Experts agree creating great soil is key to tastier organic veggies

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There are plenty of amateur gardeners looking to pack some dirt under their fingernails.

And among those newbies, Leslie Oliver, a nursery woman at Nick’s Garden Center and Farm Market, sees a growing interest in green gardening that focuses on organic growing.

“There has been a huge increase, even from 10 years ago,” she said.

But how does a novice gardener make an organic soil that will be home to a successful garden?

Local experts say there are several details to consider, especially making a good mix of textures and using ample compost.

“You need a mixture of different textures in the soil,” Oliver said as she grabbed a handful of lush soil from a planter at Nick’s last week. “That’s what allows for good drainage as well as water retention, which is exactly what you need for a good vegetable garden.”

That means some sand and some clay soil mixed in, as well as bits of bark.

Too much clay, and the rigid soil will hold too much water in. Too much sand, and the water will run through the soil without helping the plants. In Colorado, the natural soil is typically clay-heavy, Oliver said, so it’s especially important here to add some sand to the mix.

Beyond that mix — the ratio for which can vary from vegetable to vegetable — experts say a healthy dose of compost is key.

“You are always going to have to amend with compost,” Oliver said.

At Tagawa Gardens, Luan Akin, a garden ambassador, said she couldn’t stress enough how crucial a good compost is to garden soil.

“It’s like the supreme answer to all soil problems,” she said.

And a good organic compost needs a wide variety of organic materials in it, she said.

A good place to start is with a store-bought bag of organic compost and add compostable items to that, she said.

Back at Nick’s, Oliver said the compost pile is a good place to throw waste from the garden as well as leaves and other items from fall cleanup. If gardeners plan to throw kitchen scraps into the pile, it’s best that they throw organic food scraps, she said.

If the food isn’t organic, she said, it could have been treated with chemicals designed to extend its shelf life. Bananas, for example, are often treated with growth retardants that are still present on the peel after the banana has been eaten.

“They don’t rot as fast in the store, but they also don’t break down in a compost bin as fast,” she said.

Once the compost pile is started, Oliver said it needs plenty of oxygen, sunlight and moisture.

If the soil is ready, it’s probably time to add fertilizer.

Akin said this is an important step because if gardeners make mistakes here, they could damage all the hard work they did getting the soil ready.

Usually, those mistakes start and end with the manure they choose. If the manure hasn’t been aged, it could be rife with salts that will damage the soil.

“People tend to use a lot of manure. Unless they’ve been aged they have a lot of salt in them,” she said. “I don’t know that it would make them inorganic, but it wouldn’t make it very healthy.”

Reach reporter Brandon Johansson at 720-449-9040 or [email protected]

Sound soil advice

Mix well: Make sure soil includes sand as well as clay. Too much sand and  water will rush through. Too much clay and water won’t drain.

More compost: Colorado’s soil is often hard clay. That means amending with compost is almost always necessary. Make sure the compost is filled with organic scraps and shy away from  chemically treated foods.

Age the manure: If you are using manure as fertilizer, be sure to let it age. Fresh manure is packed with salts that could wreak havoc on a garden.