- THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD SOIL
- EVAULATE SOIL/ GET A SOIL TEST
- THE IMPORTANCE OF SOIL PH
- ADJUSTING TO THE IDEAL SOIL PH
- FEEDING WITH THE BASIC N-P-K
- WHAT ARE SOIL AMENDMENTS?
- TYPES OF SOIL AMENDMENTS
- FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING AN AMENDMENT
- FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- FINAL WORDS
It’s a no-brainer that no matter how much good and dedicated of a gardener you are, there are just some troublesome challenges along the way. One of them is the soil where you are supposed to plant your flowers or any other crops. Oftentimes, it’s indeed not in its optimal condition. Gardening misfortunes like this one is simply inevitable as every patch of soil is different from another. For this reason, amateur farmers, basic crop growers, and gardeners utilize soil amendments. These definitely help to up the game of the soil for it to be functional for cultivation. All the basic things you certainly need to know about these such as what are the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is here in this blog. Make sure to stick around for this jam-packed but definitely fun reading guide!
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD SOIL
When you are about to plant something, the very first thing you should think about is the soil. Yes, it’s not the seed of the crop you are going to grow but the thing where you will put it into. Yes, the soil is what makes the plant to be set upright. But it’s absolutely more critical than that. Always bear in mind that the soil is where the plant gets all the nutrients that it needs to thrive. Besides the water, the plant also gets the minerals, microbes, and other microscopic things it needs to flourish. Actually, there are about 17 essential nutrients that plants need for healthy growth that they obtain from the soil.
On the other hand, oftentimes the soil is a bit short from its most ideal state. However, there is definitely no reason to fret over this since soil amendments are a thing you can bet on.
EVAULATE SOIL/ GET A SOIL TEST
Once you finally decided to grow crops in your vegetable garden and know the significance that the soil has, it’s time to get the latter tested. The drill is if it’s a new vegetable garden with no crops yet, definitely get the soil tested. However, if the vegetable garden has crops already, take a bit of a step back. Evaluate the plants that are already there. If they are obviously healthy, it means that your soil is healthy. On the other hand, if you see that they are seeming sickly such as the presence of discoloration to yellow, get the soil tested!
Furthermore, if you just found yourself in the latter situation, you can pick from two available options. You can either contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office or buy a soil test kit at a garden store. The first option will usually provide a soil test that is free of charge or just for a small amount. Additionally, the second option is also not that expensive.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SOIL PH
The soil testing will reveal the soil pH which is the point where the soil is on a scale that tells if it’s acidic, neutral, or alkaline. Specifically, it discloses the soil’s phosphorus, calcium, potassium, soluble salts, and texture.
More importantly, the soil pH will tell you on what kinds of crops will thrive in the soil you have. Take note that there are crops that will like acidic soils while others don’t. Furthermore, it will also tell you about the availability of nutrients and minerals in the soil. Through this, you will get to know how the plant can absorb and regulate such essential nutrients. Lastly, for these reasons, you will know the right kind of amendment that the soil needs.
ADJUSTING TO THE IDEAL SOIL PH
The standard pH scale ranges from zero (0) to 14. The zero (0) stands for “extremely acidic,” the seven (7) stands for “neutral,” and the 14 stands for “extremely alkaline or basic.”
Basically, soils that land in between zero (0) to seven (7) are considered acidic. However, the soils that land in between seven (7) and 14 are considered basic. Moreover, the ideal range for most crops is in between 6.0 to 6.5 which means that the soil is “slightly acidic.”
Now, if your crop of choice needs a soil that is acidic but it’s not, you need to lower the soil pH. Conversely, if your crop of choice needs a basic soil, definitely raise the soil pH. You can absolutely do both by adding the right amendment into the soil (and more about that later on.)
FEEDING WITH THE BASIC N-P-K
The N-P-K which stands for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) is the sacred trinity of essential plant nutrients.
First, the nitrogen is responsible for strong leaf and stem growth in plants. It’s also needed to induce a darker green color which is the favorable color of some crops such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and many more greens and herbs. Second, the phosphorus is the nutrient needed in order to promote root and early plant growth. It’s also the one responsible for setting blossoms and developing fruit as well as seed formation. Lastly, the potassium is responsible for plant root vigor, disease and stress resistance, as well as enhanced flavor.
WHAT ARE SOIL AMENDMENTS?
A soil amendment is any material that is added into the soil to improve its physical properties. The target goal of this additive is to create an optimal environment for the plant or crop’s roots. Moreover, it does so by improving the soil’s water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration, and structure. Clearly, this must be mixed thoroughly into the soil which is what differentiates it with mulches.
Mulch is any material that is added into the soil to conserve its moisture, improve its fertility and health, reduce weed growth, and create an attractive appearance on the area. Obviously, this one is added on the soil’s surface.
