Tips for building the best soil

As sure as a concrete slab is the foundation for a typical modern home, good soil is the foundation for a successful garden, an attractive feature to some of those seeking farm and ranch land for sale in Texas. It is a rich and diverse living medium, from which flowers can bloom profusely and produce may be abundant. 

Soil can be wasted, lost, deteriorated, and eroded. On the other end of the spectrum, it can be built, developed, enhanced, and conserved. Ultimately, more than almost anything else, the value of good soil lies in its ability to help feed a family by maintaining a few small seeds.

"Good soil is a vital building block for any garden or farm."

How does one go about obtaining good soil? Unfortunately, it doesn't simply arrive along with the plot of ground your house resides upon. Savvy gardeners must take the existing soil of their property and fortify it with additional organic matter. The specifics will vary, of course, but if you go to any decent gardening center, you'll find a number of products containing several different types of composted manure. You don't necessarily need to buy sand and compost on your own - just be sure to buy the good stuff.

The question of topsoil
From time to time, people ask me if I think they should purchase topsoil. I typically say no. Even the best store-bought topsoil only includes the few top inches from any large soil site.  Chances are slim that you'd actually receive soil from that topmost layer.

Also, buying soil from a garden or farm that is not your own may bring new weeds or pests to your landscape. Your site likely has enough potential nuisances to begin with and doesn't need to be commingled with any others. Personally, I would only suggest the addition of someone else's soil if you need to fill a major depression or low-lying area in your landscape. 

Instead, take whatever soil your farm has and simply make it better by purchasing composted material, such as mushroom manure, and adding it to the site. You can buy this by the bag or in loads large enough to fill dump trucks. Whether the existing soil is too fine, too thick or is subject to another issue, organic compost can make it better.

Tips for building the best soilGood soil involves the combination of existing ground matter with composted materials.

If your budget currently doesn't allow for the addition of compost, or your garden occupies too much area to easily spread it out, consider the strategy of cover crops. This involves intentionally planting a crop to incorporate it into the soil after it grows to a certain stage, thus increasing the amount of organic matter. 

Cover crops vary by season
In the summer after all your spring gardening is completed, consider planting a variety of southern peas, particularly purple hull peas. While they can certainly provide you with more to eat, they'll primarily put nitrogen into the soil to enrich it. These peas can be turned under into the ground with a tiller or disc, after the crop has grown. 

In the cool season, try planting radishes as a cover crop, or one of the many varieties of greens. These can be spread widely over a garden or farming area and lightly covered with soil, to create a lush vegetative cover. After harvesting what you need, the remnants can be pushed back into the soil, thus increasing organic matter. 

Trap crops for soil defense
Elbon rye, a cereal grain much like wheat or oats, is an excellent trap crop for nematode-infested sites. Only the Elbon variety of rye lets harmful root-knot nematodes in to infect its roots - and then traps them, so they cannot damage other crops. 

Furthermore, if you still have oak leaves in some parts of your landscape (as I do), you can put them to use between rows as a pathway that will slowly decompose as the season progresses. This will allow nutrients and organic matter to work their way into the garden soil.

I hope you look at your garden soil as a constantly evolving thing - something that can be improved over time. The use of cover crops at different points in the year - or the addition of compost, where feasible, on smaller areas - is a time-tested country living strategy, one that can promote dramatic improvements in your garden's health and productivity.

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email - cw-sims@tamu.edu.

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