Bay Nature magazineWinter 2005


Resources for Healthy Soil

January 1, 2005

General Information Sources and Websites

Bio-Integral Resource Center


Extensive information resources for least-toxic pest management.

California Integrated Waste Management Board

Information and resources for organic materials management and home gardening, including grasscycling, home composting, and worm composting.

Our Water—Our World

Integrated Pest Management Fact Sheets, plus lists of less toxic products and participating stores.

Soil Foodweb

Information on the biological components of soil and compost and soil improvement through the use of compost tea.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Soil biology information resources:

Soil facts:

County soil surveys:” target=”_blank”>

University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Online

University of California Extension program website has links to Master Gardener programs in most counties.

County Waste Management Programs:

Bay-Friendly Landscaping and Gardening (Alameda County)

(510)444-SOIL composting information hotline

(877)STOPWASTE recycling hotline

Public program of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority for residents and landscape professionals. Offers workshops, booklets, and more on building soil health and growing sustainable gardens. Offers discount compost bins to Alameda County residents.

Contra Costa County Waste Reduction and Recycling


Home composting, worm composting, grasscycling.

Marin County Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program


Home composting, worm composting, less-toxic pest management.

San Mateo County RecycleWorks


Home composting, worm composting, sustainable gardening, and grasscycling.

Santa Clara County Home Composting Education Program


Home composting and worm composting.

Sonoma County Waste Management Agency


Home composting, worm composting, grasscycling, and less-toxic pest management.


Bay-Friendly Gardening: From Your Backyard to the Bay

by Alameda County Waste Management Authority and Recycling Board, 2004

Gardening tips, a design survey, profiles of East Bay gardens, and much more.

Printed guide is available free to Alameda County residents and to out-of-county residents for $10.61 ($7 plus tax and shipping) at (510)444-SOIL. Also available as a free download at

The Best of Fine Gardening: Healthy Soil

by the editors of Fine Gardening magazine, Taunton Press, 1995

Basics of soil composition, testing, drainage, and improvement.

California Master Gardener Handbook

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Division, 2002

A comprehensive, science-based guide to all aspects of horticulture. Order online at

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

by William Bryant Logan, Riverhead Books, 1995

Brings to life the many aspects of soil and the mystery of the world beneath our feet.

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

by Amy Stewart, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004

Enjoyable and informative book about one of the most important inhabitants of the soil.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits by Charles Darwin

Various publishers, currently in print; also available in a free online edition at

Darwin’s last book, initially published in 1881, explores the actions and importance of earthworms.

Let It Rot: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting

by Stu Campbell, Storey Publishing, 1998

Classic guide to home composting.

Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil

by Daniel Hillel, UC Press, 1991

Documents the uses and abuses of soil through time and around the world. Also describes systems for managing soil and water.

The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener

edited by Grace Gershuny and Deborah L. Martin, Rodale Books, 1992

Comprehensive and detailed “textbook” on composting.

Soil Biology Primer

Soil and Water Conservation Society, in cooperation with USDA NRCS, 2000

Great introduction to soil organisms and their importance. Copies are available from the society at or (800)THE-SOIL, ext. 24.

The Soul of Soil: A Guide to Ecological Soil Management

by Grace Gershuny and Joseph Smillie, agAccess, 1996

Good introductory book for learning how to think about and manage garden soil in the most sustainable way.

Start with the Soil

by Grace Gershuny, Rodale Press, 1993

Good interpretation of basic information about soil. Part of the organic gardening canon.

Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System

by Mary Appelhof, Flower Press, 1997

The definitive guide to worm composting.

Other Publications

Do the Rot Thing: The Simple Art of Home Composting (video)Demonstrates the basic steps and simple tips that make composting at home fun and easy.

Available from the Alameda County Recycling Hotline at 877-STOPWASTE or

King County (Washington) Solid Waste Division

Several informative online publications on home composting, worm composting, mulch, and soil health.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Soil Quality Information

Downloadable series of one-page fliers introducing soil quality concepts, some for agricultural professionals, some for the layperson.

University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publications

Some publications are downloadable for free; some are available for purchase online or by phone. (Check the lists of publications under Gardens and Lawns/Lawn and Landscape.)

Classes and Workshops

Community Colleges

Local community colleges may offer classes on soil fertility and composting.

Diablo Valley College Horticulture Department:

Merritt College Landscape Horticulture Department:

Listing of all California community colleges:

County Waste Management Programs—see listings above under General Information Sources and Websites

All offer classes on composting, etc.

City of Palo Alto


Home composting workshops and other classes on organic and sustainable gardening.

Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center (Palo Alto)


Workshops on backyard composting, worm composting, and organic gardening.

Eco-Calendar (sponsored by the Berkeley Ecology Center)

Listings include composting and soil workshops around the Bay Area.

Ecology Center (Berkeley)


Classes on composting, worm composting, and other aspects of sustainable gardening.

Garden for the Environment (San Francisco)

Workshops include composting and soil fertility.

The Gardens at Heather Farm (Walnut Creek)


Classes on soil and composting for home gardeners and EBMUD’s new water conservation demonstration garden.

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (Occidental)

(707)874-1557 ext. 201

Classes on various aspects of permaculture, including composting, soil fertility, mulch, and erosion control.

Planet Drum Foundation Green City Calendar

Searchable online calendar of classes, workshops, and events throughout the Bay Area, including some on soil and home composting.

Advice and Libraries

Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture

Strybing Arboretum

Ninth Ave. at Lincoln Way

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

(415)661-1316 ext. 303

University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Programs

Compost Demonstrations

Home Compost Education Project – Sonoma County

Environmental Discovery Center of Sonoma County

Spring Lake Park, Santa Rosa


Composting information available for the public, hands on activities for children, demonstration worm-boxes, etc.

Bay-Friendly and Compost Demonstration Gardens

666 Bellevue Ave. (in Lakeside Park at Lake Merritt), Oakland; and

3589 Pacific Ave., Livermore

Displays of composting, mulch, and materials reuse and recycling.

Soil Testing

Home soil test kits

Usually $20 or less.

For measuring nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium content and soil pH.

Purchase at full-service nurseries or from online suppliers.

Make sure the kit you purchase is fresh and has not been exposed to sunlight or moisture.

Professional soil testing (for big projects)

Usually $150-300.

Companies are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book or online.

Measurements may include lead, mercury, organic matter, and nutrient content of soil, as well as soil texture and pH.

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