Organic Soil Amendments You Can Use Without A Soil Test

Before you prepare the bed, you’ll want to think about supplementing nutrients.

Today I’m going to cover the organic soil amendments you can feel free to use even if you didn’t take a soil test first.

Most fertilizers should be brought in only after a soil test. I don’t have time for a soil test today because that takes a couple of weeks to get results back from the lab, so that means I can’t add many fertilizers.

I don’t add large amounts of specific nutrients to the soil just for good measure because that can cause major imbalances in the soil. I need to have a soil test to tell me what to do, and I need to learn to read my organic garden to confirm that the soil test makes sense.

There are 2 organic soil amendments and fertilizers you can use regardless of a soil test. You can use this in your organic potting soil, too. One is rock dust with a broad spectrum of nutrients, such as from glacial till. This stuff is amazing. I get so excited using it. Go here to learn more.

The other fertilizer is a very small amount of calcium carbonate (calcitic lime). It’s the only mineral organic soil amendment I add in tiny amounts without a soil test because it’s almost always a good thing. Just add 10 pounds per 1000 square feet. You can add more if a soil test tells you to. Without the test, just use that small amount. Don’t use dolomite.

Go here to learn more about that.

Of course in the Smiling Gardener Academy you see how to get a quality soil test done and you’ll discover all of the other best organic fertilizers I use based on that soil test.

We used to be able to use some plant-based fertilizers, but they’re mostly contaminated by genetically modified organisms now. The one we can still get is alfalfa, which is a nice broad-spectrum fertilizer, but it’s going to be genetically modified soon, too.

Good compost takes the place of alfalfa anyway, so I don’t worry about that as much any more. And I still love the rock dust and calcium carbonate.

Update: 2 years after writing this, I decided to start selling these fertilizers. You can learn more about them here: rock dust and calcium carbonate

Do you have any questions about organic soil amendments? Feel free to ask below.

Organic Soil Amendments Video Transcript

Next on my list before I start preparing my bed is to think about organic fertilizing.

If you are interested in growing the healthiest possible food and flowers and other plants you’re going to probably want to do some fertilizing to get things in the balance in the soil, and then in the long run we try to create a system that’s more self-sustaining where we don’t have to bring in too many external inputs.

But early on we want to fertilize and in order to do that we want to take a soil test. A good quality soil test so we know what to put in.

Obviously today I can’t do that because I only am doing this in one sort of afternoon here. So obviously today I can’t add much in the way of organic fertilizers because I don’t add hardly anything just for good measure.

In terms of specific nutrients, I don’t want to just go and add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium because it could be the wrong thing and it could put things in the opposite direction that they’re supposed to go.

That’s why soil testing is so important.

But there are two that I will add without a soil test and the main one is rock dust and this particular brand here comes in a very nondescript bag. I actually paid fifty dollars for this fifty pound bag and that was too much.

I did that this spring because I was doing a lot of teaching with it and so I wanted to have it but normally I’d hope to pay twenty to forty dollars. Forty dollars max for a fifty pound bag.

And if I were doing a bigger property I would go to a quarry and try to find some rock dust from them and then you’d get it a hundred times cheaper but you’d have to do a little testing with that to see if it’s a good dust.

So that’s why, if you get something that’s a good brand, then you’re good.

So what rock dust is, sometimes it comes from volcanic sources but often it’s from a glacial source. So when the glaciers moved, they brought a bunch of different rocks together.

Then what a rock dust is, is it’s that stuff pulverized and I’ll show you a little bit of it here. Even if it’s not that windy, the wind often takes it away because it’s, it just looks like that.

So what that is, is it’s really a broad spectrum organic fertilizer. It’s not just nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. It has dozens of nutrients in there that come from all these different rocks that have been ground up together and it really is my most, one of the best organic fertilizers and it’s something you can use anywhere without having a soil test.

So, I might put fifty pounds of this down on a thousand square feet. This bag is pretty expensive to do that. That’s why I normally wouldn’t pay that much.

And it’s just something I’ll do when I’m building an organic garden and then I usually don’t think about it too much anymore. It’s something I want to get in the soil right from the beginning.

So I just love rock dust I use it all the time.

Now, there’s one more that I will use only a tiny little bit of. And that is, I’ve put it in this little jar here.

