Monday, 18 February 2019 16:23:14 Europe/London

How to choose soil for fruit and vegetable growing

Nothing tastes better than home grown veg. The better the soil, the better the veg. In this blog we discuss how to choose soil for vegetable growing.

Crunchy carrots, tasty tomatoes, fortifying greens or sumptuous strawberries. Fruit and veg straight from the garden is nutritious, delicious and great for the environment. There’s no plastic wrappers, no preservatives and a really low carbon footprint. All you need to do is find some good soil, some seeds (or plants) and add TLC to grow your own food.

What to look for in good quality soil

  • Retains moisture without becoming waterlogged
  • No big stones or builders’ debris
  • Free from chemical contaminants
  • Rich in minerals and plant nutrients
  • Smells sweet
  • Easy to work with
  • Local supplier

handful of good garden topsoil

Retains moisture without becoming waterlogged

It sounds like a contradiction in terms but soil for fruit and vegetable growing needs to support and nourish plants – not drown them. And you don’t want to be watering plants 6 times a day in high summer.

How can you tell if a soil will have the right water retaining properties? Give it a squeeze.

Take a handful of the moist soil and squeeze into a tight ball. Now release your fist. You should have a ball of soil sitting in the palm of your hand. If you have a palmful of dust, the soil is too dry, wet it and try again.

Now give the ball of soil in your palm a gentle poke with your finger. If it crumbles to nothing at the slightest prod, it probably contains a lot of sand. That means it will be very free draining. Great for Mediterranean herbs but not good for veggies and fruit.

If the soil ball refuses to break up and looks like a model of your fist, there’s probably quite a high proportion of clay in that soil. It will be heavy, get really claggy in wet weather and bake hard in summer. It can be improved but that could take years.

A soil ball that requires a firm prod to get it to crumble is just right. It’s strong, but not too strong. Water retentive but not boggy. Perfect.


Avoid soil with big stones or builders’ debris

This one is especially important if you are buying soil. After all, why would you buy rocks and lumps of concrete that cannot grow anything? Always buy screened topsoil, preferably 20mm screen. This takes out enormous stones but still leaves plenty of structure in the soil.

If your existing garden soil has large stones in it, try to remove them as you dig it over. Alternatively, build some raised beds and fill them with really good soil.

growing fruit and veg in raised beds

Free from chemical contaminants

Always buy soil from a reputable supplier and ask for a certificate to prove that it’s not harbouring any nasties. Remember that not all contaminants are visible and some can be absorbed by plants. Please don’t take that risk!

Rich in minerals and plant nutrients

You will probably need to give your veggies some extra feed but life is easier if the soil you choose is already in good heart.

Colour is a good indication of soil nutrients. If it’s pale and sandy looking – avoid it. If it’s dark brown and loamy it will have lots of loam in it. Loam is good at retaining water and plant nutrients and it also makes the soil easier to work with.

Smells sweet

If soil has been sourced and handled responsibly it will either smell wonderful or you’ll not notice any odour at all. There’ll be no nasty pongs whatsoever.

If you are offered soil that smells sour or has a chemical odour to it – walk away. It’s not suitable for growing food.

Easy to work with

Fruit and vegetable growing should never be about broken finger nails and bad backs. Dirty hands are inevitable of course.

A clay based soil is not easy to dig, weed or work with. It’s heavy, claggy and frustrating. Avoid it if you can (the squeeze test outlined earlier in the article will help you determine clay content)

dog digging in garden

Buy soil from a local supplier

Soil is bulky and heavy and that means it’s not cheap to transport. Buy as locally as you can to keep the costs reasonable. Plus, it’s always good to support local businesses if you can. Just watch out for rogue traders. Never buy from an online auction or similar. Always search out a reputable supplier.

Where to buy soil for fruit and vegetable growing in Scotland

Stewarts Turf in Edinburgh have been supplying gardeners with top quality topsoil for many years. Eleanor and Dave understand Scottish soils and Scottish gardeners and they know what will work best for you.

Choose between Eco Earth – a blend of compost soil and minerals with the perfect texture and water holding capacity for growing food


Screened 20mm topsoil. The finest agricultural soil screened down to 20mm, easy to work with and a reliable performer.

Order Eco Earth online

Order screened topsoil online


Posted in topsoil and mulch
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