working with nature to restore soil fertility

Ideas to Easily Help Restore Fertility to Your Garden

This post gives you simple examples from my spring garden on ways to work with nature to continually and easily help restore fertility to your soil. They involve little or no cost and very little effort.

Here’s How Plants Can Benefit the Garden

My garden is transitioning to crops of the main growing season. Plants in the picture below benefit in many ways  before they set seed, die and then help restore fertility. Here are 5 ways:

  • Some provide food for me during the fall, winter, and early spring.
  • Bloom provides food in early spring for beneficial insects. In order to be there when the pests show up, they need food and shelter before  the pest insects arrive.
  • Not much nectar and pollen is available in most gardens for bees in early spring.  These plants provide that.
  • Roots help build soil structure.
  • Roots provide a home and  food for microorganisms. (They in turn decompose organic material which will then allow plants to more easily take up nutrients. And some of them can’t colonize without living roots.)

Diversity is an Important Principle

The diversity of the organic materials will enhance mineral content in the soil and thus increase nutrient value in your crops. Another reason why wild plants can hep your garden.

The tall yellow bloom is an  overwintered cabbage that bloomed after I cut the head. The other yellow bloom is wild cress. The slightly bluish green mounds are mache plants that have bloomed and are setting seed. The little wild viola, hen bit, and chickweed are there but not clear enough to be recognized

The Cycle

Most of what you see in the picture reseeds in my garden each year.  Seed germinates in the fall or late winter. By April or May plants bloom; then set and drop seed. As plants die off or as I need the space for crops (whichever comes first) I pull them up.

What I do with the Plants Once They’re Pulled

Sometime I lay them on the sides of the beds. Sometime they’re placed in the paths.

If I have an abundance I’ll make a pile in between a row.  By the end of the season you’ll have a pile of rich soil.  Dirt can be spread back onto the beds.  But often I use them as planting mounds.

An Example of What Can Be Done

This year I’ve already used one of last years mounds to plant tall peas.   The seed was saved from last year’s planting.

I won’t freeze any of these as I do regular peas (although I could), but rather use them to enhance daily salads.  There will also be plenty to allow some to dry on the vine for planting next year.

A flattened tomato cage will be their support since they climb and grow tall.

My 2 x2 foot mound of tall peas for daily salads and such. Planted in one of last year’s mounds of decayed plants. I haven’t put the support up yet for them to climb on.

Below is a picture of two “weed” piles from this spring (circled in pink) along the edge of my borders:

About Plants that Reseed in My Garden Each Year

Wild cress and mache provide food for me in winter. Great for bees and beneficials when in bloom.

Hen bit is edible and said to be nutritious. Not appealing to me at all. But the bees love it and that’s its main purpose in my garden.

Others like the little wild yellow viola with a blue mark just look pretty as their roots help soil life before they die off and/or are pulled up to make room for a crop that needs that space.

Usually I have lambs quarter.  Have not seen any so far this year.  It’s a good addition to salads.

The edible wild plants (some call them weeds) are high in nutrient value. And each offers different micronutrients. So I use them whenever I can.

Even chickweed (especially when it first begins to grow) supplements greens in salads just before spring begins. Common chickweed grows quickly and can make a lot of organic material for your garden.

Russian Kale and fall planted Cabbage overwinter and provide food just before spring begins.

The Russian Kale (pictured below) in my winter garden was not planted soon enough to get very large before winter set in.  I did get an occasional few leaves every week to mix into salads.

In April it seemed to instantly grow to to five feet and bloom.  I’ve picked bowls of leaves from this plant and within days it replenishes itself.

Just the other day I found 3 volunteer seedlings in various spots.  If they like where they are they’ll get not only tall (about 3 to 4 feet before bloom) but make a huge mound of leaves (can be 3 feet in circumference) that would seemingly feed an army.

Although I’ll save the Russian Kale seed on occasion I mainly let it reseed.  As with other plants, when it’s finished it’s used to help soil fertility.

Russian Kale planted last fall with Mache setting seed all around it.

Last fall I enjoyed some nice cabbage. But I put in several plants too late for them to make a head before the cold set in.   In spite of not having any protection except a bit of straw, they survived to make small heads by the first part of April.

When cabbage is finished I usually break or cut it up and put under the straw. This is done so as not to attract pests that like cabbage.  This method may not be 100% effective all the time. But in my garden, so far so good.

Cabbage planted late last fall. Mache going to seed at the top. Wild cress in bloom to the right.

Mache came up with fall planted Lettuce

Mache that grew with the Winter Density lettuce is now setting seed. Doesn’t bother the lettuce at all.

Lettuce that is under cover in severe cold overwinters well into spring. It’ll send up a stalk and set seed just about the time spring plantings are large enough to pick.

3 Beds Transitioned

In the picture below three beds have been transitioned to onion seedlings.

Final Thoughts

“Finished” compost (that which is totally decayed) doesn’t offer the soil life anything to feed on.  Plant residue decaying in your garden is more beneficial.

Long before chemicals, farmers used their crop residue to help return fertility to the soil.

