The chances are that you will not find a spot of ideal garden soil ready for use anywhere at your place. But all except the very worst of soils can be brought up to a very high degree of productiveness– especially such small areas as a home vegetable garden requires. Large tracts of soil that are almost pure sand, and others so heavy and mucky that for centuries they lay uncultivated, have frequently been brought, in the course of only a few years, to where they yield annually tremendous crops on a commercial basis. So do not be discouraged about your soil. Proper treatment of it is much more important, and a garden- patch of average run-down,–or “never-brought-up” soil–will produce much more for the energetic and careful gardener than the richest spot will grow under average methods of cultivation.
The best garden soil is a “rich, sandy loam.” And the fact cannot be overemphasized that such soils usually are made, not found. Let us analyse that description a bit, for right here we come to the first of the four all-important factors of gardening–food. The others are cultivation, moisture and temperature. “Rich” in the gardener’s vocabulary means full of organic plant food; more than that–and this is a,point of vital importance–it means full of organic plant food ready to be used at once, all prepared and spread out on the garden table, or rather in it, where growing things can at once make use of it; or what we term, in one word, “available” organic plant food.
Practically no soils in long- inhabited communities remain naturally rich enough to produce big crops. They are made rich, or kept rich, in two ways; first, by cultivation, which helps to change the raw organic plant food stored in the soil into available forms; and second, by manuring or adding plant food to the soil from outside sources.
“Sandy” in the sense here used, means a soil containing enough particles of sand so that water will pass through it without leaving it pasty and sticky a few days after a rain; “light” enough, as it is called, so that a handful, under ordinary conditions, will crumble and fall apart readily after being pressed in the hand. It is not necessary that the soil be sandy in appearance, but it should be friable.
“Loam” is soil in which the sand and clay are in proper proportions, so that neither greatly predominate, and usually dark in color, from cultivation and enrichment. Such a soil, even to the untrained eye, just naturally looks as if it would grow things. It is remarkable how quickly the whole physical appearance of a piece of well cultivated ground will change.