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What do you do to improve your soil?

Home Forums FOOD PRODUCTION, HARVEST AND STORAGE Soils, Weeds and Wind Breaks What do you do to improve your soil?

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  • #238839
    Herbman
    Member

    Whether you have raised beds or are using the soil your block came with – what are you doing to improve your soil.

    I have raised beds made of soil which has all been bought from the landscape shop. Every time I rotate my gardens I add a bag of Searles 5-in-1 organic fertiliser and a handful of rock minerals. While vegies are growing I variously use manure tea or comfrey and yarrow tea (depending on what I’ve made up).

    Once a month I add a bin of compost to a random area of the garden (whatever looks like it will need it) and when I have some spare dollars or time I add manure to the ornamental / herb gardens.

    Am interested in learning from others what they do to improve soil and whether you’ve ever done anything that was unsuccessful so that we may learn from mistakes made.

    #283849
    Franceyne
    Member

    Hey there Andy,

    We brought soil for the first time, about a fortnight ago, to build some new raised beds for the summer gardens. We built two raised beds – one is full of the new brought in biodynamic soil and the other is full of soil that we have built up ourselves.

    Our place has no real top soil, it was all turned over in the gold rush and is very dry so leaf litter does not rot down if left by itself.

    We make compost, adding all our kitchen and garden ‘waste’, paper, wood ash, the lamb’s poo and uneaten hay/grass and any other once living thing we can find – even the dust swept up from our floors. I also collect uneaten food after functions and meeting here at work to add to the compost. Between the layers of the above stuff we add some of the clay that is our soil at home. This make a great rich dark soil which we find the tomatoes and cucumbers are loving this year. They are growing better in the raised bed that contains our home made soil than those growing in the brought in soil.

    We mulch like crazy to protect the soil and to keep it moist too.

    We water using mainly nutirent rich dam water (although now the dams are so low the gardens are getting tank water – sparingly) and I have nettle and/or comfrey tea on the go year round to give plants the added boost.

    I do use a commercial product when I have it on hand – it’s a fertilising liquid made from introduced carp removed from our water ways. I try to support that venture when ever I can. It works a treat too, especially with the orchard trees.

    Cheers,

    Fran.

    #283850
    scarecrow
    Member

    Herbman

    I try to empty the chook house bedding on each garden bed (in rotation) that is going to be left for a while. This bedding has lots of chook poo (of course) and saw dust, shredded paper and/or straw in it. Its usually about 2-3 months worth of stirring the bedding under the perches until it doesn’t seem to hold anymore poop! By then I should have a spare bed waiting.

    At the moment I’m about to empty the chookhouse onto a bed in preparation for autumn brassica planting. This will be left for about 3 months and hopefully will get some rain on it before then or I’ll have to get some water to it to help it break down.

    I make some compost in bays but in summer its too dry to break it down and in winter its too cold here so I don’t make much this way.

    The chooks have an area in which they break down straw for mulch in summer and at other times this is used to make compost, with them doing the turning over. See this link:

    https://www.aussieslivingsimply.com.au/infusions/member_pages/blog/blog.php?readmore=35&site_id=380

    Whilst things are growing in the beds I mulch, mulch, mulch. I liquid feed and add other matter to the mulch like lucerne that I have growing around the place and comfrey, I also use chopped Tagasaste (Tree Lucerne) leaves and shred the thin stems of this too.

    We bought some soil last year to build up the beds but it was very sandy loam and didn’t seem to have much ‘body’ to it so we have added more humus too it now and its quite a good mix with our heavier clay soil.

    I’m trying to limit adding stuff that has to be bought and this year we are mainly buying in straw (40 bales so far @ $2.00 per bale). Preferring to grow plants that accumulate nutrients and of course the chookies poop.

    My favourite book on this topic is:

    Soil Food: 1372 Ways to Add Fertility to Your Soil by Jackie French

    check out the library for it and have a read.

