6 Common Garden Soil Problems and How to Fix Them
So you’ve decided to grow your own organic vegetable garden; you’ve bought the seeds and all of your gardening tools and you can’t wait to get started. Before you get too excited, though, you need to be prepared to troubleshoot some problems that may arise. One of the biggest problems that gardeners face is soil issues. Knowing what these are and how to fix them will give you a huge advantage and will accelerate your success as an organic vegetable gardener. The important thing is not to give up – organic gardening is too important to your health and to the environment!
Here are six common soil problems and advice on how to fix them.
Not Knowing What Type of Soil You Have
Certain vegetables do better with certain soil. While you can buy special soil, it makes it much easier if you know right from the start what type you have. You will either have lean or rich soil, dry or moist, acidic or alkaline.
The best way to find out what you have is to conduct a soil test. There are kits available from your local nursery, and all you have to do is dig up some samples from different areas of your yard, including the spot where your organic vegetable garden is going to go. Once you know the type of soil you have, you can grow those specific vegetables. If you’re unsure just visit your local nursery or do some research online. Remember that you’re growing an organic vegetable garden so you don’t want to add any type of accelerant or chemicals to the soil, as this would completely defeat the purpose.
Over Digging or Over Tilling
Some over-excited gardeners get out their shovel at the first sign of spring and start digging and tilling their gardens. What happens is virtually a weed explosion – all of those seeds that have been lying dormant have now been exposed to light and air and can grow with very little effort! As you are surely aware, weeding can be back-breaking work and it can be discouraging to keep seeing them pop up almost daily.
Delay digging and tilling until later in the spring when the soil has had a chance to dry out a bit. Some organic gardeners believe in skipping the digging step altogether and allowing humus to settle into and onto the ground over a period of time. This is nature’s way of gardening and requires very little interference from humans. Layering your garden with newspapers and hay will also keep the weeds out and your soil healthy so you don’t have to pull out your shovel each year.
Some areas of your yard may be prone to excess water due to poor drainage. If you know a certain spot is waterlogged, then keep your organic garden away from it if possible, for obvious reasons. You don’t want your veggies drenched in waterlogged soil or your whole crop may be ruined and you’ll have done all of that planning and work for nothing.
You can try keeping the moisture away by way of diversion, rerouting the water into another spot or using small pebbles in drainage basins to keep the water away. If this seems like too much work, or proves to be ineffective, then you can use moisture-loving plants to soak up the excess water. Pussy willows, pansies, impatiens and bee balm are just a few examples. Be careful, though, about the plants you choose, because if they are too large they can take over the whole area and interfere with your vegetables.
Too Much Clay
This ties in to the above point; if your yard is prone to holding water, it may be due to excess clay in the soil. This is a common problem in certain areas and can make ‘working the land’ frustrating and difficult. In general clay is a poor option for growing plants and vegetables and when it rains, the soil can be left waterlogged and soggy.
Use a rotary tiller or strong rake to loosen the clay in the area where you’re going to plant your organic vegetable garden. Be sure to break up any large clumps. Once you’ve tilled the top few inches of the clay soil, you can layer it with organic materials such as straw, dried leaves or wood chips. Blend this organic material completely into the tilled soil and mix thoroughly. Buy some good quality top soil (organic of course) and mix thoroughly with the clay soil and organic materials. This will loosen the clay soil and make for a much more successful organic vegetable garden.
Compact Garden Soil
Trying to grow an organic vegetable garden (or any other type of garden) in compact garden soil will only result in frustration and headaches. If the ground is too compact, the seeds will have a hard time getting the oxygen, nutrients and moisture that they need to grow. If your vegetables do manage to grow at all, they will quickly turn brown and eventually keel over.
We’ll state the obvious first: don’t plant your organic vegetable garden in compacted soil, where there are high traffic areas. Before you plant, be sure to loosen the soil so it has plenty of air. You can consider aerating the soil as well before planting.
Not Properly Preparing Your Soil
It’s a sad fact that native soil is probably not the best for your organic vegetable garden, no matter what type of veggies you intend to plant. Environmental pollutants, pesticides and a host of other contaminants may deem your native soil infertile or dormant. For this reason it is imperative that you prepare your soil before you plant any seeds or plants.
This is why raised bed organic gardens are so popular. Using rich, dark soil that is fresh and hasn’t been used for anything else will be the best bet for your garden. You’ll enjoy a garden that is full of fresh vegetables and herbs, without worrying about soil contaminants.