Soil is the key to a good garden. Poor soil will leave you with stunted plants and poor yields, while rich soil will produce abundantly.
If you are going to be doing a traditional garden, you will likely want to amend your soil. You will need to add organic material. Improving your soil will not happen over night and will likely take years of consistent work to produce a top-notch garden soil.
If you choose to go the raised bed or container route, you have more options on your soil. There is little benefit to building a raised bed and filling it with the dirt that is already in your yard. If you go with the traditional square foot gardening methodology, you would use the artificial soil recommended. I found a study done by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District comparing 4 types of soil.
- Loam topsoil purchased from a local greenhouse with nitrogen added.
- Same soil and nitrogen with “Black Gold Compost Blend”.
- Mel’s Mix Square Foot Gardening Soil (considered an “artificial soil”).
- Miller’s Mix.
The conclusion regarding these different types of soil was a little vague. The first year, the square foot soil tripled the yield of the first two and the Miller’s Mix performed even better. The catch is that the soils were quite depleted after the first year and would need considerable replenishing the following year.
Anecdotal evidence would seem to support this. Friends who have used the artificial soils mentioned above have had incredible results. Problems that they reported were that it blows away since it is so light-weight and needs refilling, the vermiculite used can pose a health hazard if inhaled, and tall plants such as corn did not have enough support to stay upright during high winds.
In the comparison test, they did not recommend any particular soil over another. They did state that the loam soil will be less expensive over the long run to maintain. With the artificial soils you need to considerably replenish them each year.
I have tried a commercial loam, a 50/50 topsoil and compost blend, and a couple other commercial garden soils. My best results have come from my 50/50 blend. As such, I have taken to adding compost each year to help rejuvenate and increase production in the loamy soils.