Good soil is 50 percent solids and 50 percent porous space, which provides room for water, air, and plant roots. The solids are inorganic matter (fine rock particles) and organic matter (decaying plant matter). The inorganic portion of the soil can be divided into three categories based on the size of the particles it contains. Clay has the smallest soil particles; silt has medium-size particles; and sand has the coarsest particles. The amount of clay, silt, and sand in a soil determine its texture. Loam, the ideal garden soil, is a mixture of 20 percent clay, 40 percent silt, and 40 percent sand.

Good soil is a key to healthy vegetable plants.
Good soil is a key to healthy
vegetable plants. See more
pictures of vegetable gardens.

In the interest of harvesting a bigger and better crop of vegetables, you'll want to improve the texture and structure of your soil. This improvement, whether to make the soil drain better or hold more water, can be accomplished quite easily by the addition of organic matter.

Organic matter is material that was once living but is now dead and decaying. You can use such materials as ground corncobs, sawdust, bark chips, straw, hay, grass clippings, and cover crops to serve as organic matter. Your own compost pile can supply you with excellent organic matter to enrich the soil.

Each spring, as you prepare the garden for planting, incorporate organic matter into the soil by tilling or turning it under with a spade. If non-composted materials are used, the microorganisms that break down the materials will use nitrogen from the soil. To compensate for this nitrogen loss, increase the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that you incorporate into the soil.

On the next page, learn about steps you need to take to prepare your garden soil for planting.

Want more information about vegetable gardens? Visit these links:
  • Starting a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to get your vegetable garden started, from planning your plot to planting seeds and sprouts.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.