Soil Builder

An inexpensive, hands-on method for improving the soils on your lot.

SunPart ShadeShade










Sun, Part Shade, Shade

The Soil Builder offers an inexpensive, hands-on method for improving the soils on your lot. By installing this lot design, you will learn to make compost tea — a very low cost and environmentally friendly alternative to chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. This fertilizer is not harmful to insects, wildlife, plants, soil or humans, and can be used on vegetable gardens, flowers, trees and lawns — anything you want to give an extra nutritional boost! Both of our compost recipes are flexible to suit the size of your planting area.

The Field Guide provides some suggestions for a groundcover; however, the primary intent of this design is to improve the soils for whatever you may choose to grow on your lot. Remember, clay soils can make for a sticky situation. Although the materials required for this lot design are largely free, the one thing the Field Guide has not put a price on is your time. Depending on the state of your soils, this could well be an exercise in patience.

Ideal Location: Clay soil lot with a patient lot-tender, in sun or shade.


The estimated cost of the Soil Builder is quite low, as most of the ingredients required for this lot design are easily obtained for free, or for a very low price. You will need access to a vehicle to haul materials to your lot. Your biggest expense may be your time in labor and renting or borrowing special machinery.

Green Infrastructure

Over time, the Soil Builder creates healthier soils, which fosters better water infiltration. The Soil Builder sets the very beginning of a stormwater management dream in motion. With better soils, almost anything can happen on top!

Vegetation and Visibility

The Soil Builder is a high visibility lot design, with low growing groundcovers that will not reach above six inches in upright height. This lot design maintains a clear view from the street to the alley.

Planting Type

Most Interesting Season

Other Consideration


This is a hands-on strategy for improving the condition of the soils on your lot. You can install this project with the help of friends, family or neighbors following the step-by-step directions provided in the lot design. Once you’ve gathered your materials, it is possible to complete one step of this lot design in one day. When in doubt, reach out! Check out the Resources section on the Field Guide’s website for ideas about folks who can help if you get stuck.

Build Time Estimate

Six hands or less! With the help of friends, family or neighbors, this design can be installed in one day. The Field Guide assumes the lot is ‘construction ready,’ and all equipment and materials required for the lot design have been acquired and are ready to use.

Build Difficulty

Number of People Needed

Neighbor Labor

Time Taken to Build

Build Season

Transportation Intensity

Permit Requirements


Improving the health of soils takes time and effort. This lot design is a maintenance schedule that will yield better soils at the end. The aspiration is that by building up your soils, you are able to proceed with other lot designs, which may themselves require more maintenance. The groundcover specified at the end of the Soil Builder’s step-by-step instructions is a low maintenance option that will require watering and weeding as the plants establish, but otherwise will require one mowing per year.

Seasonal Upkeep Levels

  • Spring: Low
  • Summer: Low
  • Fall: Low
  • Winter: Low

Upkeep Frequency

Upkeep Skill Levels

Professional Assistance

Special Tools

Other Upkeep Considerations