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How to Improve Soil Texture and Structure

Most people are not lucky enough to start out with the ideal loamy soil desired for a vegetable garden. Fortunately, there are a handful of soil amendments and additives that can be used to improve the texture and structure of soil. In fact, there are many organic materials you can find around the house that can be recycled for use as a soil additive, such as coffee grounds or grass clippings. The soil amendments listed below can help with a multitude of problems such as improving drainage, supply nutrients, or help retain moisture. Adding these materials every growing season will eventually produce the nutrient rich loamy soil that allows a vegetable garden to thrive.

Animal Manure

Perhaps the most common soil amendment, animal manure from cows, horses, and chickens is used to improve soil quality and provide primary nutrients. Most importantly, you need to make sure that any animal manure used has been thoroughly rotted for a minimum of 6 months. This will insure that an ample amount of time has passed to make it suitable for use in a vegetable garden. There are several types of manure and each type is suitable for a different type of vegetable. It is highly recommend that you only use the manure from the animals listed below. You can typically find manure for sale at your local plant nursery or garden center.

Horse Manure – Rich in primary nutrients. Great for fast growing vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce.

Cow Manure – Rich in nitrogen. Most suitable for leafy greens that require high amounts of nitrogen such as spinach, Swiss chard, and lettuce.

Poultry Manure – Very heavy and high in nitrogen. Good for mixing in sandy soil to improve moisture retention. Also good for leafy greens.

Leaves

Leaves are free, abundant, and a great way to improve your soil over time. The easiest way to improve soil texture is to shred the leaves with a lawnmower and simply left in the garden beds to decompose. This will help improve water retention in sandy soil and improves nutrient content for the next growing season. Leaves from virtually any tree will work, just make sure to shred them to ensure faster decomposition.

Straw and Hay

Straw is especially abundant is farming communities during the fall. It is the hollowed stocks that are left over after grain has been harvested, and thankfully, it does not need to go to waste. You can purchase it in bails and mix it with manure. It does not offer much in terms of nutrients, but can greatly improve the overall texture of soil, whether its clay or sandy. Hay is typically less  expensive than straw, but serves the same purpose. However, hay is prone to spreading weeds. Seeds and spores of common garden pests are usually present in hay bales, so it’s usually best to choose straw whenever possible.

Plant Manures and Cover Crops

Farmers will often allow plants like clover and buckwheat to grow over their soil after the harvest has been completed. The benefit of this for farmers is that the plants cover the soil and prevent a loss of nutrients from rainfall and exposure to the elements. This most common in warm climates, such as Southern California, Arizona, and Florida. Vegetable gardeners can also allow these plants to grow in the off season. You can mow these plants down and mix them into the soil when it is time to plant in the spring. This can be an excellent choice for organic gardeners and is often referred to as “Green Manure”.

Seaweed

Seaweed is one of the most nutrient rich additives for your garden. It contains many of the trace minerals that are not found in other traditional manures and fertilizers. If you have a fresh source of seaweed you can add it you’re your compost batch. You can also use it as a mulch around the base of your plants. Seaweed based fertilizers are also available at any of the major home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes.

Garden Soil Basics