Ask our Help Desk: How do I prepare my soil for gardening?

20160212soilSpring must be in the air – we are getting many questions about how to prepare soil for gardening this season. Here’s some commonly asked questions we’ve been fielding, with some online resources to get you pointed in the right direction. Do you have more questions? At the bottom of this post, we list all our environmental services that are available to our community. Bring us your questions in person, or contact us – we’re here to help.

How do I amend my soil at home for edibles gardening?

Where can I get free soil/compost?
This is a tough question. It is extremely difficult to find free, quality soil and compost. Fortunately, “Almost all soil, whether it is clay or sand, can be turned into an excellent growing medium with the removal of weeds and the addition of compost (hopefully homemade) to improve its ’tilth’ and make it loose and friable, able to hold air, water and nutrients.” (From this resource, How to Start A Vegetable Garden by a local master gardener).

You can bypass buying soil by amending your own at home, with the help of compost. You can ask if your local municipality offers offers it for free, or make compost yourself at home (see resource above, Compost In A Hurry).

What about lead in the soil?
It is safe to assume almost all urban soil has some amount of lead in it. There are steps you can take to reduce risk of lead exposure, especially if young children may play or help in the garden. Visit Alameda County’s site about lead-safe urban gardening. The UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County lists Soil Testing Laboratories for Home Gardeners.

Did you know? We offer many free or low-cost environmental services. Our Education and Engagement program is open and running at our temporary location, at 2506 San Pablo Avenue, just about half a block away from our permanent home, which is being remodeled! The following resources are available during our open hours: Tues – Sunday, 11 AM – 6 PM

  • Education & Engagement Help Desk — we will help you find resources for your environmental questions (not staffed on Sundays).
  • Library — peruse our book and DVD collection. Current members can check items out for two weeks at a time. You can become a member by making a donation, or by volunteering for five hours.
  • BASIL Seed Lending Library — borrow, donate, or return seeds to our community seed library.
  • Fact Sheets and Brochures — learn how to manage pests safely, conserve water, reduce your consumption of plastic, and more!
  • Job Binder — flip through our binder of recent environmental job postings.
  • Bra Drop-off — donate clean, gently-used bras for women in need.

[Photo credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Campaign on Flickr]

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