Organic Gardens/making soil


QUESTION: I'm staying in Egypt for a while for job training but I don't have a garden here like I did in America. I have a roof or where I'm staying and I would like to start gardening on my roof. It is very hard to find garden soil to buy in a store and what is available is very expensive, so I wanted to make my own from scratch. I was hoping you could give me some information on the most basic method of making soil completely from scratch. I am beginner in this field and only recently started gardening in America.I'm looking for the easiest way to make soil so that food can grow without investing too much time are grabbing too many resources.I've done a bit of researching on my own but to be honest I'm still a little bit confuse. For example, one website I read that I could use saw dust, but I have no idea how I could fix the sawdust or get it on my own without going to a store in purchasing it. Thank you very much in advance

ANSWER: I presume you are starting with a base of sand.  This is devoid of nutrients, but a good thing to start with.  You have to add come organic matter for nutrients, and we would suggest compost.  You can make your own in about 6 months if you can find some green matter and food waste (not meat or fruit).  For all the information we have please go to and learn about soil building and making compost.  Good luck!

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QUESTION: I assume you presume I'm using a base of sand because I should be. I haven't started anything because like I said I'm not sure where to start. I've checked out many websites like your own, and my question is based after reading this information. For example, the site says that to build good soil I need phosphorus. Good sources of this are rock phosphate or bone meal. I'm not sure what this is exactly, maybe because I'm used to buying these things nicely packaged in stores in America. Can Is bone meal just bone scraps from meals we have? Does wood ash mean I just burn some wood over the soil I'm making?

I actually had someone bring me mud/clay material to use as a base, obviously I could very easily get sand. I'm sure I'm asking very simple questions, but for some reason my brain is having trouble making the connection. Thank you again in advance

If you don't want to buy anything, its going to be difficult to have a balanced soil.  That being said, do you have access to sand? You need to mix it with the mud/clay because the roots will need air.  Clay compacts the soil and prevents root growth. You need to assume whatever you mix will probably be alkaline because it is desert sand. Since you have the internet, you can order a soil test kit from and test the soil so you know exactly what you are working with. We have started many times with just sand. It is the perfect base for soil building. When we tested it, it was totally devoid of nutrients.  We added composted manure for nitrogen - if there are sheep or camels, you can just use their manure cold (not composted).   

Bone Meal is ground up bone into fine powder. Foods you can compost with high levels of phosphorus would be banana peels, crab shells, shrimp peelings, most grains and nuts.  

Your soil may already be high in Potassium, you need to test it. Wood ash is what is left after a fire.  You would need to sift out the chunks in order to be able to use it. Ashes are very alkaline, and are high in potassium, but if your soil is alkaline you don't want to add it.  It is only for acidic soil. When you test it you are trying for a pH of 7.

After you mix these together so it is loamy feeling it will be ready to plant.  I would make a raised bed, put the soil in it, and be sure to mulch well to keep the soil consistently moist.  You might want to provide some shade, as the intensity and heat of the sun will affect the garden.  We like the Greenbox, explained on our site, because we are in New Mexico, and it is hot. The shade cloth allows filtered light.  You could use branches instead of shade cloth if you made a frame.  You are aiming for about 50% sunlight in a desert setting.  

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Frank and Vicky Giannangelo


We will research and answer all questions about organic gardening, soil building, square foot gardening, composting, mulching, planting techniques, sustainable gardening, sustainability, garden design, and how to create a simple reflection pool to attract birds and wildlife. Over the years we have learned that plants respond to the garden's aesthetics, soil conditions, and the attitude of the gardener. The healthier the soil and soul, the healthier the plants become, and are therefore more able to resist insect attacks.


40 years experience in private and professional organic gardening, creating formal gardens, giving organic gardening workshops, and sharing our insights, both in the Southwest and the Northwest.

"Growing with the Seasons" a book by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo about their adventures in organic gardening, community, sustainability, and personal growth. Avant-Gardening Tid-Bytes, an online newsletter we published monthly from 2001-2008. The articles are archived on our website.

We both have BA degrees. Vicky from the University of Washington, and Frank from the University of Arizona. We have learned by experience, the best teacher...!

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NM Book Awards. Second place for "Growing with the Seasons" a book by Frank and Vicky Giannangelo about their adventures in organic gardening, community, sustainability, and personal growth.

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We are now back in WA state, creating organic display gardens on San Juan Island, WA and will be open to the public for produce, cut flowers, and culinary herbs. Seasonal.

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