How to improve your soil

Good soil will give you a better, healthier crop and you’ll suffer less from weeds and pests too. Doing one very simple little thing will make all the difference…add plenty of organic matter.

You can dig it in if you like, or do it the easy way and just spread a layer over the surface (which is the no-dig approach). Either way, what you’re doing is adding organic matter that will, as worms, beetles and other soil-dwellers get to work, improve drainage, aerate the soil and add lots of nutrients. All this benefits whichever plants you choose to grow.

What to add:

Any of the below will be perfect, and you can mix and match…

  • Homemade compost – this is the ideal if you have space to get your own compost system going at home.
  • Good quality bought compost – preferably organic and either peat-free or from a renewable peat source.
  • Well-rotted manure – if you can find a friendly farmer you can usually get hold of this cheaply. Make sure it has rotted down well for at least 18 months though.
  • Leaf mould – again, make sure it has rotted down well for 12-18 months. It’s an excellent source of nutrients.
  • Decomposed wood chip – if you know a tree surgeon, they’ll probably be happy to give you some wood chips. Let them break down in a pile for a year or two and you’ll have lovely crumbly compost for your garden.

How much to add:

This depends a little on the quality of your soil at the moment. If you have heavy, clay soil, you might want to add a bit more than if you have a fairly loamy soil. If you haven’t tended much to your soil in the past or if you are starting new beds from scratch, then try to add a good 10-12cm layer of compost if you can. In subsequent seasons, or if your soil is in fairly good condition already, then a 5cm layer should suffice.

When to add it:

You can do this anytime between now and early spring. You should only need to do it once a year, but if you do want to add a little more in early autumn next year, then that would also be beneficial. Especially if you plan to grow over the winter.

Top tips:

To further improve the nutrient content of the soil try adding some worm cast fertiliser. It breaks down slowly releasing nutrients over time and is probably the most natural form of fertiliser you can find.