Let’s Talk Dirt: What You Need to Know About the Most Important Thing in the Garden

by on June 13, 2012


At the risk of sounding a little dirty, I need you to know that soil is the most important ingredient in any garden. Forget the seedlings and raised beds, soaker hoses and hand tools; If your soil is dead, your garden doesn’t stand a chance.

What the heck am I talking about “if your soil is dead”. It’s dirt. Dirt isn’t alive, right? Wrong.  Healthy soil is a living, evolving thing and there’s not as much of it as you might think. By comparison, there’s a relatively thin layer of soil that covers the earth.

Soil is primarily composed of minerals, the result of broken down bedrock and other components in the immediate environment. It is these parent materials that largely determine the base type of the soil. The base type is out of your control, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily stuck with bad soil, because luckily there is a secondary component – organic matter. This organic matter is comprised of everything from decomposing plant matter to long gone wildlife that have literally become “food for worms.” The organic matter also contains living microorganisms and beneficial bacteria that continue to break down organic matter into its most usable form. It is with this organic matter that you can exercise influence and improve the quality of your soil.

There are three basic soil types:

  • Sand has the largest particles of the three types. The soil will feel gritty when rubbed between the fingers
  • Silt has a smooth, silky, flour-like feel
  • Clay has the smallest particles and feels sticky and slick, much like modeling clay

Composting is one of the easiest ways to improve the quality and texture of the soil in your urban garden, and it doesn’t cost a thing. The more composted organic matter you can add to poor soil, the more life you are adding to it. Mulching is another good way to keep valuable soil where it belongs, and it helps retain moisture as well.

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