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Aussies Living Simply

Understanding Soil

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    Kev, sounds like you are doing a great job there and I agree with your idea of the soil having been greatly disturbed with the large trees and stumps. Never worry about long posts with me :D: I love to have the whole picture.

    Interesting that you have the low pH in those areas of difficulty. When the pH is below 6, Phosphorus, Calcium and Magnesium become less available and the Phosphorus could be causing a problem with many other minerals, including zinc which might account for some of your problems.

    I think it would be a great idea to test your garlic (especially in the problem areas) and then test the proposed foliar spray to be sure it will do the job you want, while you get these areas sorted over time. Foliars are such a great help in this situation.

    Question…… where do you get your soil tests done? if you don’t want to answer that on the open forum, give me a pm. I am curious because during my time I found some really interesting results from different labs and also in their recommendations. Some were dodgy to say the least. My favourite lab is EAL….a part of Southern Cross University at Lismore. I have found them to be the most consistent and also Neil Kinsey in America but I prefer to use an Aussie lab where possible.

    Another Question….. do you use humic acid as part of your soil amendments?

    and another …. you mentioned you use chook pellets as per soil test, other than the compost and BD500, do you use anything else?

    BlueWren, I would love to see everyone walking around with refractometers :D: :D: in supermarkets (love to see the reaction :D:) but in general, it is done at home after the event. Really good though at farmers markets and places where you get to know your producers though, so that you can purchase (if you purchase) from those that are getting the mineral density up in their soils and encourage others to move more in this direction.

    In the home garden though, I think it is an absolute essential for all the reasons I talked about earlier.

    What is the brand of the refractometer you are looking at and I will check it out. Might be OK. There are some charging really expensive prices for these, but have seen some sold for much more reasonable prices that still work well.

    Zeitgeist, great answer.

    imd80 there has been some good info on general soil improvement on the forum here over time and I will be including a section on this thread on this stuff as well. There are so many ways to improve soil and it will come down to preference and what you have available to you as well, but as a short and quick answer,until I write up that section, you can’t go past a good green manure, good compost (one that smells like a rain forest rather than ammonia), worm castings, pea straw, Lucerne, well rotted sawdust or wood chips for mulch (so you don’t get nitrogen draw down) just as a starting point. I still always go with a soil test though, so you are not working blind as well as a refractometer to gauge the effectiveness of what you are doing.

    In general

    I am adding a mulders chart to get an idea of how the mineral inter relationship works and will talk a bit more about this in the next installment as well as the use of humic and fulvic acid to assist in making minerals available to plants and of course to aid soil improvement.


    Thanks for your reply Mauzi, so much to learn;

    Question…… where do you get your soil tests done? if you don’t want to answer that on the open forum, give me a pm. I am curious because during my time I found some really interesting results from different labs and also in their recommendations. Some were dodgy to say the least. My favourite lab is EAL….a part of Southern Cross University at Lismore. I have found them to be the most consistent and also Neil Kinsey in America but I prefer to use an Aussie lab where possible.

    I have been using a locally based company in Bundaberg called Hortus Technical Services that was recommended to me by other growers, having said that I have come to the conclusion that it very much depends on the person interpreting the analysis report as to the recommendations which I receive, I still ask for them each year though, mainly as a guide and comparison as I take the report into my supplier and get an ergonomist to recommend what I need.

    I just had a look at the EAR lab and downloaded a soil analysis report to compare with Hortus and their reports are much more detailed than the ones I have, do they do recommendations?

    Another Question….. do you use humic acid as part of your soil amendments?

    No I haven’t as yet, I thought the compost would have supplied that, tell me more.

    and another …. you mentioned you use chook pellets as per soil test, other than the compost and BD500, do you use anything else?

    I use Seasol as a foliar spray fortnightly once the plants are about 200mm high until about three or four weeks before harvest, I did try extra applications on the problem areas and it seemed to make a difference but only for a short period, the rest is more to correct any deficiencies such as copper, Zinc, boron, gypsum, dolomite or lime depending on whether magnesium is needed, iron was also recommended but as our water is high in iron, I didn’t use it.

