Do you dream of having a gorgeous garden with healthy plants and bumper yields? Then you already know that healthy soil is the key to success. But how can you make sure your soil is up to par, and what can you do to boost its health? In this article, we’ll give you easy tips and tricks to help you understand your soil, add organic matter, test its pH, use cover crops, and even ideas on how you can amend your soil and make your own fertilizer.

With just a few simple steps, you’ll create a thriving garden that will provide you with fresh, nutrient-packed produce and stunning flowers. Let’s dig in!

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Understanding Your Soil

When it comes to thrifty living, if you can’t save money, then you must be saving time. As such, when it comes to gardening on a budget, one of the most important aspects is knowing what you’re working with – what is your soil made of?

The best way to know what makes up your soil is simply by touching it. Sandy soil will feel grainy and gritty, and won’t hold together well. Clay soil is sticky when wet and will hold together well. Then there’s silt soils, which have a slippery texture and does not clump well.

What is soil made of?

Typically your soil will be made up of all three composites mentioned above. One of the easiest ways to test your soil mixture is with the mason jar test. The linked page explains it better, but basically you’ll use a mason jar, water, and a soil sample to figure out the proportions of sand, clay, and silt in your soil. This matters when it comes to knowing how to work and fertilize your soil!

To improve your soil’s health, you need to focus on adding organic matter. This can include things like compost, manure, grass clippings, or even shredded leaves. Adding organic matter to your soil helps improve its structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient content. It also encourages the growth of beneficial organisms like earthworms, which help break down organic matter and improve soil aeration. You can even take it one step further by going the DIY worm farm route and using their castings!

Testing Your Soil’s pH

Understanding your soil’s pH is one of the most important steps in ensuring a healthy garden. Soil pH levels can affect the availability of essential nutrients that your plants need to grow. This is why it’s important to test your soil, especially after adding organic matter. By testing the pH levels, you can determine if your soil is too acidic or alkaline and make adjustments accordingly.

Testing your soil’s pH is a straightforward process and can be done with a soil pH testing kit. These kits are available at most garden centers and can give you an accurate reading of your soil’s pH in just a few minutes. Once you have the reading, you can make adjustments to your soil if necessary, such as adding lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.

By testing your soil’s pH, you can ensure that your plants have access to the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

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Using Cover Crops for Soil Health

In addition to testing your soil’s pH, using cover crops is another effective way to boost your garden’s soil health. Essentially, cover crops are plants that are grown specifically to benefit the soil, rather than for harvesting. When these crops are grown, they help to protect the soil from erosion, increase organic matter, and improve soil structure. Some popular cover crops include clover, rye, buckwheat, and vetch.

Planting cover crops is easy and can be done during the off-season or in between crops. Simply sow the cover crop seed and allow it to grow until it’s time to till it under. As the cover crop decomposes, it enriches the soil with nutrients and improves overall soil health.

Using cover crops in conjunction with proper pH levels and other soil amendments can create a thriving environment for your plants to grow and produce. And speaking of soil amendments, let’s talk about natural ways to fertilize your soil with things you probably already have around the house!

DIY Soil Fertilizers

What sort of fertilizers you use will again depend on your soil and what sort of plants you’re growing. Blueberries, for example, would love a regular dose of coffee grounds whereas tomatoes thrive best when given eggshells!

Using Coffee Grounds in Soil

Used coffee grounds contain about 2% nitrogen so why toss them when there are plants that will love them? It’s easier to scatter the coffee grounds if you let them dry out first, but I honestly don’t have that kind of time in my life. Just make sure you spread the coffee grounds thin enough, as big clumps can get moldy. These are great for plants like blueberries, avocados, azaleas, and most fruit tree.

Making Water-Soluble Calcium from Eggshells

Eggshells are an amazing source of calcium for your plants, but it can take a long time for it to break down to be beneficial! So let’s make some water soluble calcium. First I like to boil my eggshells to get rid of any remaining residue and then I bake them in the oven at 180 for about two hours. I have a blender I use specifically to pulverize them but you can also smash them by hand in a baggie. Once you’ve got a nice powder, get a glass container and using a non-metal tablespoon, scoop up two tablespoons of eggshells into your container along with two tablespoons of vinegar. Mix and let sit for about an hour, until that bubbling you see stops. From there, you’ll mix your eggshell solution into a gallon of water. After that you’re all set to water your garden! Bonus tip – any pulverized eggshells you have left over can be used around your plants to deter slugs and snails!

Banana Water – Does it work?

One popular suggestion I see all the time on TikTok is soaking used banana peels in water for a couple of days and using that to water your garden. The idea here is that the water will absorb the potassium from the banana. I also know many gardener friends who spray banana water on their tomatoes to prevent blossom rot. Roses are also big fans of the potassium boost!

Compost Made Easy

Composting is so much easier than you might think!! We use a garden planter box we got for cheap and one of those big gallon-sized ice cream containers. Of course we’re all about kitchen scrap gardening but anything that can’t be re-used goes into the compost container. Every night we take the compost container out to the planter box and dump it. All you need to remember is to layer green then brown, green then brown. What that means is for every layer of green you put down (your kitchen compost, fresh grass clippings, plant prunings, etc) you need a layer of brown next. Your brown layer can consist of cardboard, dead leaves, or dried out grass clippings. This will take a while to break down but if you start one in the Spring, you’ll have a TON of incredible soil to use the following year.

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Epsom Salts in Your Soil

Epsom salts are great for two reasons – they help keep slugs away and they add magnesium to your soil. If your soil is really sandy or acidic, chances are good you’ve got a magnesium deficiency. A little goes a long way here, though, so be mindful! A tablespoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of water is great, but only use it on plants that you know will benefit.

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Rice Water – Good or Bad for Plants?

I love rice water for my face, but is it good for my plants? There’s a lot of research that claims rice water is not a good choice when it comes to fertilizing your plants. While used rice water – especially when it’s the water from boiling, not rinsing – does contain amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, it’s not a huge amount. The starch in the water is actually why so many claim it to be beneficial, as it feeds feeds Lacto Bacilli, a beneficial bacteria that then helps feed mycorrhizal fungi, which strengthens plant roots and makes them more resistant to disease. That said, the starch can also ferment in the soil, which causes a whole host of problems. If you’re going to use rice water, use it sparingly. Or again – save it as a part of your self-care routine!

Wood ash

When my hydrangeas failed to bloom nicely last year, I dove deep into trying to figure out why. Turns out I didn’t follow my own advice in minding the soil! Wood ash to the rescue! Wood ash is high in calcium carbonate (lime) and is great at reducing the acidity in your soil. It’s also an amazing soil amendment to add to clay soil, as the wood ash helps aerate the otherwise heavy soil. Wood ash is one of the best things you can add to your soil, as it contains pretty much everything your soil needs (except nitrogen!) The best way to use wood ash is to mix it into your compost pile, as all of the vegetable matter may leave your compost a bit acidic. You can also sprinkle it directly around your plants, but obviously make sure it’s not hot anymore! Plants that especially love wood ash include hydrangeas, most root vegetables, greens, brassicas, and most herbs. 

Regardless of how you go about it, healthy soil is the key to a successful garden. And of course the more you can use around your house to amend your soil, the more money you’ll save! By understanding your soil type, adding organic matter, testing pH levels, using cover crops, and making your own DIY fertilizer, you can nourish your soil and promote plant growth. Remember to test your soil regularly and take note of any changes in your garden. With a little effort and care, you can create a thriving garden that provides you with fresh produce and beauty year-round. As the saying goes, “Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy you.” So, roll up your sleeves and start digging!