top soil - Knowledgebase Question

Camano Island, WA
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Question by soleswitz
July 7, 2005
Our next step on our garden project is Top soil.

I found a place that offers a 4 way top soil as follows 18%Valley soil. 9% manure,55% sandy loam and 18% swadust

I will like to know your opinion, if I need to add anything else please advice me.

We feel if we are doing all the work and buying plants the soil is important in our success.

I had bad expereince with our local garden supply

Our soil is really bad, lots of rocks, nothing grows there

What is better compost or manure?

Thank you for your help

Sole Switzer

Answer from NGA
July 7, 2005
The formula you mention is rather standard for purchased top soil. However, purchased topsoil varies dramatically in quality and in type, and can be a poor match for the existing soil. This can cause problems in the long run, so it is usually best to use some of the existing native soil and mix it with organic matter when making planting beds. If you loosen the existing soil you can still mix it with purchased top soil, but then you'll want to add even more organic matter (compost, rotted leaves, aged manure and bedding), you will begin to improve your soil as well as add to the volume of soil that you have to work with.

Over time, as the organic matter rots down you will have manufactured your own "top soil" in the beds. In my experience there are no exact proportions to follow as it depends on which type(s) of organic matter you are using. Your end result is ideally one that will hold both water and air and can be dug with your bare hand; this can take a number of years to achieve and in any case more organic matter should be added on a regular basis. You will also need to test your soil periodically to determine what amendments if any you need to add. Peat moss is slightly acid to neutral in pH and has very little nutritive value but it is a source of organic matter. It should be moistened before you add it because it can be difficult to get totally dry peat moss to reabsorb water. You may find that there is a locally available material that is less expensive than peat moss.

Both compost and aged-manure are sources of decomposed bulk but neither are high on the nutrient scale (both will have traces of important elements, but not an over-abundance). Either is acceptable in a perennial bed; I'd avoid the use of manure in a vegetable bed.

Best wishes with your new landscape!

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