Where I live, the soil is thick with clay and is generally considered to be nutrient poor. I had to figure out ways to combat this. So, after some research, I learned what to add to my soil so that it would grow healthier, bigger, more disease resistant vegetables. These tips for how to improve your soil come from my own experience with the backyard space in my city yard.
How to improve your soil naturally
Add in bulk
One of the first things we did was add hay, and a bit of sand to the soil. We did this to loosen up and balance the clay content. Soil comes in different particle sizes and clay is a very small particle size. This makes it hard for roots to push through and can, in fact, suffocate the plant. Because it holds more water, it can also encourage certain plant diseases as well. Adding in bulking agents loosened up the soil so it drained properly and allowed more air space for roots.
Composting is super important to do whenever you are going to garden, especially if you are growing food. It gives you natural fertilizer to help your fruits, veggies, and herbs grow organically in your yard. Composting is also an ideal way to get the best soil possible. Composting simply involves reusing organic waste. There are different types of waste, including brown and green composting waste. This includes things like grass clippings, weeds, dry leaves, egg shells, and food waste. Save them into piles and use it for mulch in the soil. For more information about this, check out this video.
Encourage the right insects
You may not want any insects in your yard, but some of them are actually good for the soil. Naturally, some bugs aren’t great for your vegetable garden, but there are some that will work hard to keep your soil healthy. For example, lady bugs have larvae that improve the health of your soil and soldier beetles are great if you’re growing flowers and plants. There are certain plants that will encourage these bugs to settle into your soil, including the following:
- Sweet clover
Be careful, though. Sweet clover and Goldenrod are considered weeds and can spread through your yard very quickly. I recommend planting herbs and marigolds to encourage beneficial insects. These also tend to repel pests, including animal pests.
Add cover crops to improve your soil naturally
Another thing you can add to your vegetable or herb garden in order to naturally improve the soil is planting cover crops. Cover crops are types of plants that you grow in your garden soil to put nutrients back into the soil. One year, after we harvested all our garden vegetables, we planted vetch and alfalfa to enrich the soil. They grew well and in the spring, we pulled it up and hoed it into the soil. We knew that even though we killed them, allowing them to grow all fall and part of the spring added nutrients to the soil. Their decaying roots and stems would also enrich the soil. One thing we probably could have done better is the killing part. Some of those plants grew back and we found ourselves pulling up vetch all summer long! If you plant cover crops, try legumes instead. If you are unsuccessful in cutting them back, at least you can eat the beans!
Make sure if you decide to get store-bought fertilizer for your soil, you use natural and organic varieties. Pay close attention to the labels and ask someone at the garden supply store for the most natural options. Usually having cover crops and mulch is enough for better soil, but this also depends on where you live.