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How to Make Soil Organic

By Heidi Almond ; Updated September 21, 2017
Dig into organic soil.
bêche image by Claudio Calcagno from Fotolia.com

"Organic" is more than just a trendy buzzword. In commercial agriculture, soil and produce may be called organic only if the farmer does not use GMO seeds, does not spray synthetic chemicals on his or her fields and follows other USDA organic standards. Backyard gardeners generally use the word organic to denote a garden bed that is free of toxins and is rich in natural material. Organic gardening is environmentally friendly, since it does not cause air or water pollution and it adds fertility to the soil.

Build a compost pile to recycle your kitchen and yard waste. Save vegetable peelings, fruit rinds, coffee grounds and other plant-based trimmings from your kitchen. Pile them in your backyard, or contain them in a compost bin, barrel or tumbler. Cover the kitchen waste with dried grass clippings, leaves, straw or other dry, brown material. Continue building the pile as you accumulate waste, alternating layers as you go, and aerate the compost pile occasionally by turning it with a pitchfork. Add enough water to keep the compost pile as wet as a wrung out sponge. In 3 to 12 months, your kitchen waste and yard trimmings will have decomposed into rich, black compost, which you can add to your garden's soil to increase the fertility.

Apply a few inches of mulch to your garden to keep down weeds and help regulate soil moisture and temperature. Good mulch choices include leaves, shredded bark or straw. As the mulch decomposes, it will add nutrients and rebuild topsoil.

Start new garden beds with a technique known as "lasagna gardening." Instead of tilling, which is labor intensive and damages the integrity of the existing soil, lay down several sheets of newspaper or a single layer of corrugated cardboard directly over any sod or weeds that you would like to convert to a flower or vegetable garden. Cover this with a thin layer of compost, then a layer of mulch, then a layer of organic topsoil. Repeat these layers until you have built up the soil by about 6 inches. You can plant directly into the new garden bed, digging through the newspaper if need be, or you can wait 6 to 12 months for the mulch and paper to decompose.

Choose natural, organic pesticides instead of synthetic chemicals. Organic pesticides are usually plant-based, and are generally safer for the environment and for you and your family. You could also remove insect pests by hand or release beneficial insects such as lady beetles or praying mantis into your garden to eat the pest bugs.


Things You Will Need

  • Kitchen waste
  • Yard trimmings
  • Compost bin, barrel or tumbler
  • Pitchfork
  • Mulch
  • Newspaper or cardboard
  • Natural pesticides
  • Beneficial insects

About the Author


Heidi Almond worked in the natural foods industry for more than seven years before becoming a full-time freelancer in 2010. She has been published in "Mother Earth News," "Legacy" magazine and in several local publications in Duluth, Minn. In 2002 Almond graduated cum laude from an environmental liberal arts college with a concentration in writing.