Soil Amendments

Soil amendments enhance the productivity of the native soil.  There are a large number of different soil amendments available to adjust the nutrient and mineral levels in your gardens and food forest.  However, before you start adding tons of different amendments it is recommended to conduct a soil test first.  

In the event that you do not get a soil test you may still amend the native soil with nutrients, but it is possible not enough of some nutrients will be applied and too much of another.  Test the soil and start with an accurate account of the soil before spending tons of money on amendments. It is very easy to spend a lot of money on expensive kelp and seaweed fertilizers or rock dust.  

The following soil amendments are things we use in our gardens and food forest to add nutrients and minerals to the soil.  If you want vegetables and fruits to be full of flavor and packed with vitamins and minerals it is important that the plants have access to what they need.

Steve Solomon Complete Organic Fertilizer

The steve Solomon complete organic fertilizer mix is an excellent place to start.  There are simple recipes for creating a base fertilizer for generic use.  The formula can also be tweaked to match the specific results of a soil test.

The generic recipe for the Steve Solomon Complete Organic Fertilizer includes:

  • 4 Parts Seed Meal (cottonseed is a good choice)
  • ¼ Part agricultural lime, finely ground is ideal or ½ part if skipping gypsum
  • ¼ part gypsum 
  • ½ part dolomite lime
  • 1 part bone meal
  • 1 part kelp meal 

If you have a soil test make sure and refer to Steve Solomon’s writings or check out this video from David the Good on maximizing your efforts.


Agricultural lime is a soil amendment that is often used to improve the soil.  Also referred to as ag lime or garden lime it delivers several benefits.  Some of the benefits include increasing the PH of acidic soil, adding a source of calcium to the soil, and improving the ability of water to penetrate acidic soils.  Lastly, it is an important amendment that assists the uptake by plants of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Agricultural lime also serves a purpose in the chicken coop.  Chickens poop a lot and the moisture along with the poop and excess feed on the ground can cause a real smelly mess.  By applying agricultural lime to the floors helps reduce the odor and makes the space less hospitable to bugs such as flies.

Chicken Fertilizer

Chicken manure fertilizer is an excellent source of nitrogen for plants.  Whether homemade or purchased from your local farm store applying chicken manure fertilizer should be part of your annual soil amendments for your garden beds.  Certainly, other sources of nitrogen are available to consider.  However, if you are purchasing it by the bag, chicken manure fertilizer is hard to beat on a per-bag cost basis.

Steer Manure Compost

Steer manure compost is a popular amendment for adding nitrogen to the soil.  Similar to chicken manure it is often readily available and can be either made yourself if you have access to the raw material from your own animals or neighbors or purchased from a store.  It is important to avoid adding fresh manure directly to garden beds as it can burn plants.  Once composted it can be generously applied and worked into the soil.

Peat Moss

Sphagnum Peat moss is used in soilless seed starting mixes and as a soil amendment.  This amendment is used to add a highly absorbent material to sandy soils for water retention.  Peat moss when added to the soil can slightly lower the PH making the soil more acidic.  This is excellent for plants that love acid such as blueberries. Therefore, it is advised if you have alkaline soils to add peat moss to the planting hole. 


Compost adds a ton of organic material and other nutrients to the soil.  It is recommended to add fresh compost to your gardens on an annual basis.  This material will break down and provide the plants the things that they need to thrive.  Compost feeds the soil microbiology and they in return feed the plants.  Compost comes in many different styles and blends so do some research on the type of compost you are buying.

Home Made Compost

Making compost at your urban homestead is an excellent plan.  There are 101 ways to make compost.  For instance, you can just pile it up and leave it alone for a year and let nature take its course.  Alternatively, you can create the perfect mixture of nitrogen to carbon.  Then turn the materials at regular intervals and apply water to speed up the process.  However, remember that everything shrinks down once composted and it can be difficult to make all the compost you want with just the materials from your own gardens.  Acquiring free resources like fallen leaves from neighbors is an excellent way to get more materials for compost piles.

Bag Compost

Buying bagged compost from a big box store is an option.  However, it probably isn’t the best option to pursue.  The materials in most bagged compost are not going to the best inputs and if it does contain high-quality organic materials it is going to be expensive.  

Compost Delivery

Compost delivery is an excellent option for getting a large quantity of compost at the right time.  Plan ahead and get a neighbor to split a load with you in order to save costs in the delivery fees.  Generally, if you are going to be purchasing more than 10 bags of compost you are better off getting a delivery.  In short, this way you will have enough compost for your needs and to share with friends and neighbors.  Companies that specialize in compost will have several different blends.  Make sure to ask and investigate the materials that are included to pick the best option for your native soil and purpose.

Rock Phosphate

Adding rock phosphates to your gardens will give the plants access to many nutrients and minerals.  For this reason, it helps plants grow highly delicious tasting food.  Common ways to apply long-term access to phosphorus to your plants is to add rock phosphate or bone meal to your beds.  Rock phosphate is utilized by plants to create strong roots and improve the speed of crop maturity.  The soil bacteria and other creatures like earthworms appreciate the application of rock phosphate.

Incorporate Soil Amendments into Garden

Use a garden hoe to cultivate the soil after applying the steve solomon organic soil amendments onto the surface of the soil.  Learning how to use a garden hoe for more than just weeding is important.  The hoe is perfect for cultivating the soil and mixing the top few inches of the ground together.  This will make the amendments much more available to the the plants roots.  After cultivating the soil, water well to allow the materials to be available to the microorganisms in the soil.  As they feed and break down the nutrients it becomes available for the plants to soak up quickly.

In Conclusion

Remember to get a soil test before you start throwing money at soil amendments.  While it is hard to go wrong with adding compost to your soil, it is wise to know what your soil has and does not have before applying other materials. Consequently, many beginner gardeners spend large amounts of money on products like Azomite and Kelp meal.  While their soils were not initially lacking in the minerals and nutrients that these amendments provide.