There seems to be a lot of chatter about “amending your soil”. Some folks pose the question of, “what does that even mean?
What Does Amend Your Soil mean?
“Amending” means “to alter, modify, or improve”. Healthy soil is alive with invisible microbes, fungi, and other visible critters like worms and centipedes. These hard-working life forms help release nutrients that are locked in the soil to a plant available form. They also aid in keeping a healthy soil structure by tunneling, decomposing, and shredding organic matter. (Organic matter: fallen leaves, dead plants, straw, sticks, and composts). But with no organic matter being added to the soil, those critters have nothing to munch on and therefore no nutrients are being released for your plants to use. In turn, the critters die off and you have poor, depleted soil not suitable for vigorous plant growth.
Amending Your Soil Cultivates Soil Biology
Amending your soil by adding composts, soil conditioners, and organic matter to it regularly will sustain these beneficial critters and help build a healthy soil ecosystem. The biology in your soil continually releases nutrients to plants to create healthy crops and abundant harvests.
Composts, soil conditioners, organic matter → Supports soil critter biology → Recycles and releases nutrients and creates soil structure that supports healthy plants
Some examples of “soil conditioners” or “amendments” → Worm castings, bat guano, bone meal, alfalfa meal
How To Amend Your Soil
Keep it simple and add compost and a variety of amendments to your garden soil regularly. Spread a 1”-3” layer of compost on top of your garden plot each year and work in with a tiller, shovel or digging fork down to 6”-8”. You can do this is the Spring or Fall.
I like to make a little “cocktail” when amending my garden beds in the spring:. I add compost, bone meal, and worm castings altogether on top of the soil and turn it in. This provides a variety of nutrients and particulate sizes for soil critters to process and release to my plants.
Quick tip: There is an important distinction to note when talking about composts: some composts are manure-based and some are plant based. Manure based composts are high in nitrogen (a good thing!) and are best added to the garden in the Fall to allow the compost time to “cool down” over the winter. Plant based composts are great for building soil structure and for adding a variety of minerals and micronutrients to the soil composition and can be added anytime.
Pro tip: Sprinkle compost around the base of your plants throughout the growing season to continually feed your soil life and keep your plants healthy and happy. (This is called “sidedressing”).
Utilize Mulch Like Straw or Leaves to Protect and Amend Your Soil
Don’t forget to mulch! Cover any bare soil in the garden with an organic matter mulch like leaves or straw. Mulch helps to retain moisture, protect soil from erosion and compaction, and provides a healthy amount of organic matter to the soil ecosystem for critters like centipedes and worms to munch on.
Understanding the soil ecosystem and learning how to amend your soil is a KEY foundational element in creating a healthy and successful garden. In our flagship gardening course, The Sustainable Gardener, we take a deep dive into how to amend your soil over the years to transform it into a food producing machine full of beneficial biology. Healthy soil makes healthy plants that are resistant to pests and disease and produce more nutrient dense food. Let’s get growing!