Gardening in light fluffy “soil” makes a common appearance when scrolling through videos online. But did you know the fluffy soil you see is not really soil? We actually consider that to be a soilless medium because of its absence or lower levels of mineral soil. While this soil is nice to work with, it can be expensive to get started.  

 Mineral soil tends to clump, have a hard crust, and comes in a wide range of colours from light brown to gray. This appearance can definitely be Instagram worthy! Did you know a native mineral soil is the most environmentally friendly option? A native mineral soil contains micronutrients, a near perfect cation exchange capacity and can be microbe dense under the correct conditions. 

A “normal” mineral soil will clump. We call this aggregation and it is simply the soil coming together through the process of cohesion and fragmentation. Some people refer to this as compaction or “dead soil” but that can not be further from the truth. These aggregates are hugely beneficial to plants as a source of moisture, nutrients and an anchor for soil roots. This aggregation also prevents against erosion and moisture loss.  

When it comes to working with your natural soil you want to look at making a few adjustments to maximize the results. The first being releasing the soil from excess compaction that has been caused by foot traffic, excess moisture and even snow weight. The best way to do this is via the broadfork method or a one time tillage. This is where you would incorporate a large volume of cured compost into the first twelve inches of your soil surface. After this you want to avoid walking on the soil after rainfall or watering. 

The second trick is utilizing a hand trowel to break up the “crust” when sowing seeds and transplanting. The top 1”-3” of your soil surface should be the texture of flour. This means using your hands, trowels and some elbow grease to break up the soil. This will allow for an even moisture supply, zero air pockets and give the greatest success to your soil. 

The last thing for gardening in a native soil is mulch. Mineral soil is made from bedrock that has been pulverized into different sized particulates. We refer to these particle sizes as sand, silt and clay. The nature of this particle mixture is to “crack”.  The cracking severity will differ based on the percentage of sand, silt and clay. The higher the clay percentage the more severe the cracking can be. This is at most an appearance issue and does not mean your soil is sick, dead or inferior. The solution for making a native soil Instagram worthy and hiding its natural characteristics is mulch. Mulch will lock in moisture, reduce erosion, and help beautify your soil.  

So next time you are thinking about starting a new garden; consider working with what you already have. Native soil does not need to be imported or be inspected for pesticide contamination. It has been designed by mother nature to support life, long before compost, peat or coconut coir! So give it a shot!