Secrets to Great Soil

Dec. 18, 2010

If I had to recommend only one book to start you off on improving garden soil, this one’s it.

Secrets to Great Soil by By Elizabeth Stell. This book is such a quick and interesting read with knowledge that will remain with you forever.

It includes topics like creating healthy soil fertility with the use of compost and fertilizers. Improving new sites and problem soil. Soil Tests and more.

I’ve tested many of the methods in this book and posted results on this site.  Id like to republish the intro because its a story that I’ve told over and over again since I read the book. I think you’ll like it…

Secrets to Great Soil

Rescuing Soil on a Larger Scale
About the same time, I discovered a copy of Malabar Farm on my grandparents’ bookshelf. Louis Bromfield reached a conclusion similar to mine from efforts on a much larger scale in the 1940s. He bought an Ohio farm whose soil was so badly eroded that most topsoil was completely gone or marred by large gullies. Though once productive, the farm had been abandoned. After years of failure to replenish organic matter and mismanaged fertility it could no longer produce decent crops.

Bromfield transformed his fields by incorporating as much organic matter as possible as rapidly as possible. He built up the soil with animal manures and green manures, crop rotations that included pasture, and judicious use of lime and synthetic fertilizers. He controlled erosion on sloping fields by growing cover crops rather than leaving the soil bare over the winter and by plowing along the contour rather than straight up and down. he grew strips of sod between strips of easily eroded crops such as corn.

Improvements were visible after only a year or two. Yields increased greatly: Corn yields doubled or tripled in four years, and on some fields wheat yields increased almost tenfold. Every year, fewer pests and diseases bothered the field and garden crops. By the fifth year, insecticides were no longer needed even though an occasional pest was still seen. The animals, fed directly from the farm on pasture, silage, or field crops, became noticeably healthier. (A laboratory analysis of the farm’s alfalfa showed it was especially high in nutritious minerals.) A nearby stream muddied with soil washed from the fields became clear again.

During the drought of 1944, when farmers all over Ohio were hauling water, the springs on Malabar Farm were still flowing, because all of the erosion controls had allowed rain to seep into the soil and recharge long term water reserves.


Pick up  Secrets to Great Soil from your local library, read it (in part) on google books or buy a copy on amazon .

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2 Responses to “Secrets to Great Soil”

  1. Mindy says:


    I am fairly new to gardening and am focusing my energies on vegetable gardening. There is a guy who has a YouTube Channel who is just awesome! I though that I would recommend him to you. He is a bit goofy, but that just becomes endearing over time. Anyhow, he has a heart of passion for sustainable gardening and the like. His name is John Kohler and his channel is called “growingyourgreens” . I think that you can get directly to his YT channel by typing in

    He does videos from home where he has turned his entire front yard into a garden. He also goes on what he calls “field trips” to different events or farms, etc. He has so much knowledge and is great to pass it on to all of us.

    Here’s a video of his that I just got done watching. It is him at an event that he went to, interviewing a guy who just taught me some things I never knew. Outstanding information.

    Here tis –

    Hope you like him as much as my hubby and I do. Enjoy!

    • Trisha says:

      Mindy, I LOVE that guy. And i SAW that episode he was talking about, his friends in Portland with the dinosaur Kale… I kid you not, I have “rock dust minerals” written on my wall, and was trying to figure out how make your own mushroom spores. 3-5 years is a long time to wait for compost, but it makes sense… the people who need that much compost are the people who have enough space to keep loads of woodchips for that long. so it all works out. I imagine for smaller spaces you could buy a few bags of mushroom compost, add the rock dust minerals that John loves so much, then mulch with woodchips. Thank you so so much for this link, i havent seen this particular video and I love learning about it… cuz i totally dig soil, heh 😀

Leave a Reply to Trisha