TYPES OF SOIL AMENDMENTS
Soil amendments are mainly categorized according to where they came from: organic and inorganic soil amendments. Organic amendments are derived from something that was alive. On the other hand, inorganic amendments are either mined or man-made.
In addition to this, soil amendments can also be classified into three categories: animal-based, mineral-based, and plant-based soil amendments.
So what are the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden?
These soil amendments act as organic fertilizers for your plants or crops.
- Blood Meal
This is a dry powder that is made from the blood of animals. Moreover, it’s a great fertilizer as it’s boosting the nitrogen in the soil through a strong and slow release. It’s also full of trace minerals. Vegetables such as onion and garlic will indeed benefit from this. The same also happens with Brassica crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale.
Although, be careful when using this because too much nitrogen is harmful to plants. They may burn, especially the young ones that aren’t really lacking in nitrogen. Furthermore, see to it that your pets won’t be able to have access to this since it’s toxic once ingested.
To use blood meal as a soil amendment, sprinkle about ¼ to ½ cup of it around targeted plants. You can also opt for adding them directly into the soil by 10 to 30 pounds per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Bone Meal
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. It’s a powder resulting from the grinding of animal bones. Moreover, this boosts the phosphorus in the soil as well as adds calcium and magnesium too. Additionally, you can either mix this into the soil for a whole improvement or just when your crop is just starting to grow. Furthermore, see to it that your pets won’t be able to have access to this since it’s toxic once ingested.
To use bone meal as a soil amendment, add up to 10 pounds of it per 100 square feet of the garden.
- Homemade Compost
Compost is decomposed organic matter. It’s indeed a microbial-active source of organic matter. On the other hand, homemade compost particularly refers to the combination of your food and yard wastes which are absolutely jam-packed with nutrients. This is also a top contender for the least expensive soil amendment out there. Furthermore, it varies from plant-based compost such as wood chips, manure-based compost, biosolids, down to other agricultural by-products such as chicken feathers.
To use homemade compost as a soil amendment, add up to 20 pounds of it per 100 square feet of the garden.
- Fish Fertilizer
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. Take note that fish emulsion is still being questioned if it’s really good to be a soil amendment. However, some say that a mixture of fish emulsion and sea weed is amazing. Despite having a foul odor, it definitely has its advantageous perks such as it’s fast-acting as well as water soluble.
These can be used, not just as a soil amendment, but also for mulching in raised vegetable beds. Leaves enables the soil to cool off during hot days. Moreover, they also prevent weed growth and accumulation. Furthermore, you can certainly opt for making a leaf mold if you have the privilege of time. Obviously, it’s much easier to just gather a pile of leaves which directly fall around your garden. On the other hand, if you want to spice things up, the leaf mold can be your new mission.
Leaf mold refers to the product of the slow decomposition of shrub and tree leaves. Basically, it’s a compost created by fungal breakdown. Moreover, it’s a crumbly brown material with a pleasant, earthy scent. If you don’t want to wait for it to happen naturally, you can opt for making your own. That requires you to shed the leaves through a simple machine.
Furthermore, leaf mold reduces evaporation which helps the soil to retain moisture. At the same time, it absorbs rainwater which results to decreased runoff. Additionally, it helps the plant’s or the crop’s roots to cool off. Another perk of this is that it also has a moderating effect to the soil. How and why? When leaves fall, they are still slightly acidic. On the other hand, when they break down into a leaf mold, the pH goes up into a more neutral range. Lastly, to apply it, spread it with about three inches thickness.
This soil amendment stands for minerals A to Z. Azomite also contains the trace elements. Additionally, this fine powder nourishes the soil through its slow releasing of big mineral power. Bear in mind that minerals in the soil means mineral in the plants. Moreover, mineral in the plants means mineral for you. Furthermore, this also acts as an anti-caking agent in animal feeds.
To use azomite as a soil amendment, add around one to two pounds of it per 100 square feet of the garden.
- Alfalfa Meal
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. This certainly boosts the nitrogen in the soil. At the same time, Alfalfa Pellets contains trace minerals as well as triacontanol which induces plant growth.
To use alfalfa meal as a soil amendment, put around 25 to 50 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Kelp Meal
This soil amendment has tremendous amounts of micronutrients as well as beneficial plant growth promoters. At the same time, it also induces stress tolerance to pests, diseases, frost, and drought.
To use kelp meal as a soil amendment, add around five to 20 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Shellfish Meal
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. It’s definitely full of calcium that amounts to around 23%. Moreover, it also has nitrogen, phosphorus, as well as trace minerals. Additionally, it contains chitin which induces the growth of soil microbes that dwell in root-knot nematodes.