    The other thing I use is worm castings from compost worms, on each (100m long) bed we spread 3 x 10L buckets of castings which is full of eggs on top of the soil and under thick mulch, that’s not a lot of castings but about 6 to 8 weeks later when you lift the mulch, there is a layer of fresh castings and I can’t tell how happy that makes me, it’s a fertilizer that keeps on giving and I believe over time the soil will get better and better but I don’t think it’s a quick fix by a long shot.


    Hi again,

    Eal do recommendations … ask for organic, I guess like most reports. I found them very good. Another option is nutritech, who do their tests through eal but give one of the best reports that I have seen. Rather than give the blurb on humates I am adding a link to info that is on the nutritech site. I have used their granulated boron on one property that had a real problem and it was very good. I am not big on buying inputs, but sometimes it can quicken up the process a bit, especially if you have a specific issue. My take on humates is that they magnify the biology and the ability for the nutrients to become available to plants, act as a buffer, increase fungi but I think it probably explains them better than me in the product list. I added the link more for the info though, but have found them helpful in the past.

    I love worm castings too. Fantastic stuff. Yes,agree that there is no quick fix with soil, but glad to hear that your tests are improving each year and you are certainly doing all the right things. With the aid of the refractometer, you can keep a close check between soil tests as well.


    Thanks mauzi ……I’ll check on the brand, it looks like the one in your pic , but I guess they are all quite similar in appearance.

    I knew of course that there was an awful lot to know and learn about soil……but…. :jawdrop: I don’t think I had any idea just HOW much, and I’m sure you are only just touching the surface in these posts…….

    Now, in all seriousness,I have to decide if I really want to know ……or just continue with the usual basic garden advice of compost, lucerne mulch, well aged manure ,green manure etc etc and hope I’m getting a few bits right! I guess my refractometer will answer that question!

    For commercial production of course soil testing and adjusting would be essential.


    BlueWren, I agree also that many gardeners do not need to have a great depth of this understanding, but I do believe that a basic understanding helps avoid some of the mistakes (that can take years to fix) and also it gives a point of reference for researching what you might need to understand. I am only touching the surface in these threads, with the general idea of basic skills to enable people to make decisions or at least find out so they can.

    As some examples of this, many farmers were advised to use gypsum as a clay breaker, only to find out years on, that their soil is worse than they started with. Many still do not understand that it was related to the use of gypsum when the calcium levels were under 60% which meant that the calcium they put in was leached out by the sulphur in the gypsum, so they not only wasted their hard earned money, they added to the initial problem. The reason the chemical companies (and thus the brain washing of the professional advisers) was because they had an excess of gypsum as it is a residue of making superphosphate.

    One of the reasons I started to learn this stuff (and I have a lot to learn yet, I might add) is because I was having difficulty solving some problems and the advise out there, in many cases, was not only conflicting, but was also a means of some company selling me something. Biased advice….and I didn’t know the difference to make choices.

    I was using many tried and true organic management tools but still came up with problems and I now understand that sometimes a mineral is locked up or not available and the corresponding biology therefore has nothing to feed on, so unless that is sorted, it takes so many years to fix that in the meantime my crops would still be failing and yet I was doing all the “right” things. Another example, on one property, manure, compost, green manures, worm castings ect were applied and still a problem with the legumes. There is a molybdenum deficiency was part of the cause and without that being sorted, it would have taken many years to fix.

    Nature in its wonderment, would no doubt have eventually fixed this but that does not mean that I couldn’t give it a helping hand. :D:

    Having said all that, the addition of a refractometer is a long way towards helping problem solve and to check that people are not wasting their money on inputs (organic or otherwise) or following the current trend in techniques. Even that addition, would be incredibly helpful if people did not want to go further with the rest.

    On a more lighter note, baby BlueWren is out of the nest and looking fantastically cute. I am not sure yet, which one will be baby BlueWren as their are 6 cuties and we have not sexed them yet….a bit young yet to be sure. Photos coming on other thread. I know this is not really soil science, but I never was one to stick to the rules 😆


    Thanks mauzi. I in no way wanted to suggest that soil knowledge is not relevant for home gardeners , not that you have said I did of course.I was just wondering how much I want to get into it all as a “senior” gardener!! But I also know it would make what I do way more interesting and satisfying ………so I guess “I’m in!”

