How to Garden Vegetables: A Guide to Soil and Soil Amendments


Healthy plant growth depends on several factors inherent in your soil, including its texture, water-retaining qualities, pH, nutrient content, trace elements, microorganisms, and fauna (like worms). Once you find the sweet spot and learn how to keep it there, you can cultivate delicious crops.

Explanation of pH Levels.

To put it briefly, soil can be acidic, neutral, or alkaline. The pH scale, which measures acidity and alkalinity, spans these values from 1 (extremely acidic) to 14 (very alkaline). The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 6 is considered mildly acidic, whereas a pH of 8 is mildly alkaline.

You may find a simple test to determine your soil’s pH level at any garden center or store. I recommend conducting one or more tests on your vegetable plot to determine if your soil pH has to be improved or is suitable for the crops you intend to produce. A similar color chart is typically used for the test. Those in the red, orange, or yellow range indicate an acidic environment (pH 7), whereas those in the green, blue, or purple range indicate an alkaline environment (pH > 7).

Soil Classes

Clay particles are the smallest, followed by silt particles at a slightly bigger size, and lastly, sand particles at the most significant size make up soils. Soil is made up of these particles in various combinations. There are typically seven distinct kinds of soil. Which of these best reflects your situation?

Soil composed of clay Heavier loam, Medium loam, Sandy loam, and sandy loam
Soils high in chalk and limestone
Soils consisting of peat moss
Planetary Clay

These are some of the traits that define clay soil:

Consist of grains with a diameter of less than 0.002 mm.
There are very few empty areas between these microscopic particles.
When wet, these particles tend to clump together (aggregate).
Poor aeration and drainage might result from a lack of air gaps.
In the spring, clay soils take a while to warm up.
Although clay-based soils are often rich in nutrients, their structure sometimes makes them inaccessible to plant roots.
The texture of wet clay is similar to that of sticky grease.
It is firm, complex, and lumpy when the clay is dry.
The typical pH of clay is 7.
Usually, resist effort.
Sandy Earth

Sandstone soil has these features:

Consists of chunky bits and granules (diameters of 0.05 to 2.0 mm).
There is a lot of room for air to circulate between these grains.
Water can freely permeate the grains since they do not agglomerate (stick together).
Because of this, nutrients may be lost due to leaching.
This means that sandy soils typically have poor nutrition levels.
Gritty to the touch, sandy soils often have an acidic pH of less than 7.
The color of sandy soil is usually pale.
It’s a breeze to dig in them.
Springtime temperatures rise rapidly on sandy soils.
However, in the summer, they dry up rapidly and become dusty.
Chalky Ground

Chalk soil has these distinguishing features:

Usually have a very light hue.
Additionally, their depth is usually not very significant.
The nutritional content of chalk soil is often low.
Sticky when wet, bumpy when dry, that’s a possibility.
Bog Soil

These are frequently quite acidic and unfit for most plant life.
Usually include a lot of organic material.
Becom[e]s bogged down in the water.
Soils that range from sandy to clay-like

Friable loam is the ideal soil texture. These are rich in inorganic and organic materials and essential nutrients.

These soils have a deep, rich color, a crumbly texture, adequate drainage, and are simple to work with.

That’s it for soil kinds; presumably, you have an excellent notion of the soil’s pH and its best classification by now. Lucky you if your soil has a pH of 6-7 and is a nice friable loam! If you don’t, though, don’t lose hope. We can employ methods on particularly poor or shallow soils, such as raised beds, for vegetable production or improve the soil you already have.

Enhanced Soil Quality

Organic matter (compost, well-rotted farmyard manure, or even seaweed) added to sandy soils can make them more suitable for plant growth. These can be worked into the ground to strengthen the earth, increase water retention, and potentially increase the number of beneficial soil organisms. Although organic matter amendment will increase nutrient content, further fertilizer feeding may still be required.

Adding organic matter to clay soils helps prevent the particles from clumping together, creates air gaps, and boosts drainage. Sometimes it helps to add horticultural grit as well.

The pH of your soil needs to be raised by one or two levels if it is below 6. You can do this by adding lime; how much lime you apply will depend on the desired pH increase.

If the pH of your soil is too high (above 7), you can bring it down by mixing in some wood shavings or sulfur flowers.

The effects will be temporary and will likely need to be repeated to maintain the target pH, and a shift of more than 1-2 levels is unlikely to be achieved using these methods.

Fauna and Flora of the Soil Microbes

The value of these to vegetation is frequently overlooked. So, what are we talking about, exactly? Tiny organisms and critters of all kinds thrive in good soil. Beneficial soil organisms are those that aid soil health. Some soil organisms are not helpful and may even be hazardous.

Earthworms, some bacteria, fungi, nematodes (simple worms), beetles, and protozoa are all examples of beneficial soil creatures. Each of these is essential to the health of your soil. Having lots of earthworms in your soil is a good indicator.

Some nematodes, wireworms, eelworms, and the infamous slug are just a few of the harmful soil creatures.


There may be a hard pan (an impermeable layer of subsoil) underneath your topsoil, or the water table (the upper level of water in the ground at any time under well-drained topsoil) may be naturally close to the surface of your plot still has poor drainage despite having improved topsoil.

Possible solutions include installing a drainage system or breaking up the hard pan. Digging shallow ditches and installing pipes that eventually lead to a soak-away or other drainage system would constitute a primary drainage system.

For successful vegetable gardening, the soil should be at least 18 inches (45 cm) deep (around two spade depths). Raised beds may be necessary if the hard-pan layer is impenetrable, the water table is too high, or a drainage system is impractical.

Dr. Paul Shipley Dip. H. (Inst. G) A.I. Hort

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