To use shellfish meal as a soil amendment, put around 30 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
This soil amendment, which is also called as glauconite, is actually a marine sediment that is green colored. It has about 7% total potash. Moreover, it’s rich in potassium, iron, magnesium, silica, and has around 30 trace minerals.
To use greensand as a soil amendment, add around 50 to 100 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. This has about 23% calcium as well as 18% sulfur.
To use gypsum as a soil amendment, put around 40 to 120 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Dolomite Lime
This soil amendment sweetens soil by raising the pH level. At the same time, it has tons of calcium and magnesium that induces healthy plant growth.
To use dolomite lime as a soil amendment, add around 25 to 50 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. It definitely helps the soil to be able to retain moisture by holding on to water longer. Obviously, this is your go-to amendment if you are in a place with dry climate.
This soil amendment lowers the soil pH in alkaline soils. Additionally, take note that elemental sulfur has 90% sulfur with 10% bentonite as a binder. Moreover, sulfur will likely help acid loving plants or crops.
To use sulfur as a soil amendment, put around 10 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. It’s also known as the sulfate of potash-magnesia. Moreover, it’s a quick release source of potassium. In addition to this, it also has 22% soluble potash, 22% sulfur, and 11% magnesium.
To use sul-po-mag as a soil amendment, add around five to 10 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Rock Phosphate
This soil amendment can actually give a 10 year reserve of phosphorus. It has 27% total phosphate, 33% elemental calcium, and many other trace minerals. Moreover, it’s certainly good for flowering plants.
To use rock phosphate as a soil amendment, put around 50 pounds of it per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Rock Dust
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. It’s good for soil vitality as well as plant health. Additionally, it has various trace minerals.
To use rock dust as a soil amendment, add around 50 to 150 pounds per 1,000 square feet of the garden.
- Coffee Grounds
This soil amendment has a lot of benefits. First, it boosts organic material in the soil. Next, it also adds nitrogen. It also helps in microorganism health, attracts worms to aerate soil, and drive away pests such as slugs, snails, and ants away from the crops.
- Coconut Coir
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. It’s made from compressed coconut fiber. Additionally, it’s actually an eco-friendly alternative to peat moss, rockwool, vermiculite, perlite, or pumice.
To use coconut coir as a soil amendment, put around one part coir to 2 to 3 parts soil.
- Chicken Manure
This soil amendment is made from the feces or wastes of chicken. It definitely provides a well-balanced supply of nutrients. Moreover, it also induces good moisture retention of the soil. Furthermore, it’s good for mulching too.
To use chicken manure as a soil amendment, add around 1 cubic feet to cover 200 square feet of the garden.
- Rabbit Droppings
Another one of the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden is this one. The manure of the rabbit adds nitrogen, phosphorus, as well as potassium into the soil. Moreover, it also helps in moisture retention, drainage, and soil quality. Additionally, it boosts micro-nutrients. It also doesn’t burn plants even if it wasn’t composted first but just applied directly into the soil.
You can obtain rabbit droppings if you have a pet rabbit or you can offer to clean cages to get them for free.
- Worm Castings
This soil amendment is the feces or wastes of worm. These castings are capable of slow releasing nitrogen. Additionally, it promotes good water retention in the soil. Moreover, it adds both beneficial bacteria and microbes into the soil while not smelling foul like other animal manures.
You can obtain worm castings by either buying it or setting up your own worm farm.
These soil amendments can certainly increase beneficial organisms in the soil. Moreover, these improve the soil structure too. The best animal-based amendments are manures from different animals as well as worm composts.
These soil amendments can definitely help with the mineral deficiencies in the soil. Just a quick reminder when using these: be careful because they don’t break down easily which may result to over-application.
These soil amendments certainly improve soil structure. Just a quick reminder when using these: make sure to use herbicide-free amendments to prevent contamination. Know that contamination will lead to low germination rates as well as leaves that are curled and discolored to yellow.
The best plant-based amendments are homemade composts made from food scraps and yard wastes, greensand, leaf mold, comfrey, cover crops, as well as wood chips.
This plant-based soil amendment is a perennial herb with large green leaves and purple, pink, or white flowers. Its roots condition the subsoil for nutrients and collect those nutrients in its leaves. Moreover, this is really full of nutrients that it actually challenges the efficiency of animal-based amendments.
Furthermore, its high nitrogen content can definitely activate a compost pile. To use comfrey as a soil amendment, chop the leaves and use them around fruit trees as well as mature fruiting vegetable plants. At the same time, it may be more favorable if you will put it during the fall in a vegetable garden. You can then turn them under before planting right on spring.
