Soil Compaction In Your Garden: Fix It

Soil Compaction = Unhealthy Soil = Unhealthy Plants

Soil compaction cause unhealthy soil and consequentely unhealthy plants with greater pest and disease issues, mainly because it reduces rate of both water infiltration and drainage.

Indeed, healthy soil includes not only the physical particles making up the soil, but also adequate pore space between the particles for the movement and storage of air and water. 

This is necessary for soil organisms to live and therefore for plants growth.

“Feed” The Organisms Of The Soil Not The Plants!

In addition, the exchange of gases slows down in compacted soils, causing an increase in the likelihood of aeration-related problems.

Finally, while soil compaction increases soil strength – the ability of soil to resist being moved by an applied force – a compacted soil also means roots must exert greater force to penetrate the compacted layer.

The utube video below, illustrates positive features of natural soils:

  • pore structure;
  • storage of mineral nutrients, and
  • symbiotic microorganisms.

The video also show the negative effects of conventional agriculture:

  • soil compaction;
  • degradation of nutrient stores, and
  • disturbance of soil microorganisms.

Soil Compaction: Why Does It Occurs?

When soil particles are pressed together, thereby reducing the amount of pore space, soil compaction occurs.

Large pores more effectively move water downward through the soil than smaller pores.

The use of heavy equipment and tillage implements, as discussed in our article on Earth repair systems, amplifies soil compaction.

Soil Compaction In Your Garden: Fix It With Double Digging

There are very effective strategies that can be used utilising hand tools to decompact the soil in your garden, such as biointensive farming, a method developed by John Jeavons and Ecology Action.

The biointensive method uses an eight-part integrated system of deep soil cultivation (“double-digging”) to create:

  • aerated beds;
  • intensive planting;
  • companion planting;
  • composting;
  • the use of open-pollinated seeds, and
  • a carefully balanced planting ratio of 60% Carbon-Rich Crops (for compost production) 30% Calorie-Rich Crops (for food) and an optional 10% planted in Income Crops (for sale).

Tools To Be Used To Fix Soil Compaction

I warmly recommend to use a good broad fork.

You can build your, following these simple instructions, based on the drawings provided by John Jeavons.

This tube video shows the tool I use, made by the Italian artisan Giovanni Pellegrino:

With a broadfork you can efficiently loosening soil without flipping it upside down.



Furthermore, using a broiadfork, weeds come up real easy, as you can see in the video below, from the John Jeavons utube channel:

Soil is composed of layers that actually accomplish important purposes: bacteria, fungi and earthworms working below the surface are all actively creating tunnels that give the soil structure.

This lively structure develops in different soil depths that have the right moisture and aeration conditions.

To completely turn the soil over disrupts this ecology for at least a while, so that you cannot rely on natural forces to help do the job.

I remark that it is very important to stay off the field until it is fit to work.

Soil compaction is determined just by walking on the soil!

You can use a digging board to keep from compacting the soil and move it while digging your soil.

How Does Double Digging Work?

In double digging:

  • a deep trench is dug across the width of the bed with a flat spade;
  • the soil from that first trench is set aside;
  • the soil below the trench are loosened with a spading fork;
  • the next trench is dug;
  • the soil is dropped into the empty space of the first trench, and
  • the lower layer is again loosened with a spading fork.

This process is repeated along the full length of the bed and the final trench is filled with the soil that was removed from the first trench, as showed in the following video:

Results Of Double Digging

When an entire bed has been double dug:

  • the soil will have greater drainage and aeration;
  • roots grow much deeper and reach more nutrients, and
  • soil is healthy therefore plants are healthy.

Final Recommendations To Fix Soil Compaction

Soil compaction need to be solved with the right approach, based on the scale you’re working on.

Compacted soil in your garden should be double dug each season until the soil has attained good structure and long lasting aeration.

After double digging the first season, deep tilling during subsequent seasons can be quickly accomplished with a broad fork.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this article? Please let us know in the comments.

Giuseppe Tallarico

Giuseppe is a versatile and results-oriented Agronomist specializing in Permaculture, Food Security, and Environmental Management Systems dedicated to consulting large-scale farms through the transition to sustainable and regenerative agriculture to achieve maximum profitability naturally while creating a greener abundant earth for generations to come. Giuseppe is an Accredited Instructor by the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and a permaculture consultant for the government of Jordan. Giuseppe serves the world permaculture community as the founder and General Manager of the World Permaculture Association and the head of the Urban Permaculture Laboratory Educational Center.