Alternative Soil Conditioners For Organic Gardening

Alternative soil conditioners for organic gardeningThe soil in your garden is a very complex structure of elements and it has both advantages and disadvantages. To improve the soil and keep a successful garden you need to apply soil conditioners. The ones described in this article are alternatives to compos and manure.

Over the years I’ve experienced with various types of soil conditioners since I had to work with poor soil in my garden. I was surprised to discover that there are other organic materials that you can dig into your soil. You can use these soil conditioners as mulch to help improve drainage or water-holding capacities.

The following examples should only be used as soil conditioners. Even though some contain plant nutrients, they aren’t present in large enough quantities to feed your plants. They should not replace animal manure if your main goal is to fertilize the soil.

Soil conditioners to use for the soil in your garden:

Spent Mushroom Compost

This is the waste product of mushroom farmers and it’s often used instead of manure. It is basically a mixture of horse manure, peat and chalk. The mushroom compost begins as fresh horse manure that is stacked in order to heat up. Once it reaches the desired temperature, it is sown with mushrooms and covered with peat and chalk. When the mushroom crop is harvested the compost is thrown away or sold (in lose form or packed into bales) to farmers.

If you use mushroom compost, make sure it’s well-rotted. Some farmers prefer to let it sit for at least a year before using it. This helps leach out any chemicals that were used by the farmers. After a year, when it has the consistency of coarse peat you can use it on your plants.

How to use:

Like many other soil conditioners, mushroom compost can be put directly onto the soil around plants. However, one should use it very sparingly as it can scorch young seedlings. Since this type of compost contains ground chalk, it is highly alkaline. Avoid using it on acid loving plants. If you need soil conditioners for heavy clay soil, then mushroom compost is the choice for you. It has good gypsum content and it helps to bind clay particles together. Use 2-3lbs per square yard.

Related article: How to make compost tea


Nature provides us with various soil conditioners and those living near the ocean often use kelp washed up on the beach. It is a treasured source of organic matter for soil improvement.  Also known as seaweed, kelp contains a wide range of trace elements useful for plant growth. Its alginate content binds soil particles and helps improve soil structure. Kelp can release certain nutrients in the soil and apparently it contains natural growth hormones that can be absorbed by plants.

How to use:

Many farmers prefer to compost kelp before using it, but this practice requires experience. Seaweed can rot down very quickly therefore it is recommended to dig it in fresh. Few soil conditioners can be used as compost activators such as kelp. The bacteria required by the compost heap loves the alginic acid content of kelp. When available, use 2-3lbs per square yard.

Wool Shoddy

This is a waste product resulted from the cleaning process that a fleece goes through when being prepared for spinning and dyeing. The clothing industry produces tones of wool shady and you can find it in wool-processing areas. You should keep in mind that the nutrient content can vary considerably if you plan using it. This is considered one of the best soil conditioners you can get your hands on.

How to use:

If you manage to procure wool shoddy you should use it undiluted. The general recommendation is to dig it in wet during the fall season. As coverage, you should use ½-1lb per square yard.

Recommended reading: Eight efficient food crops to grow

Spent hops

When it comes to soil conditioners, spent hops can be hard to acquire since you need to have a brewery nearby. Even so, this residue of the brewing industry is worth the trouble. Some may be annoyed by the distinctive strong smell, but that can be fixed if you let the hops aerate out in the open. Spent hops are very good soil conditioners and are particularly excellent for mulching. Some farmers prefer to compost it while others will use it fresh. Spent hops add both organic matter as well as small amount of plant nutrients.

How to use:

If you get it from the local brewery, chances are you will get it wet. If that’s the case, you can dig it in or spread it over the surface. Make sure to keep it away from the stems and leaves of plants or you could scorch them. Dry spent hops are often used as fertilizer since it has high nitrogen content (about 4%). As coverage, you can use 2-3lbs per square yard.

Composted Pine Bark

The timber industry strips off hundreds of tons of bark from pine logs every year. This residue is chipped and sometimes partially composted before being sold to farmers. It is often used as mulch for organic weed control. From all the soil conditioners listed here, this is the most expensive one and has two major disadvantages. It has no nutrient value and it’s a very hard material in unrotted state.

How to use:

If you use large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer on your soil, you can use it as a soil conditioner. Remember that it takes a long time for the lignin in bark to break down. If used as mulch, a 2-3in layer will work for most gardens.

Related article: How To Improve Seed Germination

Green Compost

Many families have a green recycling bin to recycle their waste. The resulting product is one of the most used soil conditioners. It is useful for adding organic matter even though it has little nutrient value. Green compost is used to improve soil structure and its water-holding capacities. To avoid weed roots lurking in the green compost or possible debilitating disease, I recommend making your own garden compost.

How to use:

Spread on the surface of the soil or dig in as you seem fit. As coverage quantity, 2-3lbs per square yard should suffice.

The soil conditioners listed here are good alternatives for every gardener. They do not pollute the environment and it helps recycle waste that would otherwise go the landfill sites. These soil conditioners will improve soil structure, help retain moisture in the ground and help control weeds.

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