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University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Garden > Commercial Fruit and Vegetable Production > Simple and Successful Vegetable Farming > How to keep your soil healthy

How to keep your soil healthy

Healthy soil is important. It gives your plants food and water and helps them grow and give higher yield with less effort. Good soil is dark-colored and crumbly when you feel it with your fingers. To keep your soil healthy, remember to:

Well drained soil

A well-drained soil dries fast and permits timely field operations. In well-drained soil oxygen is able to reach the root zone to promote optimal root health. Optimal root growth happens best in soils without drainage problem.

Stay off wet soil

Driving on wet soil will pack soil down and push out the air and water will not pass through the soil. There will not be enough space for the roots to grow. Soil that is too packed will not give good crop yield. Wait until the ground is dry before you till it or start planting.

Add compost to your soil

Compost is a mixture of dead plants and roots and leaves. Adding compost to your soil will improve soil nitrogen and plants give more yields. If your soil is heavy clay, adding compost will help the soil drain water. If your soil is sandy, adding compost will help the soil hold more water. Adding compost brings earthworms and other living things that help plants and roots grow strong and healthy.

Have your soil tested

Your soil needs minerals to help plants grow. Adding compost gives the soil minerals and nutrients, but some soils need even more food. The University of Minnesota will test your soil to see if it has the right mixture of minerals and nutrients. It is not expensive and will help you grow healthy plants and good crops.

A soil sample should be taken about once every three years. Samples can be taken during any time of the year. It is easier to take samples in the spring and fall when you are often in your fields. You will be charged a small amount of money to pay for the test costs.

How to test your soil

Call the Extension office in your county for a bag to hold the sample. They will ask questions about your field and can answer your questions.

The soil sample must be collected in the right way for the test to work. To get a soil sample from your garden or field:

After your soil is tested, you will get the results in the mail. These results will tell you if your soil needs more nutrients. Then you can decide to add more compost or to use fertilizer.

Be careful with fertilizer

Fertilizers can hurt plants if they are used wrong. The right amount and the right kind of fertilizer make your soil good and healthy without wasting fertilizer or money. Use only what you need. If you do not understand the directions, call your county Extension office.

Keep your soil healthy

Soil is the most important part of your garden or field. If you want to grow good crops in the summer and fall, remember to take good care of your soil all year.


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