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Updated: May 17, 2021

You have your soil test in your hands! You know exactly what your soil wants! But now what? How do you add this long list of amendments without breaking the bank? Which one should you start with first? How much do I need? I know this can seem overwhelming! But today you and I are going to talk about how this long list may not be the only answer and so much more. Let's get growing!


You have your soil test in your hands! You know exactly what your soil wants! But now what? How do you add this long list of amendments without breaking the bank? Which one should you start with first? How much do I need? I know this can seem overwhelming!

If you don’t have your soil test in your hands or haven't done a soil test yet go back two blog posts or episodes to learn how and understand why soil tests are so important. In fact, if you get into this reading this blog post and it feels like something is missing. It could be as this blog post is a series that I am writing this spring on improving your soil health!

Amendment are Only A Slice of the Pie

Seeing this list of amendments go way beyond the big three, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium was overwhelming for me too. When I learned that my soil needed a long list of about 15 different amendments I was shocked, to say the least. How was I supposed to add all of these amendments to my soil? How could I ever figure out the perfect amount of each?

I fell into the trap of thinking adding amendments was my only answer to improving my soil health. I was so sure that they were my only solution. Have you ever felt that way? If you did, you probably also thought, “Why can’t someone just break through all this noise and give it to me straight? Why can’t someone just show me the answer so I can improve my soil health and move on to my next gardening problem?” Well that is why I am here to point to you in the right direction. To help you not forget the big picture. Yes, nutrients are important for plants to grow and give us fruit. But, they are not the end all be all. There are other aspects of our soil that help improve soil health and amendments are only 4% of what a plant needs. If you would like to see a graph showing you what I mean in detail, be sure to look in my eBook, Dirt: Finding the Solution to Building Soil Health.

I will describe this graph as best I can. The actual big three that plants need are carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These three account for 94% of the total plant requirements. Amendments are a part of the picture but they are not the only solution.

When I didn’t look at the big picture and only added expensive amendments. I not only spent a lot of money but I became frustrated. I felt lost! In fact, I started second guessing my soil. I thought what I really needed to do was either quit gardening or invest in whole new soil. Now quitting is not in my nature so I began to save for new soil. I began dreaming of building a brand new raised bed garden. I thought with raised beds I could grow above my current soil and I could maybe save a little money. After lots of research and an accident. I realized that this was not the answer either.

My Soil Miracle

Quite a few years ago, we decided to purchase a few goats. I always wanted the boys to take a market animal to the 4-H Fair. With the size of our property and the huge weed problem we had from building our new house, they were the perfect solution. Now this may seem like a roundabout story but let me tell you the ending will be worth it. We purchased a couple boer goats to see if it would work out for us. My oldest son sold them and we as a family fell in love with the idea of making goats a permanent fixture of our little farm. This led to buying four more market goats the next year. One for my oldest and middle boy to sell and one each to keep as breeding does. And I could not be left out of the fun, so I made my dream come true of owning a mini dairy by purchasing a couple Lamancha Dairy Goats. This is where everything changed. Just hold on there I am getting to the point, I promise!

Keeping goats through a Wyoming winter needs lots of hay and a confined place out of the bitter north winds. Now goats are not the best at eating everything they are given and they like to waste hay. They love pulling it out of the hay rack and throwing it on the ground to lay on, poop on, and pee on. The rumor that goats will eat anything is so untrue. They are the pickiest animal I know! Because they would never eat all the hay they threw to the ground. I don’t blame them but most animals will at least pick through it or not waste it to begin with. So, what do you think we did with all this wasted hay the next spring?

We turned it into the biggest compost pile we have ever made here at Red Ridge Farm. My husband borrowed a neighbor’s tractor so that we could clean it all out of the goat pen. There was so much! At first we just piled it on a flat spot on the outskirts of our parking lot area. A pile this huge took a while to decompose. Let’s just say that pile was still there the next spring. Which was a problem because the goats had made another huge mess in their pen again that winter which needed to be cleaned out.

This is when the accident happened. To make room for the new compost pile we moved the old pile that was only partially decomposed into a section of my garden I was letting rest for the season. That pile sat there for another year. Here is where I discovered this new secret to improving my soil!

That next year, needing to use this part of the garden. My husband and boys helped me spread the pile out and I tilled it into my soil. The result was amazing, the soil in that section of my garden became soft and airy. I am not sure if I told you before but my garden is mostly clay and adding this compost not only broke up the clay but improved it in so many ways. You are probably wondering why I had never done this before. Why I didn’t just add compost to begin with. Your right compost is the perfect addition to any garden. But to purchase the amount of compost that was made by that pile would have been difficult for anyone gardening on a low budget. I also didn’t have access to that amount of organic material before we got the goats.

When I added this huge amount of organic matter, or carbon, to my soil. I gave my soil a chance to breath and even eat. Remember, soil health is measured by the health of the microorganisms in the soil and in consequence the life the soil produces. By giving these microorganisms a new food source of carbon they could work even harder to break down the amendments I had been adding over the years. This compost also improved the tilth of my soil. Allowing for it to now be less compact, which allowed for more air pockets which brought in more oxygen and hydrogen into the soil. It sure is funny how adding a few goats to the farm resulted in improving my soil health. I still dream of adding a raised garden to my farm but now I can move it and make it a kitchen garden behind my house.

