How do I prepare healthy soil for my garden?
Healthy soil is alive with beneficial microorganisms, fungi, and earthworms that promote nutrient exchange and guard against pathogens, increase moisture capacity and reduce plant stress. Ideal soil has a loamy texture, complex structure, good fertility, and adequate drainage. You can buy quality soil in bags or in bulk, or save money by preparing your own soil mixture.
A fertile soil mixture is equal parts soil and compost, with added amendments, and a loose drainage layer. Most bulk soil providers offer pre-mixed soil and compost blends, specifically designed for vegetable gardening.
If a pre-mixed blend is unavailable, you can make your own by mixing and amending bulk materials. If the native ground soil in your garden is poor quality, i.e. high clay content, compacted or rocky, it takes a bit of work to transform unfertile dirt into healthy soil that your plants will thrive in. Mixing your own soil, however, usually saves money and can be very rewarding, teaching many important principles of organic gardening.
Regardless of how you come by healthy soil, it is important to maintain soil fertility by covering exposed beds with mulch and cover crops in the off-season, practicing companion planting and crop rotation, and periodically top dressing and amending soil to replenish spent nutrients between plantings.