- Cover Crops
These plant-based soil amendments increase soil fertility and beneficial soil organisms as well as fungi. Moreover, they also improve soil texture. For these reasons, cover crops can drive away pests and diseases. Additionally, take note that there are a lot of varieties of these soil amendments. Take time to assess the right kind for you which is depending upon your gardening goals, local weather, and many more.
To use cover crops as a soil amendment, sow them in vegetable beds during the fall. By springtime, these are already full and lush. As soon as they start to flower or set seed heads, cut them back just above the soil line. Then after some days, put it into the soil by using a digging fork. One tip that may help is to use chickens to help turn residues into the soil.
- Wood Chips
These plant-based soil amendments increase organic matter and beneficial soil organisms. It also improves the nutrient levels in the soil. Moreover, they induce good water retention which results to decreased irrigation needs. Additionally, since adding these amendments is like portraying the forest floor, wood chips stop the growth and accumulation of weeds. At the same time, they insulate against the heat during the summer and the cold during the winter.
To use wood chips as a soil amendment, you need to age them in a span of two to three years before mixing them into the vegetable garden soil as an amendment. It’s also advisable to add a little bit of blood meal into it in order to boost nitrogen.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING AN AMENDMENT
Always keep in mind that there are three significant factors to consider when choosing a soil amendments. They are (1) the longevity of the amendment, (2) soil texture, (3) soil salinity and plant sensitivities to salts, and (4) salt content and the pH of the soil amendment.
The LONGEVITY OF THE AMENDMENT depends on your gardening goals. For example, if you are trying to quickly improve the soil’s physical properties, then go for the amendment that decomposes fast. Conversely, if you are eyeing a long-lasting improvement to your soil, then pick the amendment that decomposes slowly. Lastly, you can certainly want an improvement that is both quick and long lasting. If that is the case, then use a combination of many soil amendments.
The SOIL TEXTURE is the way a soil feels which is due to the size of its particles. Soils can be sandy, clay, or loam and each has their own amending requirements or demands.
The SOIL SALINITY AND PLANT SENSITIVITY TO SALTS is simply about the soil’s salt content and how the plant or crop planted in it will react with such amount.
The SALT CONTENT AND PH OF THE SOIL AMENDMENT is simply the amendment’s placement on the pH scale which is definitely significant to the process of soil cultivation.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: WHAT IS THE FREQUENT SOIL PH OF MOST GARDENS?
A: Soils don’t usually land on both of the extreme ends of the pH scale. They commonly land in between five (5) to nine (9).
Q: WHAT IS THE FREQUENT IDEAL PH RANGE OF MOST PLANTS?
A: It’s in between 6.0 and 6.5 which means that the soil is “slightly acidic.” This type of soil has a good microbial activity and allows the plant’s roots to easily obtain essential nutrients.
Q: WHAT CROPS WILL LIKELY THRIVE IN ACIDIC SOILS?
A: For vegetables, there are the sweet corn, cucumbers, beans, broccoli, turnips, squash, and onions. On the other hand, for the fruits, there are the cranberries, blueberries, and huckleberries. Moreover, for the flowering plants, there are the azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, camellias, and daffodils. Lastly, the trees that are likely to flourish in this kind of soil are the evergreens, beech, willow, oak, and dogwood.
Q: WHAT CROPS WILL LIKELY THRIVE IN BASIC OR HIGH-IN-ALKALINE SOILS?
A: Vegetables such as asparagus, beans, beet, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, garlic, kale, pea, pumpkin, spinach, crookneck squash, and tomato.
Q: WHAT AMENDMENTS CAN BOOST THE SACRED TRINITY N-P-K?
A: To boost the nitrogen, add composted manure into the soil. You can also opt for adding alfalfa meal or seaweed, fish, or blood meal. On the other hand, boosting phosphorus can happen by putting bone meal or rock phosphate into the soil. Lastly, to boost potassium, do add greensand, wood ashes, gypsum, or kelp into the soil.
Q: HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S TIME TO USE SOIL AMENDMENTS?
A: The time when you are beginning to create your garden is also the time to consider amending your soil.
Q: IS MULCH A SOIL AMENDMENT
A: Technically, it isn’t a soil amendment unless they are mixed into the soil rather than just being a surface additive.
We certainly have given you the jam-packed answer to the question “what are the best soil amendments for a vegetable garden?” Along with that is absolutely a full blown, extensive guide about everything you need to know regarding amendments and soil cultivation in general.
Gardening is indeed a laborious task, especially if you are trying to grow plants or crops not just for a hobby or pastime. It’s because there are too many factors in play and you have to deal with each one of those. Moreover, one of them is already hard enough and that is the soil. But thanks to soil amendments, the stubbornness of soils can be overcome.
There too many soil amendments, so having a thorough knowledge about them all will give you an advantage. Regardless of what you are trying to grow, have a fun gardening experience and a good bountiful harvest!