When I moved to my new home in Godfrey, Illinois, I found the ground to be very hard because it was full of clay. This was a new subdivision, but before that, it was an asparagus field so, why the hard ground? The ground had been dug and turned repeatedly, making room for the new homes. What was left was a mixture of small rocks, clay and topsoil, mostly rocks and clay. A lot of work lay before me in order to get the soil workable and into good organic condition. It was too late in the season to put a garden in, but it was not too late to start preparing my soil for next year.
I first learned about organic gardening while working with my father in our family garden when I was a child. I recall him reading books on soil amendments and telling me that having good organic soil is the first step in having good produce. Living in a rural area in Illinois, the soil was dark and rich with nutrients, just right for growing vegetables and fruits. All my father had to do was add compost and fertilizer each year, always ensuring they were comprised of organic matter.
What is Organic Gardening?
Organic gardening is produce grown from soil that is free from man-made chemicals and pesticides. It is a type of gardening which uses natural animal and/or plant material to enhance soil. It uses companion planting to fight pest management and heirloom seeds to preserve seeds handed down through the generations, which have not been genetically engineered.
Organic Soil Amendments to use in Godfrey, Illinois
Before attempting to add any type of soil amendments, it is recommended that you have your soil tested. There are many different soil-testing kits available for purchase at garden stores and nurseries or you can take several soil samples to an extension office of a state university for testing. I could tell just by looking at my soil that it needed coarse sand, organic gypsum, organic compost, and organic top soil. All of these amendments can be found at stores and garden nurseries in the Godfrey, Illinois area.
Preparing the Garden Soil
Before adding my organic soil amendments, I had to strip the sod from the area I marked off for my garden. If possible have the area plowed with a tractor and then you can use your rototiller (if you do not have one, you can rent one), to break up the clods of dirt. Because my garden was small and surrounded by a six foot wooden fence, I had to do my by hand. If you are unable to get someone with a tractor to plow the area you may want to rent a sod cutter to spare your body from aches and pains you are sure to get from this hard work.
After the sod was removed, I spread even amounts of coarse sand, organic compost, gypsum, and top soil. I set the depth guide on my rototiller to a deep setting and worked all amendments into the soil (follow the manual instructions on how to properly use and care for your rototiller). I did this in early July, which gave the amendments plenty of time to start breaking down the clay soil before I spread organic fertilizer in the fall.
By spring, the soil at my Godfrey home was good enough to sustain garden vegetable plants. At the end of summer, I tested the soil using a soil testing kit and adjusted my amendments as needed.
To keep your garden in prime condition, test your soil regularly and add organic amendments as needed.
Sources: Personal Experience, Wikipedia