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Originally published May 3 2010

Sustainable Gardening Starts with Good Soil

by Aaron Turpen

(NaturalNews) The foundation of a healthy, bountiful garden is its soil. Most any ground can become a good garden with the right care and maintenance. There`s no need to buy a bunch of potting or garden soil from the store either. The best soil is that which you build yourself, naturally. It`s easier to do than you might think too.

Once you`ve chosen a location for your garden, you`ll need to analyze the soil to see what it needs to flourish. Using a shovel, dig down about a foot or so so you can see a cross-section of the soil you`re working with. Somewhere between three inches and about a foot, you`ll see a clear change in the soil`s composition.

The darker, richer upper portion is topsoil while the next layer is subsoil. Both are vitally important to healthy plants. Especially that subsoil. That lower layer is what decides not only how rich the topsoil layer is, but also how well it performs soaking up and imparting nutrients.

If the subsoil is a rich reddish or brown color and easily crumbles in your fingers like cookie dough, it is good ground and needs no help from you to start growing a great garden. Of course, if this is the first time you`ve worked this soil as a garden, you`ll want to make sure it`s loose to encourage easy rooting.

If you can`t easily push your finger into the soil down to the last knuckle, then it should be loosened. This can be done with a short tine till. You want to go down about three inches to unpack the topsoil and loosen it up. With proper soil maintenance, you`ll never have to do this again.

Unhealthy signs for subsoil include bluish or gray coloration. This is an indication of poor drainage, which stops nutrients and water from flowing freely through the topsoil and into the subsoil. This water tends to stagnate and rob the topsoil of its nutrition while choking the roots of the plants above.

Look for the existing plants` roots and see if they all stop in a relatively even line. That is the beginning of the blockage - probably a clay barrier. If the subsoil is thick, hard to work with your fingers, and clumps in heavy balls when squeezed in your hand, it has too much clay and is causing your drainage issues.

To fix this problem, you`ll need to add sand to the soil and do some heavy tilling. Till down at least three inches into that subsoil and churn in sand. Start with a light layer of sand on top of the soil, working it in. Continue to add sand as needed until the subsoil has a cookie dough consistency (as above).

While you`re tilling, adding extra nutrients like good manure and compost won`t hurt either. Although this soil remediation is extremely invasive, it is necessary to assure proper drainage. If done right, and with proper maintenance, you`ll never need to do it again.

Another common problem is a lack of topsoil. If you dig down and see no clear strata line between topsoil and subsoil within 18 inches of the ground level, you likely have under-developed soil. This usually happens because the topsoil was recently scraped or washed away (common with construction) or a large tree or heavy bush was over the soil, blocking sunlight and impeding the microbes that break down nutrients in the soil. Adding manure, compost, etc. and tilling well will fix the problem.

However you build your garden`s healthy base, do so with care and an eye for natural sources. In the next part of this series, we`ll discuss garden soil maintenance, sourcing good compost and manure, and building beautiful garden soil year after year in a sustainable, natural way.

Grow Your Own Superfoods in Your Home Garden This Year by Aaron Turpen, NaturalNews

Seed Starting Tips: Start Your Sustainable Garden Today by Aaron Turpen, NaturalNews

Building Good Garden Soil by Aaron Turpen, Aarons EnvironMental Corner

About the author

Aaron Turpen is a professional writer living in Wyoming in the USA. His blogs cover organic/sustainable living and environmental considerations ( and the science debunking mainstream medical and proving alternatives (

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