeds again without adding nutrients or soil amendments into the soil expecting to get the same results as the season before.
To my sadness, every time a lettuce would sprout, a bug would eat it and I didn’t get ANY lettuce that season. The soil was out of balance and the plants could not protect themselves with missing nutrients.
That was a hard and important lesson to learn. I needed to frontload each season with soil amendments and nutrients into the soil for my garden to actually grow. Those plants need the support to fight off bad insects, survive, and thrive to a producing garden.
I can’t stress enough the importance of adding soil amendments, mulch, compost, and fertilizers to your backyard vegetable garden before growing for the next season. By doing so, you’ll improve soil quality, keep moisture retention increase nutrient availability, and enhance plant growth and yield.
It’s important to consider your specific region’s climate and the type of vegetables you’re growing when adding soil amendments, mulch, compost, and fertilizers to your garden.
Planning and preparing are keys to maximizing your garden’s yield, quality, and health. By adding soil amendments, mulching, composting, and fertilizing your garden soil, you’ll set up your plants for success.
How to Get to Know Your Soil
Getting to know your soil while you grow veggies and fruits each season is a great skill in observation. Once you see what soil looks like and how it feels when it is rich in nutrients will help you to know when and what to add during the growing season and afterwards.
When I go out to my garden and notice specific bugs that are attacking different plants, I know that I’m needing to add more compost to give nitrogen and nutrients to the soil to protect. I also add organic fertilizer in the hottest times of the summer to give more nutrients to the plants as the plants survive the heat.
Organic vs. Inorganic Amendments
Organic and inorganic amendments are two types of soil amendments that you can use in your backyard vegetable garden. Organic are common soil amendments that are derived from plant or animal matter, while inorganic amendments are made from synthetic materials.
Organic soil amendments, such as compost, manure, and leaf mold, improve soil structure and fertility by adding nutrients and organic matter to the existing soil below. They also improve soil aeration and water-holding capacity, which can help plants grow better and resist disease. Organic soil amendments take time to break down and release their nutrients, making them a slower acting but longer-lasting option.
Inorganic soil amendments, such as perlite, vermiculite, and sand, improve soil structure by changing its texture. They don’t provide any nutrients or organic matter to the soil. Inorganic amendments are often used to create better drainage in heavy clay soils or improve water retention in sandy or clay soils only. They have a faster acting but shorter-lasting effect on the soil.
When choosing between organic and inorganic amendments, consider your garden’s specific needs. If you’re looking to improve soil fertility or add organic matter, organic amendments like a composted manure may be the best choice. If you’re looking to improve soil structure or drainage, inorganic amendments like sand may be more appropriate.
Another factor to consider is the long-term impact on the environment. Organic amendments are more environmentally friendly since they come from natural sources and won’t contribute to chemical contamination of the existing soil below. Inorganic amendments, on the other hand, are often made from synthetic materials that can potentially pollute the environment if not used properly.
Organic Compost to Improve Soil Structure
What makes up Mulching?
Mulching with organic materials to loosen soil like leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, or straw helps to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.
Mulch is used to retain soil moisture already in the soil and prevent weed growth. Organic mulches, such as straw, wood chips, or leaves, also break down over time, adding organic matter to the soil and improving its fertility. Mulch should be applied around plants and between rows, about two to three inches deep. Be sure to keep the mulch away from the plant stems, as it can lead to rot.
What type of fertilizer?
Fertilizing with natural, slow-release fertilizers like bone meal or fish emulsion can help to retain moisture provide essential nutrients to plants without damaging the native soil itself.
Fertilizers provide essential nutrients to vegetables that may be lacking in the soil. There are two types: organic and synthetic. Synthetic fertilizers provide a quick release of nutrients but have a risk of over-fertilizing the soil. Organic fertilizers are derived from plant or animal sources and are slow-release. They’re less likely to burn plants and don’t leach into groundwater.
Before applying fertilizers, it’s critical to test soil fertility levels to determine which nutrients are needed. Follow the application instructions carefully, and don’t over-fertilize your plants.
What makes up compost?
Composting creates nutrient-rich organic matter that can be added to soil to improve its structure and fertility. Shredded leaves, bark, grass clippings, smaller wood chips
Compost is a nutrient-rich mixture of decomposed organic matter that improves soil structure and fertility. Composting kitchen scraps, yard, grass clippings, wood chips, and garden waste together, and other organic material results in a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can be added to your garden soil. Apply compost by spreading it on top of the soil before planting or mixing it into the soil.
Buying Organic Compost
If you don’t have the space or time to make your own compost than buying good organic compost is the next best option in creating a healthy and productive vegetable garden. If you want to make your own compost, then check out this blog post. Organic compost provides a wide range of nutrients and improves soil structure, which can help plants grow better, resist disease, and increase yield. Here are some helpful tips on how to buy good organic compost:
Look for certifications: Choose compost that has been certified by a reputable organization such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). This ensures that the compost meets specific standards for quality and safety.
Check the ingredients: Good organic compost should be made from a variety of organic materials, such as food waste, yard waste, or manure. Avoid compost that contains synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. This could lead to contamination of your vegetables with harmful toxins.
Consider the source: The source of the compost is important to consider. For example, if the compost comes from an industrial area, it may contain heavy metals or other pollutants. Make sure the source of the compost is clean and free from contaminants.
Evaluate texture: Good organic compost should have a crumbly, dark texture. Avoid compost that is too moist, clumpy, or has a strong odor. These signs could indicate an imbalanced compost pile or poor-quality materials.
By purchasing high-quality organic compost as a soil amendment for your vegetable garden, you can ensure that your soil is healthy, nutrient-rich, and well-draining. This top soil organic matter will provide a solid foundation for your plants to grow strong and resilient, leading to healthy plants and bountiful harvests.
