Organic Gardening: Creating the Right Soil Mix

Organic Gardening: Creating the Right Soil Mix

I am a huge advocate of organic gardening and have fully committed myself to producing healthy, productive organic produce. To support this endeavor, my husband builds 12 ft X 4 ft raised garden beds for me that are each 16 inches tall. There are many conveniences that come with raised beds, but one of the extra steps required to get them up and running is to fill them with soil. Since your soil quality is the first step to creating a healthy and productive garden, this is a very important step. So, I thought I would share the soil mix I create that works for me, in my location, and in my environment.

Raised Bed Veggies

First of all, I live in East Texas where we have a pretty nice quality sandy loam soil. However, this soil on its own is not enough to produce a high quality vegetable garden. So, I do add several items to improve the composition.

  1. Peat Moss – I add 2 full bags of peat moss to each raised bed. The ones I buy are 3 cubic feet in size.
  2. Manure – I have several options to choose from on my farm.
  • Chicken manure – We have 35 chickens that roost at night in a portable chicken tractor house we built on a trailer with an expanded metal grate floor (it has holes in it for their poop to fall through), so I place containers to catch most of their poop under the trailer. Chicken poop is “hot” though, so I never add fresh chicken poop to an active garden or to a garden I’m about to plant. I only add it well in advance of planting anything in that bed so it can cool down.
  • Cow manure – I can either go out in the fields and collect cow patties, which I have been known to do (and get laughed at for doing of course), or I can buy cow manure in bags from the store, or buy from a local rancher and pick up with my trailer. Cow manure is great and can be added right before planting.
  • Rabbit manure – I am not raising any rabbits currently, but I have in the past and collected their poop, which is awesome for garden fertilizer and can be added at any time.

Depending on which kind of manure I’m adding, I try to add at least 20-40 lbs to each bed.

  1. Compost and Compost Tea – I have both options on hand.
  • We have rotating outdoor compost piles that I let rest for a year before adding to my garden soil. I probably add about 20 lbs per raised bed each year.
  • We also have a 120 gallon worm composter. Compost tea from this can be added to the garden throughout the year. My preference is to water it down and add in a little at a time during watering sessions, usually every two weeks or once a month, as needed.
  1. Local Soil – and finally, I fill in the rest with our local, sandy loam soil. It’s important to mix everything up really well, so I tend to add it in via layers and use a good garden rake to mix it up as I go.

Please keep in mind that if your local soil is different, or of a lower quality, you may need to add in more of the items above or even buy soil to blend into your mix. The most important thing to keep in mind is that your soil must contain a healthy mix of elements and provide your plants with the nutrients, drainage, and consistency they need to grow and produce.

I also recommend touching up your soil every year to ensure it maintains strong nutrient content. This means manure, compost and compost tea should be added each year. This might require that you pull some of the soil out each year to make room, but if you continue to expand like I’m doing, and build more beds each year, this soil can just be moved over to a new bed.

Organic gardening really isn’t that hard once you understand what your soil and your plants need. You don’t have to buy chemical fertilizers to grow healthy and happy vegetables and herbs, and you’ll find that organic food has more flavor. I hope you find this helpful! Happy gardening!

FYI, For more information on manure, I like this article (plus the name is funny) – The Scoop on Poop


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