How to Build a Healthy Soil Community

Build healthy garden soil using the no-till method, avoid compacting soil and adding organic matter to maintain health and integrity.

  • Organic matter such as manure and compost is essential for maintaining soil health and integrity.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing
  • "The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener" shows you how to create a peaceful co-existence between your vegetable garden and the wildlife who consider it part of their habitat.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing

Make beneficial wildlife part of your food-garden ecosystem. Tammi Hartung shares her successful methods for attracting pollinators, nourishing soil and deterring pests in The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener (Storey Publishing, 2014). Learn how to build healthy soil in the following excerpt from "Encouraging Friends from the Underground."

Purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener.

How to Build a Healthy Soil Community

How you choose to prepare the garden for planting will have an impact on the soil community, so it’s worth putting some careful thought into how you’ll proceed. If you have very compacted soil where you plan to put your garden, you’ll definitely need to use a more aggressive method to prepare it, such as double digging or rototilling. If you can accomplish your garden preparation using a no-dig method, however, you won’t disrupt the structure of the soil community, which will allow your plants to benefit more immediately from all the positive attributes soil-dwelling creatures have to offer.

Once the initial soil preparation has been completed, it’s equally important to keep the soil in good condition. Preventing soil from becoming compacted is crucial to how well and how quickly your plants will establish themselves and grow. Ensuring that your garden soil maintains a good level of organic matter will not only support the plants living in that soil, but will also foster the creatures and microorganisms that live in the soil as well. To that end, providing adequate moisture is something every gardener must have a plan for. Finally, mulching helps keep precious water in the soil, and smothers weeds at the same time.

Work the Soil Gently

Keep in mind that aggressive soil disturbance will cause damage or destruction to the soil community that may take a very long time, sometimes many years, to repair itself. Because of this, it’s wise to carefully consider how you’re affecting the soil when you prepare your garden beds.

Some gardeners feel that double-digging the soil when the garden is first prepared is the best way. This process — which involves digging a trench, placing the soil off to the side, then digging a second trench and filling the first trench with the topsoil from the second trench — may be helpful for dealing with compacted soil, but it also ends up inverting the layers of soil structure and puts organisms used to dwelling in the topsoil layer down in the subsoil.

5/27/2019 10:46:19 PM

Our soil is sandy gravel held together by adobe clay (south central Arizona). Good building material. Casa Grande was abandoned 800 years ago and is still standing. Under the tops soil (maybe 1/2% organic material), heavy layers of caliche, natural baking soda. Roots will not go thru lime. Given enough time and water, some would be leached deeper and allow roots to go into it, following holes. The only rescue for such soil is Native American style hugelkultur. The Tohono say, get under the caliche if you can. I can go 3 feet before hitting sandstone, and fill in with logs, weeds, brush, and coffee grounds (thank you, Starbucks!). Caliche is separated as much as possible from the soil, and the soil back-filled. If I can. plenty of greenery is added to help soil life thrive and then the trench can be used soon. More coffee grounds over the to and raked in to mix it with the soil. this way, we don't get a layer (sometimes inches thick) of clay on top, but something that becomes loam. Water well, add mulch, water that in, and let it go for 6 weeks to 6 months. Results are fantastic, with even tomatoes weathering the drought,the heat, and even frosts.A good one to watch is Gabe Brown, ranches on 5,000 acres near Bismark, SD. Another Youtube is niio
5/15/2018 9:28:05 PM

I used the plans at WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG to build my own – I highly recommend you visit that website and check their plans out too. They are detailed and super easy to read and understand unlike several others I found online. The amount of plans there is mind-boggling… there’s like 16,000 plans or something like that for tons of different projects. Definitely enough to keep me busy with projects for many more years to come haha Go to WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG if you want some additional plans :)

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters