A good first lesson in urban farming is to learn the difference between “dirt” and “soil.” The former is the dead, brown powder contractors dig out from under a house. The latter teems with living organisms that intimately connect with the plants that grow in it.

For all the fame the Willamette Valley enjoys for its rich soil, the average Portland backyard is made up largely of dirt: compacted, stripped and often laden with refuse collected over the decades. Consequently, the second major lesson every urban farmer here needs to learn is how to turn dirt into soil. The months of January and February are the prime time to get started in preparation for spring planting. If you follow these simple steps, you can improve the quality of your soil and produce more nutrient-rich vegetables in the coming season’s crop.