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How To Grow Food Even When You Have Poor Soil

Gardening is easy when you start out with a great soil filled with organic matter and tasty nutrients your plants crave.  But what do you do when all you get is a layer of hard packed dirt with rock underneath?  What if you have sandy soil, acid soil, or straight clay?  How can you grow your own food, even when you have poor soil?

Gardening is easy when you start out with great soil. But how can you grow your own food even when you have poor soil?

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I faced this issue when we purchased our first house.  The renters who had lived there before parked cars on the front lawn until it was nothing more than cement hard packed dirt.  Not even grass would grow.

It took some time and effort, but it wasn’t long before we turned that poor soil into a thriving front yard garden.

Now that we are starting a new urban homestead, we are again facing poor soil.  The ground here is rocky and the soil is shallow.  Many parts of the yard are more gravel than soil!  In order to grow more food, we have to improve the soil first.

How To Grow Food Even When You Have Poor Soil

Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do even when you have bad soil for a garden.  Here are some ways you can start now to improve your soil.  Creating good soil can take time and effort, so it’s best to start as soon as possible.  Don’t let the time discourage you though!  It’s so worth it in the end!

Get Chickens

Sometimes I think the answer to most of life’s problems involve chickens.  By adding chickens into a portion of your homestead, you can jump start your garden soil.  Chickens produce a large amount of compostable bedding that will break down into pure black gold.

If you have lawn or weeds in one area that you want to convert to garden, you can fence the chickens in that space and let them prepare the ground for you.  Toss your kitchen compost scraps in, add in wood chips, grass clippings, or lots of leaves.

The chickens will scratch around all the materials and kill and eat the weeds.  Once the chickens have worked all the extra matter into the ground you can move them to a new spot and start planting!

Start a Compost Bin

A great way to reduce the amount of garbage you throw out is to start composting.  Even if you don’t have a ton of space you can still start a worm composting bin.  If you have a larger yard, it’s easy to fit a compost bin into a back corner or out of sight nook.

Composting is pretty easy, but there are a few rookie mistakes to avoid.  Here are some tips to get you started. 

Related Post: Compost Makes Every Homestead Better.  Want to Try? 

Try a New Garden Bed

Traditional gardens usually involve using a rototiller to break it up the ground, but you don’t have to do it that way!  If you have poor soil, try building UP and creating a raised bed with better quality growing material.

If you have the budget you can make raised beds and fill them with purchased garden soil.  That’s one way to get an instant garden!

If you want a more frugal option, look into creating hugelkultur garden beds.  Hugelkultur beds take wood material that might otherwise go to waste, such as rotting logs, and uses it as a spongy base for an awesome growing space.

Gardens using hugelkultur need less watering and can grow faster larger produce because of all the extra nutrients in the decomposing layers.

Or, if you don’t have the space for a larger garden, plant your tender vegetables into pots or other containers!  Here is how to sew up a potting bag, which can be made in a variety of sizes depending on what you need to grow.

Personally, I think the best method of improving soil is to use no dig gardening methods.  You lay down a thick layer of mulch in the fall where you want your garden.

In the spring, it will have started breaking down and provide lots of nutrients for your plants.  The longer you maintain your no dig garden, the better it gets!

Straw and leaves are great mulches to start with.  Bark chips can also be good, especially for perennial plants, trees, and bushes.  Bark will take longer to break down however, so it’s not such a great option for annual gardens.

If you aren’t into building and are interested in a customized garden bed, check out Olle Gardens. Their galvanized steel bottomless garden beds in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They’re designed to last for up to 20 years, resist rust and harsh weather, and of course they’re safe for planting! If you decide they’re right for you, use the discount code KATHRYN for a 10% discount!

Adjust the PH of your soil

Most garden plants like a ph that is close to neutral or very slightly acidic, although there are a few exceptions.  If your garden soil is very acidic or very alkaline it will be hard for many of your plants to thrive.

If you suspect your soil has a ph problem you can test to find out what range it’s in.  Here are some at home tests you can do without a kit!

Once you know what your soil PH is you can either grow plants that are particularly suited for your soil, or you can try adjusting it.

You can add sulfur, pine needles, or peat moss to make your soil more acidic.  If you need soil to be more alkaline use wood ash or limestone.

The PH will continue to change, so this may be something you need to monitor periodically.

If you have poor soil, please don’t give up gardening!  Even the worst soils can be improved with some time and attention!  Try a few of these strategies this year!  Your garden in the upcoming years will thank you for it.

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SB Group Nepal

Wednesday 26th of April 2023

Hi there! Just found your article when I was looking for making poor soil recipes. Thanks for sharing. Very well written and worth reading this article.

Tessa Hudson

Saturday 15th of February 2020

I am going to plant some Gogi berries this year. Tough little plants that can take the heat or cold. Wish me luck.


Monday 24th of February 2020


Tessa Hudson

Saturday 15th of February 2020

Funny thing happened a while back. I had some cardboard laying on the ground ,went to pick it up and underneath was a bunch of earth worms. Yipee! So now I kind of let them do the tilling for me. I live in kerrville,not far from SA,so I know the ground is black caliche and rocks. I use raised beds and composting in place. Love your web site.


Monday 24th of February 2020

Oh yeah, worms are great helpers! Thank you!

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