Straining soil means to sift the composted soil of your vegetable garden through a mesh screen, much like a chef might sift flour through a flour sifter. The whole point of straining soil is to improve soil texture and remove bits of material that can interfere with healthy plant growth
Straining soil is a lot of hard work, and can take up a fair part of a day or more. It’s so time consuming that many gardeners don’t bother to sift soil anymore, reasoning that rototilling is good enough. So what exactly are the benefits of straining soil in the first place?
1. Removes unwanted material. Rocks, twigs, uncomposted material, bits of broken glass, and clusters of roots are all good reasons why soil should be sifted before planting root vegetables. Rocks, glass, and twigs can interfere in the development of healthy root crops and cause crooked carrots or weird shaped beets and onions.
Straining also removes the root systems from last year’s weeds. Since some weeds can regrow from just a single piece of root, removing old roots can go far in natural weed control.
2. Improves soil texture. Soil texture is the “feel” of the soil; healthy soil is black, crumbly, and resembles a slightly denser version of the potting mixes you might purchase from the store. In straining soil, a gardener can more evenly mix up and redistribute manure, composted material, grass clippings, and dirt in the vegetable garden to create a potting blend that allows roots to develop more easily. Sifting soil with a bit of peat moss is how you can create your own potting mix as well.
3. Improves drainage. Improving soil texture also results in improved drainage, which is the rate that water moves through the ground. Since my garden bed has both sand and silt pockets which are remnants of an old river bottom, sifting these two types of soil with compost and peat moss improves drainage in the bed. Straining also helps mix up the soil types evenly throughout the entire vegetable garden. This helps eliminate the patches in the vegetable garden that drain too quickly or turn into a mud bog during watering.
Straining soil really isn’t a big deal and does not have to involve lots of expensive equipment. At our house, I use an old, homemade pet cage to sift my garden soil. A mesh screen placed over a wheel barrow or a framed screen on a tripod will also work.
If time is an issue, straining all the soil in an entire vegetable garden might not be possible. Instead, the straining can be limited just to those areas where the root crops will be planted.