Soil Basics: Filling & Amending Your Beds

Birds eye view of the soil and fresh sprouts.
All garden soil eventually gets “tired” and will need nourishment. Here are resources for filling new beds and taking care of existing ones using time tested, organic methods.

To clear your site, you’ll first want to clear all the weeds manually (not with chemicals). We recommend planting in raised beds or veggie boxes and bringing in soil because it’s an easy start. However, if you plan to plant directly in the ground and amend the soil, you will want to moisten it first and loosen it using either a fork or rototiller.


If you are starting with empty boxes, you can start with a mix of about: 2 parts native soil : 1 part compost : 3 parts potting mix.


Compost- the decaying remains of plants and animals- is the base of any good soil and should be a main ingredient in any soil mix. It is especially important for soils high in clay and sand. To refresh your beds, scoop aside any mulch and spread a 3-4” layer of compost. Till it into the top 9-12” of soil.

If you are willing to spend a little more money or time (make your own!), you will get higher quality compost. Here are a few local sources:

  • Mountain Meadow Mushrooms offers free mushroom compost (Escondido, CA)
  • The Ecology Center sells its own brand
  • Or, make your own- see our resources below!

In addition to compost, you can correct major imbalances from the start and periodically boost depleted beds by adding concentrated organic materials- or “amendments,” such as:

  • Mycorrhizal (fungal) amendments: http://www.plant-success.com/
  • Fish emulsion such as Neptune’s Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer 2-3-1
  • Animal manure or guano- fully decomposed chicken, cow, horse, goat, bat, and sheep poop contain more nutrients than other composts. A little can go a long way.
  • Worm castings
  • Organics Alive soil amendment mix: http://organicsalivegarden.com/
  • Make your own compost and worm tea

Layering organic material, or “mulch,” on top of your soil helps it retain moisture and protect the worms and microorganisms underneath. For veggie beds we recommend straw (not hay, which is green and used as feed) -available at feed stores and OC Farm Supply (Orange, CA).

While synthetic fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro can provide a temporary, dramatic boost in plant growth, their chemical formulas kill the complex web of life that sustains soil fertility. Used appropriately, natural amendments protect and promote your soil’s health with outstanding results.