How to Make Gardening Soil: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Make Gardening Soil A Step by Step Guide

Reading Time: 10 minutes 🍃

Whether growing your vegetables, spices, or flowers, your gardening soil plays a huge role in your success. The soil in your yard isn’t the best on its own, as it can be lacking in organic matter, and it may not have the ideal texture for your plants to thrive. If your plants are not getting the nutrients they need, they are likely to die.

When you make gardening soil, you will start by testing your soil. Then, you can use the results to add the organic matter that is lacking. You may need to adjust the pH levels, and you should consider the moisture content. Clear the weeds and till the soil, adding the necessary organic ingredients. Once you finish, you can rake the bed and water the soil.

Although it is a process, it is worth the effort if you want your garden to thrive. You can use this soil in your yard, in pots, or a raised bed.

Step One: Test Your Soil

You need to start by learning what you can about the soil you have. You can perform your DIY soil tests, or you can get a soil test from your county’s cooperative extension. They will let you know what deficiencies your soil has, and they will alert you to any problems with the pH levels.

There are a few DIY tests that you can use to gather information. These tests will help you learn about the properties of your soil.

1. Squeeze Test

First, you can perform the squeeze test. This helps you learn its composition. Soils can be classified as clay soils, sandy soils, or loamy soils, and you need to understand each one.

Clay soils are rich in nutrients, but they are slow to drain. Sandy soil drains quickly, but it doesn’t hold moisture or nutrients very well. Loamy soil is ideal because it holds moisture without staying soggy.

You can check it out by taking a handful and squeezing it. Then, you can open your hand. If the soil maintains its shape and crumbles when you poke it, it is loamy soil. If it holds its shape and stays firm, it is clay soil, and if it falls apart, it is sandy soil.

2. Percolation Test

Another test is called the percolation test, and it helps you learn about the drainage properties of the soil. Start by digging a hole that is a foot deep and six inches wide. You can fill the hole with water and wait for it to drain. Then, fill it up with water again. Make sure that you keep track of how long it takes the water to drain, and if it is more than four hours, you don’t have very good drainage.

3. Worm Test

Worms tell you a lot about your soil. For example, earthworms let you know that you have the microbes you need to grow strong plants. Make sure that your soil is at least 55 degrees and somewhat moist. Then, dig a hole that is one foot deep and one foot wide. Put the soil on a tarp and take one handful at a time. Count the earthworms as you replace the soil in the hold. You should find at least ten earthworms; if you don’t, then you may need more organic matter in the soil.

4. pH Test

You also need to know the pH level of your soil, which tells you how acidic it is. When you perform the test, you will get results on a scale of zero to 14, with anything below seven being acidic and above seven being alkaline. Ideally, you want the pH level to be neutral or between six and seven. Pick up a pH kit at a garden store and determine whether your soil is where you want it.

Step Two: Decide What Organic Matter You Need

There is a good chance that you will want to add organic matter to your soil. You want to make sure that your organic matter is as diverse as possible. Take a look at some of these suggestions:

1. Compost

Some people choose to start a compost pile where they recycle organic waste. You can apply a quarter-inch each season to add slow-release nutrients to improve your soil’s water retention and keep it healthy. You can use regular household items such as coffee grounds, fruits, vegetables, grains, bread, and shredded cardboard.

First, create a layer with shredded cardboard, dead leaves, wood chips, and other brown materials. Then, add a layer of food waste. Alternate between the two to create a diverse selection of nutrients and microbes. While you can compost food scraps, you should not compost meats, oils, dairy, fats, or bones. They will attract wild animals and take too long to break down.

2. Add Manure

Manure from livestock is one of the best types of organic matter that you can add to your soil. It contains nutrients that are inviting for organisms and plants. If you can find manure from small local farms or homesteads, they will have fewer pathogens, but allow three months before you plan to ensure that the plants don’t get contaminated.

You shouldn’t overuse manure because sometimes it offers too many different nutrients, such as phosphorus. If it leaches out, it can run off into groundwater and streams.

3. Get Some Chickens

Chickens are wonderful for breaking up the organic matter for your soil. You can drop organic materials on top of the soil and then let your chickens scratch through them and shred it into the top couple of inches of the soil. This is the area where most of the biological activity takes place, and they will scratch their droppings into the soil, which boosts the microbes in your soil.

You can also consult with the county extension office about your soil’s pH and find out their recommendations.

Step Three: Check the Moisture Level of the Soil

The best way to check the moisture level of your soil is to grab a fistful and squeeze it into a ball. If the soil crumbles and falls through your fingers, it has the right moisture level. However, if it forms a ball and stays that way, it is too wet. You will need to let it dry. If you make soil when it is too wet, it won’t be good for planting.

You can also get a soil moisture probe. When you insert it into your soil, it will tell you the moisture levels. If your garden is large, you should check the moisture levels in several different places. If your soil is too dry, you need to have a watering plan or install irrigation. If it is too moist, you may need to reduce how much you water it.

It is important to ensure that your moisture content is good because water carries the nutrients to your plants. It also regulates the temperature of the soil and is necessary for all of the microorganisms that live in the soil. It plays a critical role in allowing the soil to support both plant and animal life.

In addition, water is a nutrient for plants. It is essential to photosynthesis, without which plants could not create their own energy. You need to make sure that your soil has the ideal moisture content to grow plants.