How Organic Matter Is Your Answer

The myth that amendments are the only answer has fooled more than you and me. It is so easy for us to gloss over that part when we don’t focus on the big picture. It is easy to only look at the plant's needs and not the microorganisms’. They are so small how can they help us? Plus measuring organic matter can seem like an impossible task.

But, did you know that a professional test will also measure organic matter? Well it does! I was just as surprised as you when I got my first test done. It showed me that adding compost was helping but that I need to add more, tons more. Like I told you before I never actually realized how much until the accident or should I say miracle of the huge compost pile.

Let’s dig into why organic matter is so important and how it helps your soil.

Organic matter is a fundamental part of the microorganism circle of life. Not only is it their fuel but also their habitat, where they live. That is why bioactivity is directly connected to organic matter in the soil. Also, when the microorganisms eat this organic matter they naturally make nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and many other micronutrients available to plants. God made this wonderful cycle of life, where decomposing plants give life back to living plants. And thus this cycle could survive continuously even if no amendments were added to the soil. Any organic matter that is not mineralized, aka eaten, helps build soil structure.

How Organic Matter Builds Your Soil Structure

“Soil Structure describes the arrangement of the solid parts of the soil and of the pore space located between them. It is determined by how individual soil granules clump, bind together, and aggregate; resulting in the arrangement of soil pores between them.”

I am going to explain just a small part of soil structure here but if you would like to learn more about identifying your soil type and how knowing your soil type can make you a better gardener then go read this blog post!

The solid parts of soil are usually clay, sand, and silt. Soil is never a pure clay or pure sand but is a mixture of all three. Every soil is different and some can be more clay heavy (like mine) or more sand heavy. Silt by the way is just smaller particles of sand or clay. Clay and Sand both have advantages and disadvantages.

Sandy soils tend to be more dry, doesn’t retain water well, and doesn’t have the ability to hold on to nutrients. As a result, this type of soil will need more water to sustain your plants and amendments will need to be added in small amounts. The solution to both of these problems is to add organic matter. Organic matter will solve both the water and nutrient problems.

Clay soil is the opposite. It tends to be more compact so it can hold on to too much water making drainage impossible. Clay soil is high in nutrients but because it compacts easily microorganisms don’t get the air they need to break the nutrients down for the plants. This can also be solved by adding in more organic matter. Organic matter will reduce compaction and give the microorganism more air and fuel.

I am sure you may be wondering why I didn’t say add sand to clay soil and clay to sandy soil, right? Here is the reason, to add the right amount of sand to my clay soil I would need to add about 5 tons of sand. That is 10,000 lbs of sand! This is a solution but as you can see an unrealistic one.

Adding organic matter to your soil helps you add micronutrients to soil without the expensive amendments.

Finding the Big Three In Organic Matter

Organic matter in your soil will naturally release nitrogen every year through mineralization. These levels are usually very low but they are there. The nitrogen requirements for raising vegetables are very high compared to other plant’s needs. That is why it is important for the gardener to provide a constant supply of compost, manure, and amendments as needed. As you can see amendments should only be needed if there are great demands for nitrogen by certain vegetables that require more. Also, because this nitrogen is only released during mineralization, then amendments of nitrogen may only need to be used when the soil temperatures are below 50 degrees. As microorganisms slow their consumption of organic matter when it is cold.

Like nitrogen, phosphorus is also released by mineralization from organic matter. Regularly adding compost and organic matter to the soil should provide your garden with all the phosphorus it will ever need. Plants need phosphorus for root development in young plants and maturation of fruit. In fact when it comes to backyard gardeners using both organic matter and phosphorus amendments they run the risk of putting too much phosphorus in the soil. This can lead to phosphorus pollution in nearby waterways.

Potassium is not mineralized from organic matter as it is mostly found in minerals already in the soil. But, because this amendment is already in the soil it doesn’t mean that adding organic matter doesn’t help. Potassium's one problem is it’s mobility, which is its ability to move through the soil. This means that potassium is easily leached from the soil. Organic matter can slow this process which, in turn, keeps more in your soil for your vegetables to use.

This takes care of the big three when it comes to amendments. Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur are the next three that are commonly overlooked. Healthy soil usually has an adequate amount of these three. The key to that sentence is health, meaning that microorganisms are needed to make these nutrients available for the plant to consume them. I hope you are seeing the connection. Organic matter is the fuel and habitat for microorganisms.

What about the other trace nutrients? They too, are found in most compost. Soil, let alone soil health, is a complex web.


The conclusion that I hope I have gotten across is that amendments are not the only answer and that the true answer to building soil health is found in adding compost that will feed the microorganisms. This quote says it all!

“Good compost can supply both the organic matter for soil building and the fertilizer for crops. It is also packed with soil organisms that activate biological activity in the soil. In other words, it’s synonymous with healthy living soil.” Jean-Martin Fortier

Compost is going to give life to your soil!

As always don’t let the world hold you back,

Pray, Just Plant


Intro 00:48

Amendment are Only A Slice of the Pie 02:00

My Soil Miracle 04:50

Tips and Tricks 09:38

How Organic Matter Is Your Answer 10:45

How Organic Matter Builds Your Soil Structure 12:40

Growing With God 17:30

How Organic Matter Feeds Your Microorganism 19:41

Finding the Big Three In Organic Matter 21:10

Conclusion 25:41

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