A good garden begins with good soil. Author Elizabeth Murphy explains the basics of soil, and details what makes quality soil a great foundation for the garden in her latest book, Building Soil: A Down-to-Earth Approach – Building Solutions for Better Gardens and Yards.

Book Blurb:

How do you recognize healthy soil? How much can your existing soil be improved? What are the best amendments to use for your soil? Let Building Soil answer your questions and be your guide on gardening from the ground up! Fertilizing, tilling, weed management, and irrigation all affect the quality of your soil. Using author Elizabeth Murphy’s detailed instructions, anyone can become a successful soil-based gardener, whether you want to start a garden from scratch or improve an existing garden.

If you want methods that won’t break your back, are good for the environment, and create high-yielding and beautiful gardens of all shapes and sizes, this is the book for you! Create classic landscape gardens, grow a high-yielding orchard, nurture naturally beautiful lawns, raise your household veggies, or run a profitable farm. A soil-based approach allows you to see not just the plants, but the living system that grows them. Soil-building practices promote more ecologically friendly gardening by reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, sequestering greenhouse gases, and increasing overall garden productivity.

What Nourishes Our Plants

In Murhpy’s introduction, she details her background as well as the inherent desire that gardeners have for a healthy soil, but not knowing or having the tools to do so. “As gardeners, we instinctively know that soil nourishes our plants. We can sense the difference between a living, vibrant, dark black fertile soil and dried-out, nutrition-starved dirt. All too often, though, we don’t have a clear guide on how to put this intuitive knowledge into practice.” This is where her experience and guidance comes in – and clearly gives the reader all the info needed for a healthy soil.

Building a Foundation and Soil Testing

Do you know what makes up soil, and what kind of soil you have? Soil is composed of these five things: pore space, air, water, minerals, and organic matter. And even though organic matter only makes up less than a half a percent of soil, this part is living – which makes soil ‘living’ and creates an environment that plants thrive in.

The first part of knowing your soil is understanding what type of soil and soil texture you have. And this is done with a soil test.

How to Do a Soil Jar Test

Knowing your soil texture is the first step on learning how your soil behaves, and what it needs. This is how to test to see what kind of soil texture you have.

  1. Remove the top layer of organic matter to get to the mineral soil. Then dig a hole 8 inches deep. Scrape along the bottom to remove about a cup of dirt. Take several samples throughout the garden and blend them all in a garden bucket or tub. Take a glass jar (needs to be clear so you can see the layers – a large canning jar works well) with a tight fitting lid and fill it about half way full.
  2. Mark the level of your dry sample on the outside of the jar. Fill the jar about two-thirds full with water, and screw on the lid. Shake this vigorously for three minutes. Put effort into this; you want good results, so ensure you do this for the entire three minutes.
  3. Stop, and start for 30 seconds. Mark the line at the top of the soil now. Set another time for 3 minutes, and mark the top of the soil line again.
  4. After marking these lines, you now have two distinct layers – the lower sand and the upper silt. The sand part has larger layers and will settle faster than the smaller silt particles.

After estimating the amount of sand and silt in your soil, go to the Soil Texture Calculator from the USDA to find your soil texture – which could be anything from silty clay, silt loam, sandy loam, loamy sand, or sandy clay. Each will have a different need and effect on your garden.

Book Overview and Chapters

Building Soil contains seven chapters that detail all you ever would need about building a better soil from the ground up – from the foundation to enriching and feeding soil to proper garden planning with the soil in mind. There is a Soil Grower’s Yearly Calendar that lays out the steps to take each season, and step by step color pictures that show exactly how to do the many things she explains such as tilling by hand. Her chapter on fertilizers spells out exactly what they are, and her whole-soil fertility approach to feeding the soil was informative.

Overall, a really great read for anyone needing or wanting to learn more about the soil they have. After all, a healthy soil produces healthy plants, and a lush garden is more than just watering plants. A productive garden comes with the understanding that the soil is a living thing, just like the things that grow in it.


Book Information:

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher to me, the author, and any opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links for the book, and any purchase helps to keep this garden blog running. 🙂


Post by Renee Shelton. When she’s not in the garden getting her green thumb on, she’s in the bakeshop talking about pastry and all that. If you have a garden question, send her a note via the contact page.
Renee brings garden cultivation and cooking together, sharing information on gardening through garden blog updates, and following the process from growing the seed or start up plant - to plating the dish with the harvests. If you have a garden question, send Renee a note via the contact page.