One important thing to know about your garden soils is the role that nitrogen plays. Nitrogen is a critical soil amendment that plants need for their growth and development. However, it’s also one of the most mobile nutrients in the soil. This means that nitrogen is easily lost from the soil through leaching, volatilization, or denitrification.
Leaching occurs when excess water moves through the soil, taking nitrogen with it. This can happen in areas with heavy rainfall or over-irrigated gardens.
Volatilization occurs when nitrogen in the form of ammonia gas is released into the air. This can happen when fertilizers are applied on hot, dry days.
Denitrification occurs when bacteria in the soil convert nitrogen into a gas that escapes into the atmosphere. This can happen in soils that are waterlogged or poorly drained.
The importance of adding nitrogen before each gardening season is to replenish the soil’s nitrogen levels. By doing so, you can ensure that your plants have enough of this essential nutrient to grow strong and healthy. You can add nitrogen to your garden soil by using organic or synthetic fertilizers, a compost pile, or cover crops.
Organic fertilizers used as soil amendments, such as blood meal, feather meal, or fish emulsion, provide a slow but steady release of nitrogen to the soil. They also help improve soil structure and fertility over time. Synthetic fertilizers, such as ammonium nitrate or urea, provide a quick release of nitrogen to the soil.
Compost and cover crops are additional methods to add nitrogen as soil amendments. Composting yard waste, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials creates a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can be added to your garden soil. Cover crops, such as clover or alfalfa, capture atmospheric nitrogen and store it in their roots, which can be tilled into the soil before planting.
If you add some kind of nitrogen product and organic soil to your garden each season of growing, then you are taking care of the base needs of your garden.
Here a list of natural or organic amendments that are recommended in a garden throughout the year.
When to use worm castings: Worm castings can be used at any time during the growing season, but the best time to apply them is in the spring or fall. Applying worm castings in the spring provides a boost of nutrients to plants as they start to grow, while applying them in the fall helps replenish the soil’s nutrients after the growing season.
It’s important to note that worm castings should not be used as their own compost or a replacement for other soil amendments, such as compost or fertilizer. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with worm compost or with other soil amendments to provide a well-rounded source of nutrients and organic matter for your plants.
Worm castings are a valuable source of organic matter and nutrients that can help with amending soil health and boost plant growth. They can be used in various ways, including top-dressing, composting, seed starting, and soil amendment, and can be applied during any season. HERE is a great choice for worm castings.
Greensand is a natural mineral that’s commonly used as a soil amendment in backyard vegetable gardens. It’s a rich source of potassium, iron, and other trace minerals that can help improve soil fertility and plant growth. Grab some HERE.
It’s important to note that greensand should not be overused, as it can lead to excessive levels of certain minerals in the soil. Check the package instructions for recommended application rates and frequency and consider soil testing to determine if your garden soil needs additional potassium, iron, or other trace minerals.
Azomite is a natural mineral powder that’s used as a soil amendment in gardens. It’s made from volcanic ash that has been weathered and mined for its rich source of trace minerals and micronutrients. This is one of my favorite products to use in the garden each season. Get it HERE.
Azomite is a natural and sustainable soil amendment that can help improve soil health, plant growth, and pest resistance in a garden. Its rich source of trace minerals and micronutrients make it a valuable addition to any garden soil that may be lacking in these essential elements. Consider using azomite as a part of your regular soil maintenance routine to help create a healthier and more productive garden.
Blood is a natural fertilizer made from dried animal blood that’s used to provide a source of nitrogen to garden soil. It’s a great choice for gardeners who prefer organic and sustainable soil amendments.
Blood meal is a natural and sustainable fertilizer that can help improve soil fertility and plant growth in a garden. It can be used during soil preparation, for heavy feeding plants, in composting, and as a pest deterrent. Get it HERE.
Fish emulsion is a natural fertilizer made from whole fish or parts of fish that have been ground up and mixed with water. It’s a liquid fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, making it an excellent source of nutrients for garden plants. Get it HERE.
Simple Steps for Each New Growing Season
Here is a list of how to add amendments to your garden in a layering method.
After using a soil test like THIS ONE. Find out what your soil is missing. After adding 2-5, then decide what else your garden will need.
Add 2-3 inches of organic compost. This adds texture and nutrients to your garden space. Look at your local nursery for a good source of organic compost.
Add a light layer of nitrogen. I recommend Blood Meal because of the high nitrogen that your soil needs desperately as nitrogen disappears quickly with water and air.
Add a light layer of Azomite minerals to add back into the soil
Add a light layer of vegetable starter fertilizer like any of these:
Using a small troll or shovel, lightly mix the amendments in the compost.
You are ready to plant your next garden season.
Am I supposed to add calcium to soil for tomatotes in garden beds?
When adding calcium to your soil, it’s important to avoid overdoing it. Too much calcium can lead to imbalances in soil pH, which can affect plant growth. Consider having your soil tested to determine the optimal calcium level for your tomato plants and follow the recommended application rates for any amendments you choose to use.
There are several ways to add calcium to the soil, including crushed eggshells, agricultural lime, gypsum, bone meal, or composted manure. Be sure to follow recommended application rates and avoid overdoing it to ensure the best results for your tomato plants.
What is the best way to amend soil?
At the beginning of each season before planting out your next crops in garden beds. Use the layering method described above to amend the soil.
Can I add too many amendments?
Yes, always look at the packaging directions and do not overuse any amendments. For optimal performance, apply the small amount recommended. More is not better in garden beds. If you need one-on-one help with growing a garden, check out this Kickstart Garden Consultation on zoom.