Whether your end goal is to produce prize winning roses or simply to have a healthy vegetable garden for your family, it all begins with good soil. Building up rich garden soil can't be accomplished overnight; it is an ongoing process that will take some planning and time. The following are a few guidelines to help you get started.
1. Know What You Are Working With
Every good garden begins with testing. You can get a basic outline of what minerals your soil is deficient in with an at-home soil test kit, available from most garden suppliers, but a more indepth lab test will give you even better guidance. Soil testing is typically offered by private labs or county extension programs for a nominal fee. These tests will tell you which of the major nutrients -- nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus -- your soil needs. More detailed tests will also provide guidance on lesser minerals, such as magnesium. Once you know what your soil is lacking it becomes easier to make an informed decision about the type of compost and fertilizer to add.
2. Improve the Texture and Aeration
After nutrition comes texture and aeration, as these two attributes affect how well a plant absorbs the nutrients that are available. Soil can be sandy, loam, or clay, with loam being preferred. Sandy soil drains quickly, so many nutrients are lost to the water table. The addition of organic matter like compost can help solve this issue. Clay soils tend to hold too much water, which makes them too dense for plant roots to easily absorb nutrients from the soil -- if the roots don't suffocate and rot completely. Compost can also help break up clay soil. A combination of tilling the soil and mixing in organic matter, such as compost, can improve the soil texture and aeration.
3. Incorporate Sufficient Organic Matter
If your soil is low on a particular nutrient, some fertilization may be necessary, but compost can also help. For example, consider compost made from chicken manure if your soil is low on nitrogen, as this type of compost provides a higher level of nitrogen that is also easily accessible to plant roots. If your soil needs more organic matter, a compost made predominantly from composted leaves and vegetable materials can help provide structure to the soil. A compost service can help you choose the best type for your particular soil needs.
Contact a compost supply service in your area to get started on your new garden bed.