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How to Improve Your Garden Soil

If you are reading this chances are, like me, you have less than ideal garden soil. The health and growth of our vegetable garden has much to do with the nutrition and density of the soil these plants are growing in! Gardening in Alberta has its challenges with the rocky clay soil we often find when we dig into our land. Lets take a look at some ways we can improve our soil and grow more bountiful vegetable gardens.



Plants require three main essential nutrients for growth; nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (potash). Fertilizing (see Figuring out Fertilizer) is one way of providing garden vegetables with these nutrients but a superior option is growing vegetables in soil that already contains these! Obtaining this coveted nutritious soil will likely require some work on your part.


In addition to providing nutrients for our plants, we need to take a look at the consistency and texture of our soil. Ideally we want a loose, aerated soil but at the same time soil that has the ability to retain moisture and nutrients.


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If you are building a new garden or a raised bed, a great starting ratio for your vegetable garden soil can be made up from 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost. If you are using a high quality compost this mix will give you nutritious, loose soil with good drainage.


When you are working with your land's original soil, discard all rocks, roots, sticks and hard lumps of clay. Do this by raking over the soil as you work in it. Use a garden rake and pull large pieces to a corner where they can easily be picked out and discarded.


Before you begin amending your garden soil I highly suggest doing a simple soil test! This will give you a baseline and will be encouraging once you begin to see improvements. When purchasing a test kit, make sure it contains tests for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels. Also check how many tests your kit can perform. Some are single test whereas many can test a number of times. Here is a link to a test kit available from Amazon that tests for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and contains 40 tests. I suggest testing your soil twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall.


Compost


The greatest favour you can do for your garden soil is adding compost! Adding compost to soil improves the texture of all types of soil from clay or silty soil to sandy soil. As well, a good quality compost will contain all of the essential nutrients for your plants. If you are not already composting I highly recommend starting! Why not turn your household organic waste into nutritious food for your plants! All you need is a little space outdoors somewhere, time and some organic waste. For a guide to composting check out 6 Composting Tips. If you are unable to compost, you can also purchase bags of compost from your local garden supply store.


Once compost has gone through is breakdown cycle it is rich in all three main nutrients required by plants; nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Many garden vegetables prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. By adding compost to your garden regularly you can, over time, drop the pH of your soil. Compost works well to help moderate soil pH levels.


Adding compost to clay soil loosens the so