Improving Your Soil

Learn how to improve your soil and increase the quality of your harvests.

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Once you have explored the quality of your soil, you may need to improve it. The soil in your garden or community plot is your most valuable resource, but without feeding, the quality of your harvests will deteriorate.

Add Organic Matter to Improve Soil Structure

Organic matter is a vital part of your soil’s structure, providing food and nutrients for the essential microorganisms and your crops. Each season that passes and each leaf removed further depletes the soil’s resources and ability to produce healthy crops. Moisture is retained in the minute cavities between soil particles, and organic matter improves the water retention for when the plant really needs it. Digging in well-rotted farmyard manure or homemade compost will work wonders for the leafier herbs, but do not apply in bulk to your Mediterranean herb bed as plants such as rosemary and lavender really dislike a moist and nutrient-rich environment.

Organic Matter to Improve Soil StructureEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Double Dig to Remove a Compact Layer

Double digging is hard work and should not be undertaken lightly, but its effects can last for several years. Mark out the area to be dug (don’t be too ambitious) and dig a trench one shovel’s depth and two or three wide, carrying the spoil to the far end of the area to be dug in a wheelbarrow. Using a fork, break up the base of the trench to 4–6 in (10–15 cm) and incorporate plenty of sand and organic matter. Dig over a further two or three shovels' widths of fresh topsoil and place on top of the freshly improved lower level, adding more organic matter and sand. Soil from the first trench will fill the last one and any surplus can be scattered over the entire area.

Coarse Sand Improves Soggy SoilEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Add Course Sand to Improve Drainage

If you have soggy or clay soil, adding course sand will increase the drainage by decreasing the moisture-holding capacity of your soil. This will dramatically improve the range of herbs that you can grow. Incorporate the sand to a shovel’s depth and in large quantities. Experiment on a small scale, starting with a depth of 3 1/4 in (8 cm) over 3 sq ft (1 sq m) before committing to the entire site. Gravel is not expensive, but is very heavy, so calculate how much you need and remember it is easy to add more at a later date. A coarse sand of about 1/2 in (10 mm) diameter is ideal, but ensure only clean horticultural sand is used as saline contamination can be difficult to remedy.

Replace Compacted Soil with Mixed CompostEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Simple Steps to Success: Herbs © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited
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Excerpted from Simple Steps: Herbs

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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