Gardening · Miss Mary · Recipes

Creating Soil


A Recipe for Making DIRT

Well, the technical term is friable soil.  For the beginning gardener, or the frustrated occasional gardener, this is all a different language.  To those of us that enjoy the beauty of a well-tended garden it’s a way of life. 

We all start somewhere, and by that I mean you live in the Midwest, the South, the Northeast or Australia and your soil is very different than mine.  For me, I’ve grown up in Illinois all my life in the Central to Northwest sections of the state.  My experience has been with hard black clay soil.  I learned a long time ago from my neighbor who had the most luscious vegetable gardens that you have to amend the soil every year with lots of compost, peat moss and “other” nutrients.  When I first started out really building my gardens (years and years ago) I read a wonderful article on layering.  To this day I cannot find this article but I remember what to do.

If you’re new to gardening and want to create a garden – flower or vegetable, and you are new to the area (say Arkansas and you’ve lived in Illinois all your life) you’ll need to go to the local garden center or the agricultural extension services usually at a state university or their satelite site (junior college) and discuss soil along with growing conditions in that climate.  What’s an annual in Illinois is a perennial in Arkansas – not kidding.

What you want to do is understand your garden palate then you make the very best of what you have.  We all start with an inspiration but eventually find out what grows best in our own backyard.  We can always amend soil, but honestly we can’t do a thing about the climate.   Even the most hopeful gardener will hit the “garden wall” and will eventually realize they have unreasonable expectations of growing a particular plant – mine is delphinium.

In Illinois with hard clay soil here’s what I do.

  1. Purchase peat moss, mushroom compost and bone meal (4 or 5 pound bag) from your local garden center along with a bag of Scotts Gardening Soil.    If your garden area is 20 feet wide by 3 feet in depth I use 1 bag of compost for every 4 feet.  For peat moss I usually purchase the 3 cu foot package and it lasts me for quite some time.  You’ll not need the entire block for this small of a garden, maybe half the bag.  And for a 20 foot garden, I’d purchase 2 bags of the large garden soil.
  2. Clear the area of grass, weeds and rocks.
  3. Double dig your garden area.  That means with your spading fork dig the dirt up once, then go back to turn it over again.  I know, it’s hard work but it’s what you need to do.  Here’s a more labor intense with pictures site.  Here’s a short video on double digging.
  4. Layer the compost, peat and soil in that order.  As you layer, incorporate the layers into the dirt.  You should by this time be able to use your small garden hoe to turn all the things over.
  5. Soak your bed with water and let it rest about a week before you add any plantings.  You’ll have lots of earth worms visit their new home which is what you want.  Water through the week.
  6. After you plant layer with mulch, good hardwood mulch that won’t add artificial coloring to your soil.

Your bed will be rich and loamy for some time.  You’ll need to tend to it adding “more” loaming materials each year but not nearly the work you just did to create your beautiful planting space.  The effort you put in gives you such a sense of satisfaction that gardeners embrace.  Patience is a gardener’s virtue.

Now for those of you that would like to take an easier route, make DIRT Pudding.  Martha Stewart shows you how.  Don’t forget the gummy worms.

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