Soil Texture

There are two types of basic soil – sand and clay. You do not want either of these in their pure form, since sand does not retain nutrients of water very well and clay is so hard (it is used to make pots after all) that the roots cannot grow in it very well.

Sandy Soil

Sandy is the best and easiest soil to start with. If you have very sandy soil you can improve it immediately simply by adding sphagnum peat moss, which is a commercially available form of peat for use in gardens and landscaping. Peat is the decomposed dead parts of sphagnum moss and is full of organic matter and can often hold up to 20 times its weight in water.

You should add peat each year, starting in the first year with at least 2 to 3 inches on the top of your plot.

Adding Lime

After you mix the peat moss with the sandy soil, if you live in the east coast you will need to add some lime to the soil since it is often too acidic. An interesting thing is that if you live in the western part of the country you will need to add sulfur, as the soil there is most often more alkaline. For lime, add about 1 pound for every 100 square feet, a 10 foot by 10 foot plot. For most plants you want to try and achieve a 5 to 7 ph level in your soil, optimum level is 6 to 6.5  and this should do that. Do not waste your time testing the soil until at least the second year when all of this has had time to take effect.

Clay Soil

If you have soil that is heavy with clay, the first thing you have to do is chop it up. After that, add some sandy soil to it. You may want to have it wet before doing this to make it easier. You can also till it into the surface and wait until a good rainstorm to help it mix. Add some peat and you will have a soil that is full of nutrients and will retain moisture – perfect for what you want.


After your soil is conditioned and sweetened with lime, it is time to be sure that it has enough nutrients. Even though the addition of the peat helps add nutrient matter to the soil, I like to use fertilizers. Your plants need three essential nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (potash). Common commercial fertilizers will have a ratio of 10 – 10 – 10 or 5 – 10 – 5. This means 10% nitrogen; 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium and so forth.

The fertilizers come in either granular form that instantly dissolves in the ground; in time-release grains that dissolve in the ground over 3 months; or in a powder form that dissolves in water. The water soluble fertilizer is mixed in a water can and sprinkled directly over the plants. This is better for heavy root feeding plants like onion, cabbage and broccoli that take a lot out of the soil. This will replenish the soil quickly.


As you get ready to put your seedlings and seeds in your garden, let’s make sure that your soil is going to provide the optimum performance. I have learned over the years that better soil means better results in the garden. It is that simple. For that reason I have been working on my garden soil for over 20 years. It is an ongoing process to not only improve the soil but the need to replenish it every year. We have all heard the stories in school about how farmers sometimes have kept using the same soil for the same crops and eventually the soil became depleted. There is even some speculation that the Mayan civilization was destroyed from poor farming practices such as this.

I use many, many practices for soil enhancement. These include having my own compost pile that creates bushels of “black gold” nutrient rich soil every year. On a year round basis I combine waste garbage that is bio-degradable with straw, leaves and dirt – stirring it all up occasionally and then letting it sit for months to fully decompose. I then mix this compost back into my garden soil so that the new plants receive the value of these nutrients. Even with this I still use commercial fertilizers, which are created to add the specific nutrients needed for what you intend to grow. Tomato plants, for example, have their own fertilizers. I onlu use organic but you do not have to. It is just a personal preference for me.

If you are about to plant your first vegetable garden you may have not even thought about the soil yet, but I am going to teach you what you can do.

There are two main considerations when getting the soil ready for plants – texture and nutrients. The texture of your soil is important because it determines how the roots of the plants will grow and the capacity of the soil to retain and drain water. The nutrient value of the soil is critical to feeding the plants with what they need to grow tasty and nutritious produce. The first thing to look at is the texture, and once you have taken the steps to improve the texture then you can pay more attention to the nutrients.
Preparing Garden Soil
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