Over the years I’ve learned a lot about gardening, and one of the more important things I’ve learned is about improving the soil in my garden. We live on a glacial river bed, so our soil is mostly rocks. For that reason, all of my garden beds are raised beds that have been created with soil that has been trucked in. My big flower bed isn’t raised, but we had the area dug out and then trucked in soil.
The only problem with bringing in soil is that you don’t really know what you’re getting. What tends to be available in my area is valley bottom soil, which is high in clay, so when it gets wet, you’ve practically got concrete. I always add compost to my garden, so that helps, but it was really evident the past few years that I needed to do some major amending. My big veggie garden simply wouldn’t drain. I would water it and it would take a week to dry out. So one year I spread a couple of inches of cow poo compost on top and tilled it in. The next year it drained better but still not great. Last year, I added more compost, perlite (crushed up volcanic rock) and sand. My garden finally started draining properly and I had my best garden to date.
However, I had done a soil test by putting several cups of soil in a bucket and adding compost, sand and perlite until it felt perfectly textured – dry but not too dry, able to drain, sticky enough to stay together. According to this test, I would have had to double the volume of material in my veggie garden to get the proper balance. I simply wasn’t up to laying down that much material, so I added what I could. This year I will add some more, and probably in another year I’ll have perfectly balanced soil. If you do research on the internet you’ll find lots of conflicting information on what to add or not to add to your soil. I think the best thing is to experiment with your particular soil. The bucket soil test really helped me figure out which way to go. I just kept track of the proportions so I knew what was needed in what amounts. I found that I needed one part soil, one part compost, 1/2 part sand and 1/2 part perlite.
My big challenge this year is that the perennial plants in my flower garden are now growing roots deep enough that they are running into the clay soil that is deeper than the hole I dug for the original plant. I didn’t know much about amending the soil when I planted the flower garden so now I have to somehow retro-amend the soil. I’m thinking of pulling up the mulch and weed barrier section by section and digging in more compost and stuff. Wish me luck!