Demystifying Bagged Soil

‘my garden didn’t do well last year.’

‘What kind of soil did you use?’

‘I don’t know. Something from Canadian Tire.’

insert sad face here.

It’s so frustrating to try and understand the contents of bagged garden soil. And the stakes are high, the soil you choose can make or break your garden project. So let me tell you what I know about choosing soil in Yellowknife.

No matter what you are growing, your soil needs to provide two things: the right structure and nutrients. The structure will ensure that the roots have enough air, water, and space. The nutrients will feed the plant. Fungus and bacteria are also a part of this system, but we will address them a little later.

Structure: topsoil, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, coconut coir…. these are the ingredients that are going to help with structure. They make room for air, retain and drain water and make space for the roots. These are all natural ingredients. Some soils also offer wetting agents. I have no idea what that is, and probably wouldn’t want to grow food in it.

Nutrients: compost (municipal, manure, mushroom, sea soil, steer, sheep, worm castings etc) fertilizer (fish emulsion, slow release pellets, water soluble, all purpose natural vs chemical)

This is where things got really confusing. “Which compost to choose?! To fertilize or not to fertilize?!” Lets keep it simple.

Compost: The reason we use compost is to add nutrients (and also bacteria). “what nutrients does my plant need?!”. Don’t stress about it, if your a new gardener, just be sure to get some compost. Pick a few different kinds, that way you will get a wider breath of nutrients.

Fertilizer: OMG so many products. As far as I can figure, there are two kinds of fertilizers: chemicals (water-soluble, and pellets) and not chemicals. They both have their time to shine. If there is a list of ingredients on the side of the container and you can pronounce the words, chances are, that it’s not a chemical. Everything else is a chemical. I would use non chemical fertilizer on your food and chemicals on your flowers. (but that is an ethical decision you can make for yourself).

“what about that bag that says mycorrhizae? that looks like something I should have?!”

Bacteria and fungus are integral to a healthy soil (especially in Yellowknife, since a lot of the life get killed of during our cold winters, or is slow to wake up in the spring). This is kind of new science. You know the probiotic yogurt in the stores now? well this is probiotics for plants. I think it’s brilliant to bring life into the root zone of our plants. But I am skeptical that you need to buy a product. For now, my recommendation will be that you should have compost in your garden. And maybe try some Mykes ( this year to see if it makes a difference (I will have small packages for sale).

“so… what should I buy?”

Flower planters: any kind of potting soil will do. You’ll want to fertilize throughout the summer. I would recommend a water soluble fertilizer. You’re flowers will bloom forever.

Food planters: Buy a 3in1 product. (usually listed as loam, peat and compost) and then fertilize with a natural fertilizer.
Garden Beds: if you are planting a large area. I would buy bulk soil (there are a few places in town where you can purchase bulk soil, we are one of those places). And then add peat, compost, and natural fertilizer.

There are all kinds of ways to build soil without buying anything. But I will save that for another post.

I hope this helped in some way. Please call me if you find yourself crying in the soil isle at Canadian Tire.
I would be happy to help. 447-2854.