How to properly add soil to your garden beds to ensure optimal plant health.
Gardening is an inherently healing activity. The basic acts of turning soil, sowing seeds, watering, and nurturing the plants literally consists of acting in a loving, gentle, and kind way towards your body and the body of the Earth. Gardening is also environmentally-friendly in less direct but as conspicuous ways. The most obvious way being that our food is not shipped all over the world to get to us.
So we get all this and feel great about it, but who has dared to look any deeper? What are you doing to REPLENISH the Earth? In our opinion, the first step towards replenishing the Earth is to care for the health of your soil, the foundation for all that will thrive in your Growing Dome® Greenhouse. The question of how to add soil to your beds, like many things in gardening, can be a lifelong pursuit or can be a spontaneous leap of faith.
Criteria For Healthy Soil
The health of your soil, it seems simple right? If you’re an expert on soil health you may advance to “Filling Your Growing Dome® Beds”. If not, please ensure you understand the basics of soil composition for optimal plant growth.
Adding Soil to Your Growing Dome® Beds
The health of your garden should begin the moment you place soil in your brand new Growing Dome® beds. And the success of this task depends on the order of operations. Please keep in mind that you should save the bulk of your soil amendments to mix into the top 12-14” section. If you’re mixing soil by hand, buying or renting a concrete mixer makes the task so much easier!
Ground level of beds:
We recommend that you line your beds with hardware cloth or landscape fabric. It is advised to cover the ground level cloth/fabric with either dirt, straw, or gravel. If your cover of choice is soil, it may be mixed with cotton burr or compost
Lower half of beds:
The lower half of your beds is where the corrugated tubing is placed for airflow. This tubing rests on your chosen ground level cover.
Midsection of beds:
Generally, a good rule of thumb for the midsection of your beds is any soil that has a neutral pH (ie: is in the 5-7 range). This soil doesn’t have to be fancy or have a ton of amendments added to it. We recommend saving that for the top section of your beds. Alpaca droppings, assuming you know the worming history, are a great option to add to your soil of choice as it is low in Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. In general, stick to a soil composition that’s neutral. See below for more detailed options to fill your Growing Dome® beds.
Top 12-14” of beds:
The top 10-12 inches of your soil is reserved for the gold of your Growing Dome® beds: the topsoil. Topsoil is where the majority of your nutrient dense materials and soil amendments should be found. To ensure the highest quality of topsoil is being added to your beds, make sure to run a pH test.
Soil will vary based on your bed design, but on average you need the following amounts of soil for your planting beds.
Sourcing Your Soil
Option 1: Utilize the soil from your property
Soil, as compared to dirt, contains organic matter and signs of life growing on top of and moving beneath the surface.
Things to keep in mind before harvesting soil from your property:
- What plants are growing in the soil right now? Do they look healthy?
- Does this soil receive runoff from roads that may have contaminated it?
- Is the soil near a manufacturing facility or waste dump?
- Has the soil previously been used for farming?
- Are there invasive weeds growing in this soil?
**Most weeds or grasses in the soil can be removed once in your beds. The one weed to avoid (in southwest Colorado) at all costs is bindweed as it’s incredibly hard to remove.
Option 2: Amend the material on your property
Whether you have subpar topsoil or dirt on your property, both of these materials can be amended. Soil Amendments are necessary when there are very minimal to zero signs of life growing on top or moving beneath the soil. As a general rule of thumb, when first filling your beds, it is wise to mix compost and manure to your current soil. Experiment with what mixture feels best. The resulting soil mixture should meet the above mentioned Soil Composition criteria.
Option 3: Purchase topsoil in bulk
If you have a larger budget to purchase topsoil or don’t have access to quality soil on your property, supporting a local supplier and buying topsoil by the dump truck full is often a sustainable option. If you are worried about the quality of the soil, you can get a sample in advance and test the soil pH. Always ask the distributor about the content of the soil and the location from which it came from. There are many avenues to find quality topsoil in bulk including:
- Searching the newspaper for folks selling topsoil, compost, or manure,
- Checking your local landscaping company or garden center,
- Asking a friendly organic farmer if you can take some manure off their hands, or
- Contacting a local university to see if they have a compost facility!
Option 4: Buy bagged soil
Another option is to cut straight to the chase and buy bagged soil from a local nursery or supply store. This method is one of the more expensive options but is the best way to ensure you start with quality topsoil (although it’s not as environmentally friendly or economical). If you’d like to go this route, bagged soil can be found at your local landscaping company. Please remember that buying bagged soil still means you’ll need to amend your soil overtime for ultimate soil health. In southwest Colorado, here are our sources for bagged soil:
- Montrose, CO: Build A Soil
- Paonia, CO: Paonia Soil Company
- Durango, CO: Durango Nursery & Supply Co
- Denver, CO: A1 Organics
- “Rocky Mountain Super Soils” product from CA, available through many local distributors
Please contact us if you’d like to get more information on Growing Domes. Or to receive more informative gardening and Growing Dome articles, please sign up for our monthly Newsletter “The Happy Grower”