I have a friend who is married to a soil scientist. She studies the biology of the tiny stuff in soils that make it healthy and fertile. Her efforts cultivate a soil that is teeming with life and beneficial organisms and it is those invisible squirmy things that assist the sun in producing improved harvests from desirable plants.
Most folks are unaware that the soil beneath their feet is a neighborhood full of living things. Bagged potting soil is a commodity that can be mass produced, uniformly packaged, and conveniently purchased for use when and where we want it...but it's not natural. The natural environment is hardly mechanized, controlled, or homogenous. Each yard is different as the canopy of every individual tree. Falling leaves, twigs, animal droppings, and insects are constantly creating more and more natural soil beneath our feet - but not all soil is equal in it's capacity to grow.
Now that time spent mowing has shifted to time spent raking (or napping) and the temperatures are putting our plants to sleep it is a perfect time to consider the earth that supports our gardening efforts. There is no secret sauce or special ingredient needed to improve the structure and health of your soil. In fact, all we really need to do is observe what naturally occurs and duplicate the processes that built the soil since the beginning of time.
1) According to www.nature.com, "Soil is a material composed of five ingredients — minerals, soil organic matter, living organisms, gas, and water. Soil minerals are divided into three size classes — clay, silt, and sand; the percentages of particles in these size classes is called soil texture. The mineralogy of soils is diverse."
This essentially means that soil can be incredibly diverse and it is the unique combination of components in your garden that must be considered. There is no silver bullet to fix whatever problems are robbing you of prize tomatoes. So, I recommend that you stop looking for a product on a shelf to improve your gardening success.
2) According to farmers.gov "Healthy soil is the foundation of productive, sustainable agriculture.
Managing for soil health allows producers to work with the land – not against – to reduce erosion, maximize water infiltration, improve nutrient cycling, save money on inputs, and ultimately improve the resiliency of their working land."
Your soil has specific traits that you can study and understand if you care to. When you understand those qualities and characteristics better then you can manage and improve your soil so that it provides your plantings a superior environment in which to grow and produce. The activities and amendments you apply toward improving the soil will primarily change four things: a) soil structure (texture), mineral content, moisture capacity, and biological activity.
3) All you need are the things you already have. Use your senses to examine the soil structure, look for bugs - earthworms are your friends, notice the colors and the components. Visit your local AG department and use the free soil sample bags to collect a sample of your soil and send it to Texas A&M Agrilife for analysis. It will cost you about $35 for the report but it will give you a good idea of the pH, the N/P/K balance, and several other informative metrics. This information is a good place to start, however it is not necessary to approach soil health like it is science homework. Start a compost pile and add to it often. I usually let mine sit for a year and then use the lowest material first. That stuff is natural, full of organisms, and it improves soil health and structure as soon as it is applied.
Finally, the internet hosts a wealth of good information about improving soil. There are several sources I subscribe to that help me learn more and more every day. The video below is well made and the English gentlemen demonstrates how easily soil can be markedly improved with just a little, well-timed effort. Enjoy!