    So,do these soil labs do tests for backyard gardeners? Same lab as you recommend? I imagine it’s not cheap.Will they do a basic test without too much detail for back yard folk. Or is there no such thing as a “basic soil test” ?

    My first attempt at food growing, a no-dig garden,produced magnificent veg too darn easily!! Perhaps I just fluked it!


    BlueWren, the lab does different levels of soil testing, but there is a basic soil test and they also give recommendations (non biased) which most people would need. Last one I had done was around $120 and think the recommendations was about $35 from memory. They do more extensive testing for heavy metals and that sort of thing as well but of course that starts to cost a lot more. That one would be good for people about to purchase a property or those that are having problems health wise that could be associated with that sort of thing, but not necessary for the general person probably.

    You might have great soil already, lucky you, but it is more when you are having problems that a bit of extra knowledge in your arsenal is really useful.

    I don’t want to give the impression that you can’t grow food without all this stuff in place but just to add it to the mix, especially if you are having difficulties.

    Some Organics has become much more sophisticated over the past few years (and it really needed to as often the food looks good but still does not have the full nutritional range) but I take nothing away from those that just grow using good organic methods either as I also use these methods but see it is useful to have a broader base to work with and probably more so, that people understand the effects of things that they just add without really understanding what will be the long term effect.



    Re refractometers. This one looks easy to use,quite exy though.Would it be worth the outlay for a beginner due to ease of use in the field? Comes with a juice extractor and a chart of readings for heaps of produce.I do have a garlic press.

    Handy little video on that link.BIOSTIM is a QLD company – looks as though it could be worth keeping in touch with, mauzi?

    The Ebay ones are about $20 and say

    ” WORT SG 1.000 – 1.120 Brix 0-32% (ATC) sugar,wine,fruit juice,beer.”

    Can they be used for fruit and veg too?


    Some are really expensive an sometimes they are the same brands that are available much cheaper on ebay etc. I have seen some cheaper ones working and they seem to be ok. I will have a look at that cheaper model but the brix up to 32 is good for most veges (except garlic), but really, if your brix is over 32 on garlic you could say it is well and truly good enough :D: Brix has been used in the wine industry for a long time, mostly for when to pick the grapes I believe, so I am guessing that is why it is advertised for sugar,wine,fruit juice, beer. I am not much of a technical sort, but will have a look anyway. Zeitgeist might have some good comments on the machines as well.

    It is a good video and it is really easy to do…as he said on the video…anyone can do the test, which is one of the things I liked about it.


    Mauzi, yes our apricots were sweet, kinda like squeezing 3 apricots into 1, not size wise, but taste wise.

    Lavman, thanks for the heads up on the brix levels of garlic, i probably should update my brix charts. A digital refractometer is probably what you need if your going to be testing garlic a lot. I only have the basic hand held like the one in Mauzi’s picture. In all honesty, i don’t use my refractometer in the garden, i gather what needs to be tested and take it to the kitchen and test there, it’s easier to keep the refractometer and garlic crusher clean plus i don’t need batteries or have to worry about dropping an expense piece of digital gadgetory. For me anything over 32 brix is good enough,(i don’t eat raisins) but for somebody like what you are doing, would be better off with a digital that reads over 32. Come to think of it, i think you can get hand helds that measure over 32.

    Bluewren, i had a quick look on ebay last night and found none for sale in Australia like what you want. The ones that were for sale here looked like Charles Darwin would have used them. I bought mine off a home brew business. A couple of mates purchased refractometers off ebay so i will contact them and ask where they got them from.

