Adding Composted Leaves to the Soil

So Richard Miller, our resident Master Gardener here at Growing Spaces, and I finally made it to my Growing Dome for a little gardening evaluation.  Turns out that my concerns about my gardening skills have a lot less to do with the results this year in my Dome, than the soil or rather in this case “the dirt”.  My soil like what most people are able to purchase is local dirt, which fills the planting beds, but after it’s first year was a little (ok a lot) low on organic materials.  Note to self: if you have to use two hands to dig with a trowel in your soil, it’s probably more dirt than soil.  So what’s the difference you ask?  Dirt is the stuff that is everywhere, makes great mud pies around here, because of our clay content, but really has little organic material to it.  When I say organic, I’m not talking about certified organic stuff, I’m talking about organic material, like dead plants, leaves, and some natural bacteria that breaks down those things into a soft lovely loose mulch situation.  Richard suggested that I do my best to add some organic material to the planting beds, however I can, as buying lots of bags of top soil or compost is just as challenging financially for me as it is for many people.  But after looking around the property he came up with a great solution, I shoveled up the soft fluffy  well decomposed forest duff under the gamble oak (also commonly called scrub oak) trees around our property.  It was full of composted leaves, and general forest debris that could only help the hard compacted soil that is in my planting beds, and with the gift of 5 bags of top soil from a friend, the Dome has a whole new lease on life as far as the soil goes.  I am hoping to get a load of well aged horse manure soon to add to this new soil bounty and totally anticipate that all of my existing plants will really start to not only grow but THRIVE.  It really is all about the soil.  The squash in the dome is now over 12′ long and has some baby squash on it..loving it, but it does kind of frighten small children when they see it.  Loving this time of year in the Domes!


  1. I am about to purchase about 15 cubic yards of soil for the 22′ dome we just completed. Recent advice from a soil guy told me that he didn’t think the Planter’s Mix I could buy locally from
    Pioneer Sand (70-75% topsoil, 25-30% P-3 Compost produced at A-1 Organics – he said that much P-3, a Class 2 compost, would be too “hot”). He suggested a mix of about 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 Eco-Grow Compost (a class 1 compost) from A-1, and the remaining third some builder’s sand and some P-3 Compost. I am concerned that this is going to be very expensive – any other suggestions on getting started with the right soil? I live in Beulah, which is west of Pueblo, Colorado, surrounded by a pine/oak woodland.

    • Hi Dave, Thanks so much for your question. You do not have to go to that trouble or expense to get good soil. There are a number of other, more economical routes that would work as well or better. There are a number of avenues to try including looking in the paper for folks selling topsoil and compost. I would check with different garden centers too. Some may sell soil in bulk. There are different labs (some at universities) where you can send the soil off for testing so you know what you’re buying. If you get a chance to call in 800-753-9333 we have a master gardener on staff that would be able to help you further. In the meantime, we know of a great website that offers expert advice on gardening for free from professionals around the country. It is We look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely, Stacey

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