8 Steps for Making Better Garden Soil

Use these organic and natural methods to make healthy garden soil from common dirt.



Garden Soil
This garden needed room to grow!
Photo courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA
Permanent Garden Beds
Next, the garden was divided into permanent beds and paths to protect the soil from foot traffic.
Photo courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA
Composted Soil
The first step was to cover the ground with compost.
Photo courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA
Brown Leaves
 “Browns” are drier materials, rich in carbon.
Photo courtesy ISTOCKPHOTO/WALLY STEMBERGER
Compost Pile
To build a compost pile, start by layering organic materials. Alternate more readily decomposable materials — fresh, high-nitrogen wastes, such as manures, crop residues, kitchen wastes and weeds — with less decomposable materials — drier, coarser and high-carbon wastes, such as autumn leaves, straw and corncobs.
Photo courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA
Green Leaves
For the best compost, mix “greens” (seen here) and “browns.” “Greens” are fresh materials, rich in nitrogen.
Photo courtesy ISTOCKPHOTO/NICOLA STRATFORD
No Till Garden
The result: a colorful, productive garden that was built without any tillage.
Photo courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA
Harvey and Ellen Ussery
Harvey and Ellen disturb their soil as little as possible. Digging root crops is almost the only time they dig up the ground.
Photo courtesy HARVEY USSERY
Vetch
As best you can, never leave your soil bare. Cover crops are low-maintance and add valuable nutrients to the soil. The cover crop shown here is vetch.
Photo courtesy DAVID CAVAGNARO
Chickens in the Garden
Put chickens in your garden during the fall and winter, and they’ll eat bugs and weed seeds, till lightly and fertilize.
Photo courtesy MEGAN PHELPS
Red Clover Cover Crop
As best you can, never leave your soil bare. Cover crops are low-maintance and add valuable nutrients to the soil. The cover crop shown here is red clover.
Photo courtesy DAVID CAVAGNARO
White Clover Cover Crop
As best you can, never leave your soil bare. Cover crops are low-maintance and add valuable nutrients to the soil. The cover crop shown here is white clover. 
Photo courtesy DAVID CAVAGNARO
Cover Crops
Cover crops are useful both for small patches in the garden, or for whole fields on a farm. This field is planted with buckwheat, which smothers weeds because it grows so quickly.
Photo courtesy WALTER CHANDOHA
Oats and Field Peas
As best you can, never leave your soil bare. Cover crops are low-maintance and add valuable nutrients to the soil. Oats and field peas planted together make an excellent cover crop.
Photo courtesy DAVID CAVAGNARO
Mulch Materials
Many materials make good mulch, so use what you have! From left to right: Shredded bark, wood chips, sawdust, straw, coco hulls, leaves, shredded leaves and grass clippings.
Photo courtesy DAVID CAVAGNARO
Broadfork
A broadfork is great for low-tech gardening; it loosens the soil without destroying its structure.
Photo courtesy MEGAN PHELPS
Scythe
A scythe is great for low-tech gardening; it cuts grass and weeds.
Photo courtesy MEGAN PHELPS











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