Feb 18, 2013

Garden Tip - Soil Prep

prepping your soil for food gardening

I realize this topic may have been better as the first part of my garden tips series, but alas, I didn't think all this through and I didn't realize you guys would be as interested in this stuff as you seem to be. So after some comments and emails regarding dirt, i realized it might be a little helpful to know how we prepare our soil for growing food.

This past weekend we planted herbs, tomatoes and peppers in starter pots so as my husband mixed the soil, I snapped some pictures from my phone.

This is how he does it:

1. Start your base with some basic potting soil. We used about a half a bag and just dumped it into a wheel barrow.

prepping your soil for food gardening

You can find this at your local nursery (Stringer's if your in town) or garden supply center. While Miracle Grow works pretty good, the husband does not recommend it for food gardening because it's a little acidic and heavy for food.

2. Add in compost or dark soil from your garden if you don't have a compost pile/bin. You'll want about equal parts compost and potting soil.

If you haven't started composting, you should. It's like recycling your food and it's not only great for the earth, it also makes the most amazing soil to add back into your garden. Win - win.

3. Add about a shovel full of sand. Sand is great for drainage.

prepping your soil for food gardening

We got a huge bag of sand years ago for the icy months in the winter and still have some left so we just use it. Nothing amazing here.

4. Add about 2 handfuls basic 10-10-10 fertilizer - better to go light on this.

prepping your soil for food gardening

It's just a multi-purpose fertilizer. We get it at Atwoods but any feed store should carry it and there's also an organic fertilizer you can get too.

5. Add about a shovel full of perlite. Apparently it's an inert stone that is good for drainage and air.

prepping your soil for food gardening

This isn't make or break stuff for your soil and is a little on the expensive side, so you can skip this if you want.

6. You may want to put your gloves on at this point - if you haven't yet. Add a couple shovel fully of mushroom compost.

prepping your soil for food gardening

It's rich in organic matter and adds good fungus and bacteria to your soil. You can find it at your local nursery, Lowe's or garden supply stores.

7. Add cow manure. The same amount as mushroom compost.

prepping your soil for food gardening

It's also rich in organic material and its high in nitrogen, which is really good for early crops like spinach and lettuce. It's pretty inexpensive and you can find it at your local nursery, Lowe's or garden supply stores.

8. Add a little shake of Epsom salt, about 2 tablespoons.

prepping your soil for food gardening

It's like a multi-vitamin for your plants and helps fight diseases. It's pretty standard in any garden center and you can find it at Walmart too. It's really inexpensive and will last years.

9. LAST THING!! if you have some limestone, I mean, everyone has this right? Add about 2 tablespoons or so to your soil mix. You can find it at your local nursery, Lowe's or garden supply stores.

prepping your soil for food gardening

It helps maintain a good pH and sweetens your soil.

Now mix it all until evenly distributed.

prepping your soil for food gardening


You can put this soil back in your beds, in buckets that drain or in your seed-starters and you'll have killer veggies in no time.

prepping your soil for food gardening

Now, if your like me, you might be asking yourself, "Seriously? Is that all necessary?"

It isn't.

According to the husband, if you have good soil in your garden to start with, just mix equal parts potting soil and garden soil with a little multi-purpose fertilizer and you're good to go.

So why add all that other stuff? Well, think of it this way, say your plants are your body - they need food to grow. Where does it come from? The soil and sun. So, if you plant your seeds in nutrient rich soil, it will help them flourish, just as if you feed your body with nutrient food like fruits and veggies, it will grow better and you'll have more energy than if you just ate oatmeal everyday. Sure, you could live off oatmeal and water for a while. But, you wouldn't be thriving. Same for plants and that's why we use this soil mixture.

I hope that helped! Good luck and enjoy!

You can see the other gardening tips here: planting strawberries or spring planting.


  1. Thank you so much for your tips. That is so sweet of you! So generous.

  2. Would love to hear about your composting adventures!

  3. I am thrilled to find your site! I love that you showed the entire thing visually as well as writing it out. Wow. Epsom salts, huh? I've got that. The other stuff, well, no... We are starting our seeds also. Thanks so much. I'd love to have you link this to What to do Weekends Party for my followers.. anyone can use this great information. Take care, Linda


  4. ACK! SO HELPFUL!! I just told my husband that we've failed miserably the last 2 years properly prepping our soil (we live in the Pacific Northwest--Eastern (dry) side of Washington State). But thanks to this post, I'm hoping for a bit better of a crop....

    My one question is this: I have a raised bed that has already-planted strawberry plants in it. They were brand new last year & (along with most other things) didn't fare too well because I got a little mulch-crazy when I prepped the beds last year. So to prepare that soil, do I uproot the plants, prep the entire bed, & then replant them (properly)? Or should I just mix in your super soil around the plants?

  5. This is great- very helpful as I'm starting my first garden in a new house!

  6. That's really great learning for me, Keep sharing like this..


I know it can be a little scary but go on, I'd love to hear from you!