That’s calcitic lime and it looks very similar to rock dust because this particular one has been ground up, it’s white. You know, calcium, white. It’s a limestone.

And, I’ll use a very, very, very tiny amount of this, maybe five pounds per thousand square feet which is miniscule. The reason I’ll do that, it kind of just gets that calcium energy into the soil.

I may use a lot more of it if I did a soil test that told me that I needed it but without a soil test I don’t want to use much but I will use a little just because it’s very rare that a soil won’t benefit from this tiny amount of calcium just to get some energy going.

Calcium is so important in the soil. So that’s calcitic lime, not dolomite lime. Calcitic lime.

So those are the two that use without a soil test. Now in the Smiling Gardener Academy I get into the soil testing in detail, how to take it, how to interpret it all that and then into all the organic fertilizers that I would use based on a soil test if it told me I needed them.

And I guess I haven’t talked much about what the Smiling Gardener Academy is. So what I did this year is I put together an exclusive membership website I called it the Smiling Gardener academy.

And it’s for, it’s really is for people who are excited to learn about how to really make their soil amazing and how to, you know I go into soil I go into the soil food web, composting, microbial inoculants, all this soil testing stuff, design and I get into food plants and how to plant them and how to plant a tree and all kinds of stuff like that.

Like really detailed – people who really want to really make an amazing vegetable garden, so it’s not for everyone. It’s people who are excited by this stuff like I am, really passionate about learning about it and willing to put in a little bit of work up front.

It’s not a lot of work, just a little bit of work to really take your organic garden to the next level. And so what it is, is this year, this whole garden here I started from scratch. I put in this garden and I tried to pull on everything I’ve been learning for the last fifteen years about gardening.

And just every little thing I can think of to make the garden really great, to make the soil really great and it’s worked out really well this year.

So what I did is I’ve filmed over 250 videos so far. That’s kind of what I could get done in this one year. Just these short videos talking about all this stuff, and really just the A-Z from beginning to end about how to put in an amazing organic garden.

And, if you join the Academy you get access to a new module every month of 35 videos or so, sometimes a little more and accompanying text with it.

And we go into a topic in detail, like one month we might do composting, like really learning how to make compost. Another time we might do soil testing. And what you get to learn is how to make an amazing vegetable garden like I have going here.

I had a really good year, it’s going to get better every year because it takes a few years when you’re starting from scratch to really build up your soil and do well, but I was really impressed with how it worked out this year.

So if you want to learn about food gardening or even if you’re more interested in ornamental gardens or flowers, it’s all the same kind of process. And so, so ya that’s a little bit on what it’s about. I’ll talk a little more about it next time.

What I wanted to go into today is rock dust and calcitic lime. You could use those two.

Now the other thing is, we used to use more plant based organic fertilizers like from canola and cotton seed. A lot of seed meals. What else did we use? We used corn gluten, soy, a lot of these things that are now being genetically modified and we really don’t want to bring genetically modified stuff into our organic gardens.

So we can’t use that any more in my opinion. I’m pretty strict about the GMO thing.

We can still use one really good one is alfalfa. Another broad spectrum organic fertilizer basically. But it’s been approved for genetic modification, too.

So, I still want to support the people who are doing it organically but there’s going to be, alfalfa is a grass that’s wind pollinated so there’s going to be contamination I’m sure. It’s going to start happening. So that’s going to be something we can’t use either.

So I just wanted to mention that as well, that we can’t use those as much anymore so that’s why the rock dust is making a lot of sense, plus some of the biostimulants that I’ve talked about before.

But those are the ones for the soil improvement. Rock dust and calcitic lime that I get really excited about using still. And then a lot of other ones after I’ve done a soil test.

So hopefully that’s been really helpful for you for how to see how to start making your soil able to support really abundant, healthy plant growth.

59 Comments

  1. Lisa on October 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Great lesson! Should I add these fertilizers even if I add compost?

