Guide to Soil Improvement for the Garden

MOTHER's gardeners share a guide to soil improvement for the garden, including preparing garden soil, crop rotation, double-digging and composting in the garden.

| November/December 1982

While your garden plot becomes buried by snow, it's time to learn how to improve your land by using this guide to soil improvement for the garden. (See the garden composting photos in the image gallery.)

"A healthy garden is teeming with life forms, which all interact to make its ecosystem function smoothly. We, as gardeners, must learn to live and work within that system without disrupting it, taking from it what we need but always giving back more than we take."
Barbara Sullivan

"Scratch your garden's back, and it'll scratch yours."
Kerry Sullivan

Three issues ago, in a piece entitled "A Visit With MOTHER's Gardeners" (see MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 75, page 62), we introduced you to the lushly productive garden beds at our Ecological Research Center and to the two growers—Kerry and Barbara Sullivan—who've made them so fruitful. That article described how the Sullivans' ongoing soil improvement projects have both given them lavish yields and practically solved their insect pest problem . . . it gave some background on our two master growers along with some insights into their personal gardening philosophies . . . and it shared information about one of the Sullivans' soil-boosting strategies, the use of "catalyzing" biodynamic field and compost sprays.

However, the piece failed to give any detailed information on the couple's four other earth-building practices: sowing ground covers, rotating crops, double-digging, and composting. So, since we all recognize that the health of the soil is undoubtedly the single most important factor influencing the vigor and productivity of crops, we wanted to take the time now—while you're not too busy working in your garden to think about how to improve it—to fill in the gaps left by that previous article with this guide to soil
improvement for the garden . . . and share more of the Sullivans' wisdom with you.


Every fall, Kerry and Barbara sow rye grain—or a combination (which is predominantly rye) of the grain and hairy vetch—over any garden bed that they don't intend to plant in vegetables early the following spring. Both winter-hardy ground covers—which should be available at local seed and feed supply stores—serve to help loosen up the soil and control erosion. In addition, each of the two plants has its own unique advantages.

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