    It’s a long story about how i got interested in this stuff, so i will attempt to keep it short. My wife and i bought some land off my parents. Dad had always had a vegetable garden in the same place it is now. Before he died he asked that i look after the garden and don’t let it go back to bushland. Of course i said yes and then proceeded to do nothing about it (kids, business and a busy life). The land sat for nearly 10 years untouched until one day i got the urge and time to clean it up and plant a few things. The vegies that came out of that plot were the sweetest and tastiest i had ever eaten. I was hooked. Each season after that i kept putting compost and manures on the garden but the produce was ever so gradually losing it’s magic and i couldn’t figure out why. One of my other interests is physical culture, not just weight training but nutrition and trying to stay strong and healthy for as long as possible (doctors scare the life out of me). While researching nutrition i kept coming across reports of isolated parts of the world where westerners had hardly been up until 100 years ago when men like Weston A. Price and Sir Robert McCarrison began spending time among these people and studying why they had virtually none of the ailments that had become problems in western society. Long story short, high nutrition caused by exceptionally fertile soils appeared again and again as the reason these people lived so long and prospered. Wherever great civilisations had prospered, fertile soil was in abundance. The deltas of the Nile in Egypt around the time of the pyramids constantly being replenished with fertile soil from seasonal floods, the terraced gardens of the Hunza Valley where soil was carried from the glacial melt in the valleys to the gardens higher up. These kinds of places were constantly enriching their soils with fresh minerals. Modern day vegetables take a lot out of the soil and can become depleted very quickly especially in trace elements, and the manures, green manures and composts that are added to soils to enrich them come from depleted soils in the first place. Manures coming from an animal grazing on 6 brix crops and grasses isn’t going to poop out 20 brix manure. Green manure with a brix of 6 isn’t going to break down into the soil and give a higher brix level. Compost made out of low brix ingredients isn’t going to raise brix levels either. So the question remained, how do i get my garden produce back to where it was after the soil had been sitting idle for 10 years? And how do i keep it that way and maybe even improve it some more. Answer, Steve Solomon and “Complete Organic Fertilizer”. Since adding “COF” our vegetables on average have been improving by 1.5-2 brix levels each year, and we can taste the difference. I still add manure, green manure and compost but i am convinced the improvement is coming from COF and nutrients are being held in the soil for longer with the addition of biochar. This year i will be adding rock dust in the form of finely ground bluestone as well. Last season i trialled bluestone dust as an additive to some soil that was raising wheat and sunflowers. This made a marked improvement in germination rates and the overall vitality of the seedlings was evident when compared to the seedlings grown in soil with no bluestone dust.

    Having said all this, this is what worked for our soil, will it work for everyone? I don’t know but i can’t see why not. One last thing. Different varieties of a particular crop will show different brix readings even when grown next to each other in the same soil. For example, Purple Dragon carrot’s have a full 2 brix higher than Lubyana (yellow carrot) in our garden. While it is a slow process, trying new varieties each season along with your favourites is a good way of getting the right varieties for your soil. With the aid of a refractometer you can tell immediately which ones are best for you. My typing finger is sore so i’m done for now.


    Mauzi, deepest apologies for what follows, I am on a bit of a high: :woohoo:

    You could have called this thread “Do ya wanna talk dirty”!!!!!!! :blush:


    PS: It is a great thread and gives us all so much info in an understandable format. So thank you heaps for all the work you are putting in. :clap: :clap:

    But you still could have called the thread “Do ya wanna talk dirty”! :woohoo:


    Thanks for all the stories and info, mauzi and everyone.

    The $20 refractometers I saw on EBay came from HongKong and looked like the one in mauzi’s pic.

    Zeitgist , this is a genuine query !:) Can you do a Brix reading on manure? On egg white? Or only on plant/veg/fruit matter?


    Oh Bobby 😆 ;lol: I knew I should have asked you to name the thread. It certainly would have got a lot of hits :D: Might have initially caused a stir with the mods though….or might have made their day :D:

    BlueWren, you can do brix readings of eggs, milk, any fluid really. I guess for the manure you could liquify and then do a brix reading, or alternatively do the brix after application of a small test area to see what the actual results are.

    Zeitgeist, that was an interesting thread and great to have the background of how you came to this point. Interesting about the different varieties as well, certainly worth a good look at that one.

    I believe vineyard refractometers can also do a higher reading of brix. The electronic refractometer does go higher.


    Hi, firstly I already have sugar cane mulch on my vegie garden, I meant to smell it but forgot, will do that tomorrow, should it be fine? I also use worm castings but am limited in amount still. Should I use chook poo and does it need to be watered down?

    I have also been looking at refractometer’s and found this website: They have a Hand Held Refractometer (Brix Meter) 28 – 62% $210.00.

    Also, we have pretty good grass but some prickles, is it the same concept of finding out what the weed is high in to find out what you are missing? And therefore simply fertilising rather then weed killer?



    For some reason I can’t open the esperenceholisticfarms link. Can someone chech and verify whether it is something wrong my end or it it has actually disappeared?

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