  2. lennox bridgewater on October 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Hello if i use organic compost do istil must use fertilesers

  3. Phil on October 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Hi Lisa and Lennox, good questions. There isn’t really 1 right answer when it comes to this kind of thing. A garden is a complex system. Compost can get you a lot of the way there. Sometimes rock dust can be incredibly beneficial, as can other minerals, mostly based on a soil test. It’s not the end of the world to see how you get along with just well-made compost for awhile before you get into fertilizing. Personally, I soil test and fertilize right from the beginning when I’m making a new garden bed, because I’ve proven to myself that it’s worthwhile. Same goes for using rock dust. But if I had to choose one over the other, compost would win a lot of the time.

  4. Chris on October 11, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Great video and informative, thank you.I would like to know where can I get those fertilizers : glacial till, rock dust and calcitic lime.

    • Phil on October 11, 2011 at 11:15 am

      You generally need to find them locally, since they’re too heavy to warrant shipping them, especially since I generally use at least 50 pounds per 1000 square feet. I’ve seen rock dust on Amazon, but the shipping would get expensive if you needed a lot. So you need to find a farm supply store or fertilizer store or forward-thinking garden centre. I’ve never had a problem where I’ve lived, but I know it can be quite tricky.

  5. Sujatha Merchant on October 18, 2011 at 3:28 am

    Very Informative. Thank you 🙂

  6. Steve on January 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    There are a lot of brands of rock dust. Can you recommend a good brand or two?

  7. Steve on January 13, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    After seeing this video and now trying to find the best rock dust wouldn’ t paramagnetic rock dust be the best? All the benefits of rock dust and paramagnetic too.?

    • Phil on January 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      All things being equal, a paramagnetic dust would be better. If we wanted to get really detailed comparing 2 products, we would have to look at the mineral analysis and the paramagnetic number (which is rarely listed), as well as cost/availability/etc. and try to come up with a winner. I’m usually just happy if I can find anything where I live.

  8. Farmer Jen @ Merry Heart Farm on February 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    What is the difference between calcitic and dolomite lime?

    • Phil on February 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      Calcitic lime has about 30%C, 5%M. Dolomite has more like 22%C, 12%M. These are just estimated averages.

  9. Shirley on March 7, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Thank you.  I find this very interesting.

  10. BrianD on April 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    I drive over a river delta with 2 rivers in it each day on my way to/from work here in Alaska, and both are fed by huge glaciers.  When the wind blows hard, glacial dust blows thousands of feet into the air and you can see it from miles away.  Both rivers are heavily filled with glacial dust and the river banks are ‘wet mucky’ glacial dust.  Can I just go grab some of this in a bucket, dry it (maybe) and use it in my gardens?  Doesn’t it matter what kind of stone the glaciers are grinding up?  Or is virtually any glacial rock dust good enough?

    • Phil on April 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      It’s a good idea to test it first, just in case there are toxins or other issues. You can put the dust in part of your garden for this season and see what happens, adding it to the rest of the garden in the fall if you notice a positive difference.

  11. Fvillarr on April 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I just got my Gilmour professional hose end sprayer and plan to start spraying my lawn with liquid molasses, seaweed, worm castings tea, and d-limonene to try to maintain a healthy lawn, as well as to control pests, especially ants.     My lawn yard is approximately 2,100 sq. ft.        How many ounces or tablespoons of the above liquid fertilizers would you recommend?

    • Phil on May 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      The seaweed will say on the label. For molasses, I use just 80ml/1000 square feet combined with effective microorganisms. For worm tea, it totally depends on the quality of the product. I’ve actually never heard of using d-limonene in a foliar spray.

  12. Fvillarr on April 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    BTW, where’s the cheapest place to buy d-limonene?      My God it’s super expensive.      The cheapest price I’ve seen is at e-bay, which runs about $50 for a gallon, by a seller by the name of GRATEFULBUYS.

    • Phil on May 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      As I mentioned above, I’ve actually never used it.

  13. Minaz on May 8, 2012 at 1:42 am

    Hi Phil,I have been watching your videos, and they were quite interesting and informational.  I would like to know about the membership fee to your academy. Thanks.

    • Bec on September 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

      her here, so very much would i . 250 videos golly.

  14. Brenda on June 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    This Rock dust and calcium sounds like the diatomaceous earth I use for my chikens and slug control, is it the same?

    • Phil on June 15, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Brenda, DE is very different stuff. It’s really an insecticide in the garden, killing slugs, but also may beneficials. It shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. Rock dust and calcium are mineral fertilizers, used to improve the fertility of the soil.

