Compost, Mulch Essential to Maintain Healthy Soil

Courtesy photo &nbsp&nbsp The underlying foundation of any successful garden is healthy soil.

Compost, Mulch Essential to Maintain Healthy Soil

Many people don’t think too often about the dirt beneath their feet, but the dirt that covers most of the Earth’s dry land makes growing things possible. For those of us who want to have healthy and happy gardens, the composition of that dirt — usually called “soil,” in this context — is vitally important. 

In many areas of Alameda, the native soil was once a sand dune, and thus does not provide a lot of nutrition for plants. Water drains through it almost immediately.  Other areas are more like the rest of the East Bay, and are heavy on clay, which is hard to work and even harder for a plant’s roots to grow through. The cure for both conditions is to add a lot of organic matter: compost, composted animal manure (from chickens, horses or cows) or mulch.

Compost is the final product left after vegetable material — grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps — finishes breaking down. It does not have an objectionable odor and will not damage new plantings. Adding lots of compost to soil will make it more workable, add nutrition for plants and help it hold water. Making compost is not difficult and keeps a lot of waste out of the landfill. Finished compost is often available for free at Ploughshares Nursery at 2701 Main St. in Alameda. 

Mulch is spread on top of the ground and can take the form of compost, composted animal manure, wood chips, leaves, straw or sheets of plastic sold for this purpose under various brand names. Spreading mulch over the soil will aid in water retention, which is important in the Bay Area’s dry summers. Organic mulches will break down sooner or later, but will add to soil condition and fertility. 

Many members of Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) object to plastic sheeting, as it is a petroleum product and can interfere with soil breathability and drainage.

Interested in more information about soil and how to improve it? There are many local resources. Ploughshares Nursery ( often has classes, as does the Berkeley Ecology Center ( and Pollinate Farms in Oakland (www.pollinate 

ABG has informative talks every month. Keep up to date with ABG’s events at

ABG is a network of gardeners in Alameda interested in growing food and donating fresh produce to neighbors who face food insecurity. Find the schedule for ABG’s monthly education meetings at 

ABG’s Project Pick is always looking for fruit trees to pick and volunteers to help pick them so more fresh fruit can be delivered to the Alameda Food Bank. To sign up, email or leave a message at 239-PICK (239-7485).