Last Friday we learned how to start a garden with proper ground site selection and today we’re building the foundation with soil!  Soil for plants may not be a sexy topic, but boy does plant soil grow beautiful and yummy things. {snicker}  So today Kim will teach us about soil types, organic matter, and how to improve soil.

Last week we learned that the first step is finding the right ground to plant the garden and laid the ground work by learning all about about site selection in our How to Garden series.

As a new gardener it is fun to dream about all the wonderful plants we will grow, the beautiful beds that we will create, and of course all the unique and delicious meals we can make with our newly grown produce.

But I am here to talk about the less than glamorous but so very important foundation of your garden…your soil!


There nothing more important to the well being of your garden than the health of your ground.  Nothing you can do in your garden makes more of an impact than building up great soil…it is the key to gardening success.

Soil For Plants

We can discuss different types, different cultivation methods, ph balance, and on and on but for me the one universal must have for all soils is organic matter.

Organic Matter?  What exactly do you mean by that?

Well when we think about soil that covers the floor of a forest for instance,  it feeds all the plants in the forest but it is also fed in return by the decomposing leaves, twigs, and needles that drop onto it.  Decaying plant and animal material is the organic matter I’m crazy about.   If you only take from your soil and never give back to it you will deplete it and it will no longer support your garden.

In my garden my soil is never left uncovered. It is always either in production growing fruits and veggies, it is growing a cover crop for attracting beneficial insects or it is covered with organic matter.  In my case this matter is either straw, grass clippings, leaves, or bedding from the animals…yes I am completely crazy for manure!

Quick note here…make sure the amendments are from sources you know and trust.  Many amendments contain weeds seeds as well as medications, hormones, etc. that have been given to the animals and passed through into the manure.

Soil Types

gardening soils

Soil left bare does you no good…except if you are trying to grow a great crop of weeds!

How To Improve Soil

So how do I know if my ground is healthy? Here are a few things to look for:

Does my garden drain well…in other words does it having water that stands on it, or on the reverse do I water it just to have it dried out within hours? Organic matter will help solve both of these drainage problems.

Are there weeds, grasses and insects already present where I am going to garden?  Chances are if there are already things growing and you have a diverse crop of plants and insects you have soil that is in fairly good shape.

You can always have your it analyzed, which will give you a very complete and in depth report on your soil.


A quick and easy way to tell if you have healthy ground…do you have earthworms? I know that the healthier my soil the more earthworms I have.

soil for plants

In healthy soil with lots of organic matter earthworms are busy eating, tunneling and leaving castings behind, all of which are terrific for my garden beds.  If you have these little guys you have an invaluable partner!

So get out your shovel and take a look at your soil, what do your find?  Is it teaming with life?  Are there plants, and insects and earthworms?  If so, you have a great start to a terrific garden.  If not, take the time to add some organic material and give mother nature a little hand!

Remember before you dive into your seed catalogs, before you dream of the elaborate garden boxes your will build, take the time to build up your soil.  It is the foundation of a bountiful garden.

Then you can start planning all the wonderful ways you’ll prepare your garden bounty!

How to Garden Series:

Step 1 –  Ground Site Selection
Step 2 – Improve Gardening Soils
Step 3 – The 411 on Garden Beds, Pockets and Pots

If you have any questions about starting a garden or anything we’ve talked about today, please ask it in the comments or on the Tip Junkie Facebook page.  We want you to succeed and would love to help you!

gardening how to

Kim is a small organic farmer who lives in the Pacific Northwest raising organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and…a camel!  She blogs at the inadvertent farmer where she dishes on living the authentic country life.  She also hosts a yearly summer-long series and contest called KinderGARDENS that is aimed at instilling the love of gardening to the next generation believing that dirty hands make for healthy happy kids!