Q. As I sit here in the frozen north and think about spring – and converting from single rows to grow beds with 3.5′ walkways between, I am wondering about the waste of my great soil in these “subject” areas: Is there any reason that I should not remove this good soil and expand my planting area by relocating it elsewhere – after all I have spent years and countless $$$$ on improving it – I am not talking about any major excavation here – just a skimming of the top 4 to 6 inches of the best stuff????
A. Please remember that 90-95% of the work of growing healthy plants is done by the process of photosynthesis using 3 elements that come from the air, and made possible by sunlight and the attendant warm temperatures, plus water.
5%+ of the work is done by the other 13 essential nutrients, which man can control and supply.
Soil provides 6 functions, including 1) Anchoring the plants, 2) Holding moisture, 3) Storing nutrients, 4) Allowing oxygen to reach plant roots, 5)Allowing drainage, and 6) buffering the temperature.
All 6 of those functions can be adequately provided by the worst of soils, if the gardener uses level, raised, ridged beds, and provides water and small amounts of balanced natural mineral nutrients.
Therefore, amending your soil is not essential to having a good and productive garden.
Furthermore, adding organic materials to your garden soil, while it can improve soil tilth and add small amounts of nutrition, may also introduce diseases, weed seeds, and destructive insects into the garden. For these reasons we recommend you exercise care and caution in trying to “improve” your soil.
Moving existing “improved” soil to another location may provide a benefit, if none of the 3 negatives are present, but it is a lot of work, and is not necessary. Plus, it leaves the existing garden area with beds that are 4-6″ higher than they should be from the aisles. This may make it difficult to keep moisture in the beds, and thus require much more water, or leave your plants suffering for lack of it. All things considered, I can’t recommend it, but just know that your plant roots will reach out into the aisle area somewhat (depending on water availability there), and can thus benefit from the soil.