Although different types of vegetables can grow in a wide range of soil types, adding various soil augmenters and additives can help you create a rich soil that can improve your vegetable plants' growth and production. Soil requirements vary greatly, but understanding the composition of ideal soils for growing vegetables can help you to make your existing soil better suited for vegetable cultivation.
Soil is made of three general components: sand, loam and clay. Many soils have a higher percentage of one of these components. Good vegetable soils have a high percentage of organic matter, which might not be present in predominantly sandy or clay soils.
If your soil is well balanced, it may not need much augmentation. In many cases, you can grow vegetables in soils that are less than ideal. However, if you have a heavy clay soil, adding sand and compost or loam can improve the quality of the soil for vegetable growing. Sand helps excess water drain and the loam or compost helps the soil to hold water required by the plants.
Organic soil components help to keep vegetable gardens soils healthy. For example, compost adds organic material that encourages beneficial microbes and insects in the soil. Organic mulch like straw can help to increase the levels of organic components in the soil later in the season and in subsequent years.
When preparing and augmenting a vegetable bed, consider the depth of the roots of the plants you will be growing. A good rule of thumb is to prepare your soil down to a minimum depth of 6 to 12 inches, depending on the type of vegetables you are growing. Leaf vegetables do not need as much depth, and root vegetables need more.
If you have very hard clay soil or very high levels of sand in your soil, you might consider having it tested by your county agricultural extension service. In some cases, those soils may be very alkaline or very acid and may need specialized treatment to allow for more productivity in your vegetable garden.