Plant residue is what adds energy to your soil. It’s the by-products of soil life breaking down organic materials that your plants will feed on.  And as soil scientist Robert Parnes stated in his book, “It (the energy from organic residues) is required to maintain soil fertility and there is no substitute.


Personal Note to Subscribers

I’ll write more short updates about the spring garden and most likely send in emails to “subscribers only’ rather than post them on TMG.  One story that I can hardly wait to share with you is about a friendship that has developed between me and a little creature that shares my yard.

Always thinking of you when I’m in my garden!


Related Suggested Reading:

Mulching, Weeds, Annuals, Crop-Residue to the Rescue

Organic Gardening Using Practices that Enhance Nature’s Systems

Quick Fixes – Receipt for Failure/ Nature’s Recipe for Success


All content including photos is copyright by All Rights Reserved.


  • I never thought about putting pulled cabbage UBDER the straw to prevent aphids and others; great idea!

  • Hi Theresa, thanks so much for this helpful post. I also make piles of pulled-up plants in parts of my veggie patch but have never known if it’s the right thing to do! Just wondered if you would include medium/large quantities of ‘weeds’ in these piles?

  • Julie, just keep a check on things. Not everything works all the time. The deeper you put brassicas the better your chances.

    Michelle S – Most of my piles ARE considered weeds by most folks. Hen bit, chickweed, the viola, lambs quarter, even the wild cress most folks consider weeds. ‘
    The things I would leave out of a pile would be things like nutsedge that has already seeded and anything that has seeded that you don’t want in your garden. All the weeds I use I consider friendly. : – )

    Sometime back I wrote a letter to subscribers entitled Don’t Waste Your Weeds. If you still have that, be sure to review that information as well.

    Glad to hear you’re already making those piles. Your garden will benefit. Trying spreading plants around in the paths etc. as well.


  • Hiya Theresa!

    Spring is in its full busy swing and it’s great!! Been eating lots of salads fresh from the garden. Still can’t decide what I think of arugula. Grew some just to see what it was about. I like the pepperiness of it, but the initial flavor is kinda unusual. It’s ok mixed into some lettuce, sorrel, kale and baby chard tho. I can’t remember ever eating so many salads before now.

    A couple of my neighbors garden conventionally. On the occasion of them coming over to see my garden last summer I could tell from the looks on their faces they just didn’t get it and are probably too polite to tell me what they really think. Well…. except for Mike lol!

    But while we’ve been eating fresh greens since January and a good portion of both gardens are already planted and growing, these guys have had to wait until just recently for the soil to be dry enough to fire up their tillers. So now they’ve got big plots of bare dirt where they can plant stuff the “right” way. Different strokes and all that.

    It’s too hot for me to be outside this afternoon, which is good cause it gave me a chance to visit your site and time to comment as well. I want to thank you again for all you share with us. I never would have thought using weeds as mulch was a good thing before seeing you recommended it. I even tried stuffing a trash can full of alternating weeds, shredded paper and a few leaves last spring and then just left it to sit for a year. I opened it up this morning and stirred around the most beautiful compost, about 1/3 of a can full. From weeds!

    Take care and God bless,

  • Harold, your comment was a MOST ENJOYABLE read!!
    I totally relate to seeing the looks on your neighbors faces when they saw your garden.

    Brain washing is powerful, and most of our society has definitely been brain washed. Even when they see the proofs of our abundance in the garden they still think we’re not doing it the “right way” as you mentioned.

    If you like pasta – arugula is especially nice sautéed in olive oil with garlic and tossed in your favorite pasta. I use to fix often when Bill was living. Now, I might fix it once a year, but mainly use it mixed with other greens and chopped vegetables.

    Thanks for taking the time to write such an enjoyable comment.

  • Thanks for the tip on cooking up some arugula Theresa. Sounds like something my Susan would enjoy!

    Speaking of Russian kale…. I hadn’t planted any for several years now. When I reworked a bed last spring that it used to grow in, I was very surprised to see a volunteer come up. So I left it and have since taken it as a sign from above to forget about that lacinato stuff that I have absolutely no luck with and go with the Russian. I had reworked that bed to plant lacinato which did poorly as usual, and hasn’t come back from winter die back, except for one, which so far has tiny leaves. Meanwhile the Russian came back from die back like the little kale plant that could, except it’s huge, not little!!

    Gonna save seed and try different places for it going forward. I remember reading that you haven’t had much luck with lacinato either. Maybe it’s a zone 7 thing. It’s too bad cause they’re cool looking plants. This was the 3rd or 4th try in as many years, so done now.

    Anyways…. I could ramble on for another 47 paragraphs but will close with thanks again for the arugula tip!

  • Harold, I’m delighted to learn that your Susan may enjoy arugula with pasta. (By the way it loses the peppery taste when sautéed.) Let me know the outcome when you try itl

    Yes, you remember correctly. I’ve never had luck with lacinato kale. And I too tried for 3 or 4 years.
    Russian Kale is so easy and much to my liking in every way. As you’ve discovered, it keeps showing up in the garden.

    Thanks for the additional comment.

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