The Scoop on Soil

The Scoop on Soil

A Beginner's Guide to Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a great garden. Without the right soil, whether in the garden or in containers, plants will wither. Sometimes the right soil is untouched clay loam; sometimes it's not soil at all, but a soilless mix. Tilling soil, adding organic matter, testing and adjusting the pH level—all of these actions give your plants the solid and nurturing earth they need to prosper.

A Simple Test

Reach down and gather up a handful of soil. Then, give it a squeeze. Does the soil hold together, or fall apart? If it does hold together, is it soft and springy or does it feel like a lump of clay?

What colour is it?If you have a nice, dark clump of earth that crumbles easily between your fingers, you're well on your way. Otherwise, your first step should be to improve your soil quality. Loam is the ultimate goal: a perfectly balanced blend of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter.

Soil's Job

Good soil must perform a number of functions. First, it should contain all the nutrients your
plants require. And good soil helps, rather than hinders, root absorption of plant nutrients. It
anchors plant roots firmly, but is loose and porous enough to allow them to grow and branch out.
Good soil retains moisture, but at the same time has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Finally, good soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. All this is also true of soil in containers.

Amending the Soil

If you're not blessed with perfect soil from the start—and few of us are—you will need to amend the soil. That means adding plenty of organic matter: peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost. Organic matter can be added to the soil anytime that the soil is warm enough to work, though the most convenient times tend to be in the early spring, before you've planted your gardens, or in the fall, after the growing season is over.

Amending the soil can take a lot of organic matter; generally, you need enough to cover your
beds to a thickness of 5-8 cm, or more if your soil is particularly dense (too much clay). Till in
the organic matter with a rake or rototiller, and you're on your way to a healthier garden!
Note that amending your soil isn't a one-time affair; since your garden uses the soil year after
year, it's only natural that the soil's quality will erode over time. Adding soil amendments once a year is an excellent way to keep your soil fertile.

Sea Soil.jpg

Loam, loam on the range...


I have a special passion for soils. After all, our farming business began here in St Albert with my Dad scooping up a handful of soil from the banks of the Sturgeon River, squeezing it in his hands, and declaring "This is #1 soil."
Mom and Dad knew that the foundation of any successful farm is high-quality soiland the St Albert and Edmonton region has plenty of it. We are blessed here with loamy soils that are deep, rich, and capable of growing fabulous crops during our years of abundant sunshine and plentiful rainfall.
Great soil is also the foundation for all great gardens but—although it is literally right underneath our feet—there is a lot of confusion about what it is and how to best take care of it.
On Saturday, March 14th at 11 am, I'll be holding a workshop at the Enjoy Centre to solve some of the mysteries our incredible soil, as well as to offer you a firm grounding on how to create the best soils for your garden.

I'll be sharing all of soil's "dirty" little secrets, including:

  • How soil pH affects your plants
  • How soils can get too salty and how to solve it
  • Which nutrients are most important to have in your soil and what happens if you don't have them
  • What types of soils to use for which purposes
  • And what the heck is loam?!

Given that the United Nations has declared 2015 as "the International Year of Soils," I think it’s high time to shine some light on it! 

~Jim Hole