As you are beginning your gardens this year I thought it would be nice to have a quick guide to soil for your garden. I wanted to take out the clutter of soil options so you know what you need to look for. Just some quick tips, references, and general info to help you in navigating the sea of options you may be coming across right now. If you want to know what to add to your raised beds I suggest checking out this post or you can check out the Garden E-book where I have a full tutorial with how much dirt and so on to add into your boxes.
Before I describe the different options of soil you will come across let me explain a few quick things and give you a few quick notes that you can work from to make your decisions in an educated way. When you get on the phone to make orders it can feel REALLY intense and like you have no idea what you are doing. Soil and compost can be very complicated things and they are, but there is a way to take the stress out of it especially if you are beginning. You have enough to worry about in this new adventure. Why make soil another piece of it.
Here are the top tips from Whatforme for a beginner on soil for your garden:
- Topsoil will be most of your beds. This is just basically dirt from either your property or purchased. It is cheaper because the nutrient level is lower more or less. This creates a strong bed for your garden to build upon.
- Compost needs to is complicated and can expensive. So this is the top 2-3 inches of your beds. Adding this every year and between growing seasons is essential to a great garden. Making your own is ideal, but you can also get it delivered.
- You don’t have to use fertilizers necessarily…compost does most of the work of fertilizers. If you do look at bone meal or natural mineral combos. I find that compost is usually enough for most every plant I grow.
- Seed mixes are great, but not necessary you can use your compost you are using in your garden to start seeds or mix compost with topsoil to make your own potting mix.
- High nutrient-rich soils are great when you establish a garden but are pricey. We did this with our raised beds with topsoil under. It is not necessary, but it helps establish a strong base of nutrients. You still will need compost again though between your fall harvest and spring planting.
- Mulch doesn’t have to be fancy just get the lowest level of hardwoods. This is a cheap way to retain consistent heat and moisture on plants and when placed between rows will degrade and add to the strength of your soil. It is a cheap way to build up soil and get your own compost pile going.
That is my quick reference of tips for the beginner. Now let’s break down the different soil options from a high level. This is not the purist farmer professional version, this is simply intended to cut through the info for you to know what to buy quickly as a beginner or someone who just doesn’t want all the nitty-gritty info that is GREAT, but not necessary for about 90% of gardeners. This is also a great reference guide for anyone your first garden as well.
Different Type of Soils
Clay soils are a challenging type of soil to grow in because they can be very dry and hard when deprived of water. They also drain slowly, so the plant must work extra hard for nutrients while growing through these tough grounds.
Sandy soils are actually quite fertile until 50 cm deep, but due to their coarser textured nature they retain few nutrients and have low water holding capacity. Soil management practices that lead to an increase in the fines fraction will help improve your crop productivity!
Silt is a mineral composed of broken grains of quartz. It can occur as soil or sediment mixed in suspension with water, and it makes up 45% on average modern mud!
The perfect soil for growing delicious vegetables! It’s rich, friable and has the right balance between sandstone silt to make things grow well but not too much clay which can be heavy on your plants’ roots.
Garden Soil Beginners
These are the top options you need to really care about in just everyday normal gardening. You can dig deeper and get specific about brands and so on, but generally, this is all you need to concern yourself when starting your garden.
The term refers to the top layer of soil on the earth. This is that top 5-10 inches you access when digging into the ground. It is full of organic matter and when people say “Get your soil tested” this is the layer of soil they are referring to. It holds plenty of unique organisms and so on which you can find out what it would need in amendments to be 100% ready to feed your plants properly. You can directly plant in this ( i have before) and things will grow but they not be as robust, productive, or show their best just from this soil alone. It works great to fill the base of a raised bed with. It is generally cheaper to purchase so to save money on your raised beds you can add this to the beds (like more than half of it) and it will create a strong base for planting. If you are wanting to be organic, you may want to make sure that your soil hasn’t had any Roundup or sprays placed on it before bringing into your vegetable beds.
Oh, lovely wonderful compost. This rich organic matter based soil is full of natural fertilizers and microorganisms that will feed your garden. It is easy to create your own, but if you cannot it is also easy to purchase. When purchasing just make sure it has a low weed count and if animal manure is used that they have been fed organic feed or it hasn’t been treated. I place a solid 2-3 inches of fresh compost in my beds every fall but you can also do this before planting in spring. Know that even if you live even in a small apartment you can create your own compost using worms in a closed container they work great and in just a few months you can have great compost for your porch or balcony garden. Compost varies in price depending on what has gone into the creation of it.
Raised Bed or Garden Mixes
These are great, don’t get me wrong. We have used them in the past, but they aren’t necessary and can sometimes hold things you don’t want in your garden. They are also pricey because there is more work entailed in the creation of them. So though this can be a great way to set you on a path, you don’t necessarily have to use it for your raised beds or even your open beds. You can simply use topsoil and compost to create great beds. You may fight more weeds, but over time it will save money.
Mulch is chopped brush and hardwoods. You can get decorative mulch but remain leary if you are placing around food and you plan to remain organic with your practices you don’t want to have these things near food. Instead of just getting traditional untreated hardwood mulch is best. Mulch can be made from leaves yourself or chopped brush on your property. It does not need to be purchased. It will help insulate and protect plants and their roots in extreme heat, wind, and cold. It is a necessity around fruit trees and bushes, but can also be placed to create paths in a garden since this will naturally decompose and add to the value of your garden’s soil over time. It is typically quite inexpensive as well.
There will be tons of other options you may come across, and there are deeper options when you go to purchase any of the above, but I hope just having a rough idea of the general idea will help you save money, build healthy soil, and feel informed and not overwhelmed while purchasing soil and amendments for your garden this year.
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