Best soil for vegetable gardening


When we moved here to Chesterfield in 2001 I made sure that the house had to have a large back garden for growing our own veg and, OK, I got my wish in that it is extra large but the soil was all clay, and if you have ever tried to grow anything the least bit fragile in clay then you will know the problems I faced, so I set about the mammoth task of producing the best soil for vegetable gardening.

I chickened out of the hard work and made raised beds which, though that took a while, it paid off handsomely in terms of what I was able to grow.

Clay is good soil in a way as it contains more nutrients than any other type of soil, but the downside is always in drainage, or the lack of it, and of course sunshine can turn it into concrete, or so it seems, and vegetable roots are unable to penetrate it  far enough for plants to grow well. Clay soil is nutrient-rich and good for summer crops (and even that depends on whether it is really heavy clay), but as this type of soil sits cold and wet in winter, you?ll need to build raised beds to extend your season.

Raised beds

So, I made the raised beds and sieved the soil which had been taken out of those areas onto a large tarpaulin and then took the residue down to the local Amenities Site. In fact more of it ended up there than in the raised beds.

Next I bought some builder?s sand, some bags of compost from the local nursery plus some which we had brought with us when we moved. The last ingredient was a kilo of volcanic basalt rock dust which was added to the mix and which I believe has made so much difference to the crops we have subsequently grown. Dig in some well rotted horse manure if you can get a supply but leave it 3 months or so before planting in case it "scorches" new plants - better to be safe than sorry!

Sadly, I cannot say that my efforts were in any way scientific in that there was no ratio of soil to sand to compost but I managed to mix it all in batches with my cement mixer and tipped each load into the beds. All in all I was pleased with the result and then the beds were full I was able to push my hand down to the bottom of the new soil.

Even though the soil is now nice and fine it is not necessarily the best for all vegetables ? carrots for instance, which need an even finer, sandier soil to give of their best, but it will grow near enough everything in profusion, especially since I mixed in a kilo of basalt rock dust when making the new raised beds.

Basalt rock dust

Volcanic basalt rock dust contains masses of minerals and trace elements, though if you are thinking of using it make sure you have dust rather than chippings. By using this dust you will enrich and re-mineralise your soil as anyone who has used it will tell you (if they used it properly that is). Strictly speaking I did not need this last addition to the soil as mine was ?brand new? but I can honestly say that it has helped enormously in terms of crop production, and the difference would have been far more noticeable had I just added it to worn out soil.