  15. Antonella on September 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Hi Phil. Really enjoying your videos.  How is Oyster Shell lime different from calcitic lime? Thanks!

  16. Vidya on January 23, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Hello Smiling Gardener! What’s your opinion of Azomite?Thanks, enjoying these lessons. 🙂

    • Phil on January 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      I’ve heard mostly good things about azomite, but haven’t looked into it in detail. In general, rock dust is definitely a good idea.

    • David_R59 on September 17, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      On the Azomite site it indicates that Azomite is “Halal”. Not important to most people but very important to Christians and Jews.

      • rtj1211 on March 27, 2015 at 10:01 am

        I’m amazed it isn’t Mormon, coming from Utah ‘n all…..

  17. Win on April 1, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Are you sure alfalfa is a grass? Is it not a legume? and that insects are not performing the bulk of its pollination?

    • Phil on April 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Yes, you’re right on both counts, I can’t imagine what I was thinking.

  18. dee on April 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    soo where in this earth do you find this stuff? I live miles from anywhere. There is a quarry where we buy gravel, but how do I know what kind of rock it is?

    • Phil on April 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

      If they have the dust for you, you can ask them what kind of rock it is. Or you can use some in a small part of your garden and see if it improves plant growth/health. You can sometimes find it in bags at garden centers, fertilizer suppliers, and farm suppliers, but not all that often. You can buy it online at Amazon, but it’s too expensive to ship.

  19. gbg on June 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Great video! Would you recommend incorporating rock dust during the growing season, or should I wait until late fall or early spring? Thanks!

    • Phil on June 12, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      Fall may be better because you can quickly and easily incorporate them into the top couple of inches of soil.

  20. Marion on August 19, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I believe Alfalfa is a legume not a grass

    • Phil on August 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Yes, I must have misspoken. Thanks for pointing it out.

  21. Patricia on August 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Hi Phil,Firstly, I’m really getting so much out of these short little videos and am fairly sure I’d like to do the academy. I do have a question: It appears to be a certain dollar amount each month. Is there a time limit? Can a person go for, say, several months, and then cancel when he/she feels it is time. In other words, can a person cancel on any given month, once the lessons are basically accomplished?

    • Phil on August 26, 2013 at 8:16 pm

      Hi Patricia, you can cancel any time. The way the course works is that you get access to a new topic each month, for 12 months. But if you go through the first month or two or whatever and feel you’re ready to stop, that’s entirely fine. Feel free to ask more questions if I’ve been unclear.

  22. Pete Singh on October 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Hey Phil I like to stop the academy and I will pay what ever the lesson I received. Thank you it’s great way to know the organic gardening . Keep up the good work.

    • Phil on October 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Hi Pete, I don’t understand what you’re saying (I can’t find you in the Academy). Would you be able to clarify for me? Thanks!

  23. moeketsi on November 22, 2013 at 6:00 am

    hi phil i wold love to get full leson on this, i love it

  24. Rene on December 2, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Why do you use calcite rather than dolomite? I live in Oregon and thought I needed to add the calcite (or lime of some sort) and magnesium.

    • Phil on December 5, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      I use calcium carbonate because the ratio of calcium to magnesium in it is better for most soils than dolomite, which has too much magnesium for most soils. It may be that you need both Ca and Mg in your soil (assuming you’re growing in virgin soil and not prepared topsoil), but the ratio is important, too.

  25. julie513 on January 30, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    How would you apply these products in narrow gardens about 3 feet wide – by hand or some type of spreader to get it more even?

    • Phil on February 1, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      I just do it by hand and then rake it out to get reasonably even coverage – doesn’t have to be perfect.

  26. Judith on June 4, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Excellent information – thanks so much. One question – do you have any suggestions about how to reduce buttercups in my field. I don’t want to thrash them all – bees love them – but not much else does. Is there something I can add to the soil to reduce the buttercups in some thickly covered areas so grass can grow in their place. Many thanks

    • Phil on June 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Buttercups are persistent – pretty tough to get rid of. I don’t know of any methods. Apparently sheep will eat them.

  27. Jules on January 20, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Wonderful. Have to find areas to collect rock dust. Look for supply of small amount of calcitic lime. Thanks so much Phil.

