Compost and Fertile Soil Building for Better Gardens

By Staff
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Building fertile soil to grow healthy, productive plants is a gardener’s ultimate goal. You can improve the appearance and nutritional value of your garden soil by adding amendments such as fall leaves and fresh grass clippings, by composting yard and kitchen waste, and by using castings from earth worms (called vermicompost).

The fertility of your soil also can be affected by how often you till the soil and the kinds of mulches you use.

One of the simplest methods of adding nutritious material to your garden beds is by incorporating well composted vegetation onto and into the soil. Composting mimics and intensifies nature’s recycling plan.

A compost pile starts out as a diverse pile of kitchen and garden “waste,” and matures into what soil scientists call biologically active organic matter: a dark, crumbly soil amendment that’s rich with beneficial fungi, bacteria and earthworms, as well as the enzymes and acids these life-forms release as they multiply.


Compost Made Easy
by Barbara Pleasant, October/November 2006
These 10 facts about composting will help you turn food and yard waste into garden gold.


Compost Tumblers
by Brook Elliott, April/May 2003
Mother tests several compost tumblers and shares results, including tumbler styles, feature pros and cons, operating factors, test results.

Make Your Own Potting Soil
by Barbara Pleasant, December 2008/January 2009
Nutritious potting soil will give your seedlings and house plants a good place to grow. You can buy potting soil or make your own. Combine a bit of dirt, some well aged compost and a handful of sand for good drainage to form an inexpensive and handy planting medium for your new garden seedlings or old-friend house plants.

Leaves for Chicken Bedding and Compost
by Kellie Gardner, August/September 2008

Use dry leaves for bedding in your chicken coop.

Reusing Tea and Coffee Grounds for Compost
by Clare Hafferman, June/July 2008
You can put used coffee grounds and tea bags into your compost pile.

Secure Compost Bin
by Michelle Higgins, October/November 2005
Transform metal garbage cans into functional compost bins.

Make Easy Compost Tea
by Ed Bowser, Sr., April/May 2007
A barrel of manure and some water combine to provide great nutrients to garden plants.

Is it OK to compost or not?
by Barbara Pleasant, May 2008
Compost expert Barbara Pleasant calls on people everywhere to take responsibility for their yard and kitchen waste.

Recycle Your Leaves
by Cheryl Long, November/December 2005
Here are four ways to recycle this valuable resource on your yard and in your garden

Watch Out for Killer Compost
by Cheryl Long and Barbara Pleasant, October/November 2008
Home food gardens are falling victim to a persistent pesticide found in some forms of compost.

Ask Our Experts: I have read about using newspaper as mulch, but what about using office paper for mulch or composting? Many people use shredded non-glossy paper in mulch or compost, where it typically degrades in a single season. Since paper is a wood product, you should regard it as a high-carbon soil additive, similar to sawdust. When using it to make compost…
Read the full answer.

Ask Our Experts: Can you compost black walnut hulls? The mention of black walnut trees makes many gardeners groan, because all of the plants parts, from leaf to root tip, contain a substance called juglone that causes severe stunting…
Read the full answer.

Fertile Soil Building



Worms! Soil Building Workhorses
by Barbara Pleasant, June/July 2008
Use the free services of resident earthworms to make one of nature’s most potent fertilizers.

Build Better Soil With Free Organic Fertilizer
by Cheryl Long and Barbara Pleasant, April/May 2008
Avoid expensive fertilizers?–?here are your best organic options, including two that you won’t even have to pay for!

8 Strategies for Better Garden Soil
by Harvey Ussery, June/July 2007
Use these natural methods to build healthier garden soil.

Building Fertile Soil
by Doreen G. Howard, June/July 2003
Use these low-till, low-work methods to enhance the soil in your garden. Includes information on mycorrhizal fungi.

Build Permanent Beds and Paths
by Cheryl Long, April/May 2007
Permanent beds make gardening easier and soil healthier. Includes annually adding compost, building new beds and soil testing.

A Better Way to Fertilize Your Garden – Homemade Organic Fertilizer
by Steve Solomon, June/July 2006
Your crops will thrive with this organic soil-building plan.

Beginner’s Guide to Fertile Soil and Raised Garden Beds
by Alison Rogers, May 2007
When you build permanent garden beds and paths, you protect the soil structure from compaction by foot traffic-an important step in maintaining soil health.

Use Wood Mulch to Build Great Garden Soil
by Barbara Pleasant, October/November 2010
Sawdust and wood chip mulches will conserve water, control weeds and build long-term soil fertility.

Your Garden’s Soil pH Matters
by Barbara Pleasant, April/May 2014
Learn what causes acidic soil and alkaline soil, plus how to apply the results of a soil pH test in your organic garden.

How to Improve Clay Soil
by Vicki Mattern, March 2014
I have heavy clay soil that becomes as hard as a brick when it dries, and my neighbors who also garden have asked me how to improve clay soil. What are the best methods for improving clay soil?