The soil is the most important part of your garden. Whether you have traditional rows, raised beds, or patio containers, your soil is so important. One reason I love raised bed gardening is how easy it is to amend the soil. The soil is already in a container, which makes things so much easier. Before getting into the nitty gritty, let’s go over a few key things that will make soil building easier for you to appreciate.
Soil Is A Living Organism
Soil is ALIVE! Dirt is not!!! Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. Soil and dirt are completely different, though we tend to interchange the two words pretty easily. Inside of soil, there is an entire world at work. It is a living, breathing, diverse ecosystem all of its own. Our job is to keep those living in that ecosystem happy. In return, we receive the most healthy and beautiful gardens and bountiful harvests. To keep it happy means that we don’t just fill our beds with dirt, but we create an environment that the organisms love where our plants can thrive. If your soil isn’t happy, your plants won’t be either. It is that important.
But, there is no perfect mix you can just go buy. And believe it or not, that is good. We don’t necessarily want to strive for perfect, that is exhausting. Instead we strive for our soil to be balanced. It is an art, an act of love, and an absolute joy for the soul. Balancing the soil simply means to use a combination of quality organic soil, compost, and supplements to create a rich, fertile soil, that holds moisture and has good drainage. Here is how we do it.
We aim to fill our beds with 50% soil, 40% compost, and 10% amendments.
This number doesn’t need to be exact of course, but if you just think about the ratios, you can use this same formula in your window boxes, containers and pots, or even grow bags that you can place just about anywhere. This is also not a number that needs to be reached in the first season you plant. As your garden grows and thrives, your soil will begin to build itself. That is why if you start with our ratio as a goal, you will be doing just fine. This is not rocket science. I promise. Don’t stress it. Just do the best you can this season. Just starting with this ratio puts you well on your way.
So where does this soil come from? Your local nursery will have a quality soil mix that you can buy by the bag or in bulk by the yard. Depending on how big your project is, if you can buy it in bulk, that is a much less expensive option. Start there.
Compost is a huge piece of the garden symphony that must be created in order for the garden to thrive in harmony. Compost is sold at nurseries or can be made in your own backyard. If you want to read more about composting, check out this post I wrote.
Worms are referred to as a “living amendment” and play a huge role in organic gardening. They improve the quality of the soil, aerate, and nourish the soil, all just by being there. They make their way all over the bed, improving drainage, increasing moisture retention, and improving oxygen flow underground.
Tip: You can’t just add any kind of worm to your raised beds. First, certain worms, like red wigglers, are more surface worms, while others, like night crawlers, like to dive deep. Both are great to add to the garden. But remember, we are striving for balance and a happy underground ecosystem. You can’t throw a handful of worms into a poor quality soil and expect good things to happen. Believe it or not, worms are pretty smart. They will leave the area as soon as they realize there is no food there. Everything works together in the garden symphony.
KELP, NEEM, AND ALFALFA MEALS
These can all be found from a certified organic source. We are what our plants and animals eat, so this is important to us. We sprinkle these meals right on top of the soil, working them into the top couple of inches about 2 weeks before we plant. We always go lighter than the package recommends just to be safe. And by feeding 2 weeks ahead of planting, there is little chance of shocking the tender little veggies when they make it to the beds.
Starting with quality soil is the most important thing you can do for you future veggie babies. With soil there is life. And without it nothing can live. Don’t underestimate the power of good soil this season.