  28. Sareer UD Din on January 30, 2015 at 9:27 am

    thank you phil , its realy informative 🙂

  29. Patty on July 15, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    What is your opinion of OceanSolution it would be a broad spectrum.

    • Phil on July 17, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      My understanding is that it’s not nearly as concentrated as other ocean fertilizers and it doesn’t have the sodium removed, so I don’t believe it’s anywhere close to being as useful as the product I use called Sea Crop ( https://www.smilinggardener.com/sale/sea-minerals-fertilizer/ ), but I’m sure it still will bring some benefits – even straight ocean water is beneficial.

  30. Doug Powell on November 3, 2015 at 1:05 am

    Okay, so I did a PH test on my soil (70% bentonite clay) and the PH is averaging around 8.0. I also did a test for free lime content, in accordance with instructions from the county extension agent. The test involved mixing a tablespoon of vinegar in a sample of the clay. It had so much lime foamed like an orange julius. So if I understand correctly, I should not amend with calcitic lime. Correct?

  31. NTPB on April 27, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Hi, I am surprised that you say that you can use Calcitic lime without doing a soil analysis first.
    I have a lot of free calcium in my soil. My calcium levels are very high due to high calcium levels in my well water.
    I do soil analysis every year, so this is not just my opinion.
    So, I would think that the last thing I would want to do is to add more calcium…
    What do you think?
    Thanks

    • Phil on May 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

      Yes, it’s fairly rare to have excess calcium, but it happens. I’m actually in the same boat with my soil. But most of the ecological soil consultants I’ve learned from say that calcium is so important, 10 pounds per 1000 square feet is almost never going to be a bad thing. And keep in mind that 10 pounds per 1000 square feet isn’t much. That said, doing a soil test and fertilizing based on that is certainly preferred.

  32. Larry owen on July 11, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    I expect u could use Milorganite on a lawn without having a soil test, no? This is an organic fertilizer which does not burn and is very hard to over apply. Appreciate your comments.

    • Phil on July 14, 2018 at 9:21 am

      You don’t need a soil test, but it is 6% nitrogen, so can definitely be overapplied – too much nitrogen invites pests and weeds. On top of that, Milorganite has been tested and found to have pharmaceuticals and heavy metals, so personally, I would look more into that before using it. It’s not allowed in organic farming.

  33. Marissa on September 29, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    Can you do a soil test at home? Without sending your soil to a lab?

  34. Nadine Pasay Buchanan on October 2, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Good morning, as to your question regarding the need for soil sampling,I would like to speak from personal experience. A few years ago I read a book called, “The Intelligent Gardner” and it totally changed the way I gardened and my yields. Steven Solomon, the author of the book, gardened for years with the idea that if he used enough compost that he would have awesome yield and nutrient dense produce, until he fell ill and his teeth started falling out. After much scientific research and experimentation, he recommends getting a soil sample yearly until your soil excesses and deficits are balanced. He suggests sending the sample into Logan Labs and then you can punch the results into his website which will literally spit you out a recipe for your garden as to which amendments it needs!! In doing this my garden went from being great to beyond amazing! (We were part of a local garden tour and veterans who had gardened in the area for decades were amazed at our results!) Not only were my yields higher but we could see and feel, in our health and even in our stool, the increase in the nutrient density of our produce. Just one example is that our broccoli heads tripled in size! Unfortunately, over the years we have lost sight of the need for the micronutrients in focusing so much on the N-P-K. What about copper, manganese, zinc, etc? I would never garden again without occasional soil samples and balanced amendments.

    However, as far as I understand, nitrogen is an amendment that can be applied every year without the need for a soil sample given that it leaches out over the winter months. Unfortunately, there is not a place to attach some files or I would love to share some of my found treasures with the group!!

    Happy gardening!
    Cheers

    • Phil on October 15, 2018 at 6:15 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Nadine! Yes, that’s an excellent book. I also covered soil testing in my book ‘Building Soils Naturally’ (published the same year as that one), but he did a more thorough job, and he’s just a better writer in general 🙂 As to your comment about nitrogen, you don’t need to apply it every year if you have enough of it already, and you don’t want to apply too much because excess nitrogen is already a major polluter in our world. Thanks again!

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