A vegetable garden is as successful as its soil is healthy. Without good soil, the plants in your garden will be subjected to pest infestations, diseases and fail to produce due to lack of nutrients. Vegetable gardens require not only water, but the nutrients that a healthy garden soil provides. A good soil needs the right balance of soil types, organic material and life forms to be considered healthy.
Garden soil anchors your plants by providing a foundation through which the plants push their root systems. The root systems, in turn, draw nutrients and water from the soil. The soil provides food and shelter for the plants.
Garden soil is also host to fungus, bacteria, earthworms, beetles and other forms of insect and microbial life. Without this community of life forms, the soil would not properly process organic matter, which in turn provides nutrients.
The three types of common soil textures are clay, silt and sand. Clay soil is made up of small particles and retains moisture and nutrients. However, it doesn't drain well and roots have a difficult time penetrating the dense soil.
Silt particles are larger than clay particles. A silty soil is weak in structure and so retains little moisture or nutrients. Sandy soil contains the largest soil particles, making it unstable for root support. Sandy soil does not retain water or nutrients due to its large particles. Consider how little plant life you see on a sandy beach.
The ideal garden soil is a balance of all three soil types, resulting in a soil type referred to as loam. A loamy soil retains moisture and nutrients, but allows excess water to drain. Loamy soil has a high organic content consisting of composting materials, including decaying plants and insects.
A good garden soil has a dark color to it and holds together when moistened and pressed in your hand, but crumbles easily when released from that pressure. It has a rich aroma; it should not smell acidic or like manure.
Achieving healthy soil necessary for a successful garden takes some work. You need to add organic materials to your garden area, such as compost and grass clippings and possibly amendments such as gypsum or sand. If your soil is already too sandy, add dense soil amendments such as steer manure or green manures. Green manures are derived from cover crops such as rye or buckwheat.
Good soil doesn't happen right away. Though you may aerate your garden area and add amendments and organic materials, the necessary microbial and insect life takes time to develop. You needn't wait to plant, though, as the plant life will help attract the needed life forms. Continually monitor your soil for earthworms, as the presence of these is an indication of the development of good garden soil.