Healthy soil is essential for a healthy, happy garden. We use common words like soil, compost, organic, and humus to mean different things, so I prepared this visual guide to keep it simple for new gardeners. The goal is to help you grow a great garden.
Related: This shows you how easy it is to compost all year round (even in the winter).
The Basics of Good, Fertile Soil
In general terms, we use ‘soil’ to mean the stuff that plants grow in. While no garden soil is perfect (each plant type has different needs), you’ll see a big difference in your plant health by improving your soil on an ongoing basis.
So what makes soil good and fertile?
Again, this is really simplified but it should help a new gardener understand a few essentials. Or just skip to the summary and nod your head in agreement.
1. In its basic form, soil is a combination of various non-organic matters: sand, silt, and clay.
2. When we say we want healthy garden soil, or ‘add good soil’, we mean soil that also has organic matter in it. In this instance, organic matter is the scientific term meaning the remains of once-living things such as plants, animals, and their waste. Sand, silt, and clay alone do not have living (or the remains of living) organisms in them.
If you want healthy garden soil, you can
3. Compost things like
- “The greens” —nitrogen-rich items including fresh fruit and veggie scraps, plus eggshells, coffee grounds… and
- “The browns”— carbon-rich items including leaves, twigs… adding soil and water to assist the process.
You do not want to compost meat, dairy products, fatty or oily foods, bones, or pet waste in a home compost bin.
There are lots of styles of compost bins. If you are concerned about rats or other vermin, check out this Mantis bin that I use. You can also see examples here at Amazon.com, and then find something in your area.
Over time, the compost breaks down and becomes
4. Humus. This is organic matter used to amend garden soil. It feeds the macro— (worms, insects) and microorganisms (bacteria, etc.) that further contribute to soil health. Humus also helps retain moisture in the soil, and, because of its stability, gives the soil better structure. Gorgeous!
This is the stuff you want to add to your garden beds for a happy, healthy garden.
- Soil needs organic matter in the form of humus for healthy plant growth.
- Home composting is an excellent way to make your own humus.