Step Four: Clear Any Weeds

Once your soil is ready, you need to make sure that there aren’t any weeds or other debris in the area where you plan to use it. There are a number of different natural methods you can use to get rid of the weeds. Take a look at the following.

1. Pull Weeds

The oldest method of naturally removing weeds is to pull them by hand. You should wear gloves to protect your hands, and you can use a trowel or a claw to loosen the roots. You need to get the entire weed from the root to make sure that it doesn’t return.

2. Corn Gluten Meal

Corn gluten meal will stop weed seeds from germinating and growing. Bear in mind that it will also keep your plants from germinating, so you should do this before planting while preparing your soil. You can use the method later to control weeds once your plants are established, and you aren’t looking for new growth from seeds.

3. Vinegar

Put some vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it on the weeds. You should do this before the sun comes up because the sun actually activates the vinegar to kill the weeds. It is easy to pull them out from the root once they are dead.

4. Boiling Water

You can also kill weeds with boiling water. Pour the water on the crown of any plant you want to go to, and it will kill them. If it is a tough weed that has longer roots, you may need to do this a few times to kill it.

There are several other methods, but you shouldn’t do something that makes the soil uninhabitable for a few months. Just get rid of any weeds before you move on, as the weeds will compete with anything you plant and take the nutrients and crowd them.

Step Five: Till the Soil

The next step is to till your soil. You can use an electric tiller and go down ten to twelve inches. Once you loosen up the soil, add some organic materials and till it again. This allows them to mix into the soil. If you don’t have an electric tiller, you can do it with the digging method.

For the digging method, you will start by spreading organic matter over the soil. Then, dig a hole that is ten to fifteen inches deep. Place the soil aside for later.

Take a garden fork and loosen the soil in the hole, and dig in another ten inches. Now you can add the organic material. Then, dig another hole next to it. Use this soil to fill the first hole, and follow the same procedure along the entire garden bed. When you reach the last hole, you will fill it with the soil you took out of the first hole.

Step Six: Rake and Water

Now that your soil is prepared, you can rake the garden bed to level it and then water it thoroughly. Your soil is ready for planting once you complete this step.

Why Is Soil Health So Important?

The soil is your starting point for what you plant in your garden bed. It secures your plants and feeds them. The soil is the environment that provides an actual ecosystem under the ground, and it needs to be designed to allow nutrients, water, and air to be used by the roots of plants so that they can thrive and grow.

If you use a raised garden bed, you have a lot of control over the soil and the plants’ environment. You can make sure that it is appropriately hydrated without becoming too moist. You can also make sure that it can sustain all of the life that lives in it. There are millions, or perhaps billions, or microscopic organisms that work together in the soil. There are also larger organisms, such as earthworms, that are essential to healthy soil.

The key is to take the time to make sure that you have the best possible soil and feed it so that it will feed your plants.

Different Types of Soil

Although soil looks the same, there are several different types, and they have different uses. Topsoil is the top layer of your soil, and it is what is there before you mix the organic matter into your soil. 50% of the soil in your bed should be topsoil.

Garden soil is normally topsoil that has had organic ingredients added to it. 30% of your soil should be this type. The remaining 20% should come from organic matter, worm castings, dead leaves, mushroom compost, ground back, manure, and more.

The third type is potting soil, but it isn’t really soil. It is the base of your raised bed. It can include airy materials, such as perlite, bark dust, or peat moss.

Should You Put Rocks Inside of a Raised Bed?

Some people consider using rocks in their raised beds to improve drainage. However, it is not a good idea. This is a well-known gardening myth.

First, when you place rocks on the bottom of your raised bed, you will increase the level of water saturation. It actually creates an unnatural water table, and it will trap water beneath the soil. Then, the rocks will start to mix with your soil, and over time, it will be harder to mix in new compost.

While the rocks may initially appear to help with drainage, over time, the soil will fall into this layer and fill up the spaces between the rocks. This will slow the water drainage, and you will have to remove the rocks from the soil. Another problem is that weeds will find a safe place to grow in the spaces between the rocks.

The best option is to layer the bottom of your bed with organic matter such as unfinished compost, old dry wood, twigs, branches, and trimmings from your lawn.

Be Sure to Maintain Your Soil

Once you have your soil precisely the way you need it, you must maintain it. Your plants will be using the valuable nutrients you put into the soil, so you need to replace them. Most people add to the soil one or two times a year.

You will add organic nutrients, such as those listed above. Remember that having great soil takes time, and each time you add to it, the soil will improve. Each season will have better soil to grow your plants. When you plan to amend your soil, it is good to have it tested again to see what nutrients were used.

It is always better to work with your existing soil than to start over, as it takes years to get your soil to the best possible place. The only reason to replace your soil is when it has been contaminated.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to make gardening soil will ensure a healthy environment where your plants can thrive as they grow. People often don’t realize that all soil isn’t created equally, and when you take the time to make sure that your soil is ideal for growing, you will have better results.

Whether you plan to use a corner of your yard or a raised bed to plant your garden, you need to ensure that your soil is ideal. Each season, you can add more organic matter to your soil, and it will improve over time. You will create a perfectly balanced ecosystem where your garden can grow and thrive.


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