    #283851
    Anonymous
    Guest

    I go down to the local sale yard and shovel a trailer-load of manure. Very good exercise for the figure… The manure is a combination of cattle, sheep, a little horse and a little pig manure. This goes onto the garden beds 10-20 cm deep. It can be planted into immediately. Once plants are in it, it is mulched with a very thick layer of straw. It holds water very well, attracts worms by the gazillions and breaks down to a friable black soil.

    #283852
    Herbman
    Member

    Oh so many tips and ideas. Rob – am highly jealous about the sale yards. One of the biggest problems with my vegie garden soil is that water just seems to pool on it instead of soaking in. Real problem with I have seeds or seedlings because I drown them so easily.

    Dunno what’s causing it. I use a lot of sugarcane mulch and wonder whether it might have an effect?

    And we don’t seem to get many worms either … any tips on getting more of them?

    Ree – The rock minerals are some stuff that a friend gave me last year and then they sold me some at Northey St Farm. It’s got some sort of trace elements and stuff in it. Wasn’t expensive – so figured I’d give it a try.

    The 5-in-1 apparently contains worm castings, animal manure, compost and other bits n bobs (the bags are at home and I’m at my sister’s place). They recommended it at Northey St Farm too … It’s about $7.50 a bag and I figure it’s worth throwing a bag on each bed when I rotate them. Perhaps that will improve the water penetration thing to?

    So much to learn. Fortunately there’s plenty of time to learn it in. :geek:

    #283853
    Chezza
    Member

    Well! While living in our shed for 14months while our house was being built we had a “thunderbox” for a toilet…. We used cheap potting mix as the “sawdust” and about every week we would dig a hole near one of the trees we had planted and would “plant” our bucket!! :shy:

    What a waste of free compost!! We should all be doing this!! Our trees grew by leaps and bounds!! It was nice to know that the $$$$ going into Reggies kids was benefiting the block as well!! Win, win, the only way to go!!:tup:

    #283854
    Jeanie
    Member

    I remember years ago I had a thunder box and had to dig a hole every week we moved house when a storm came blew down the water tank which demolished the little house,all I do these days is push a button, luxury another house we had in Victoria in Yea, the dunny man came during the day and I got caught out

    #283855
    stark
    Member

    OK well im in the camp that dosent feed plants directly,rather i feed the soil which in turn feeds the plants…if you get your soil right you will never need any fertilisers

    Here we plant oats and peas in winter and millet and broad or mung beans in summer as green manure and cut or turn them in before they flower other than that we only use dolimite and mulches which include manures and sea weeds……Forest most trace elements and minerals can be found in sea weed or more correctly kelp , if u use that you will never need any other minerals etc like rock minerals

    feed the soil, grow the plants:tup:

    #283856
    stark
    Member

    Herb if you are using manure and or compost are you turning it into the top 2-3 inches of soil?…if you are you soil should soak the water up nicely

    If you dont have much compost how about making small hole and replacing soil with compost to give plant a chance to absorb water till you can do the whole garden

    #283857
    plumtree
    Member

    I think we may have a similar problem to Herbman in that we have to work very hard in order to get the water to really soak into the soil.

    Our new veggie patch is just an old sheep paddock and after years of this the soil is compacted and with very little humus. We dig it up and add sheep manure from under the trees in the paddock. It is fairly dry stuff and well matured. When it is collected we get a lot of bits of wood, small broken branches and so on. We like to put this through our shredder to chop it up a bit more before adding it directly to the soil. It never gets too fine and the mixture is quite course. We also have two duck pens who add their used straw to the process.

    The hard part is to churn it over and over ’till it is well worked in and mixed. We water and turn over the soil to expose the dry soil underneath. Water again and turn again. We also mix a detergent product to the water and sprinkle this generously over the soil. This seems to make the water slippery and it ‘mixes’ with the soil so that we end up with a workable, friable soil. The detergent is biodegradeable, ‘friends-of-the-earth’ type that should not create any new problems.

    We use a thick mulch of ‘spent’ hay on the beds. I can only report that the plants are growing well in this, the first season. The water is now being absorbed by the soil and the soil is easy to work.

    The detergent seems to have a catalytic effect and when it is not used the water absorbtion is not as effective. There are commercial products available for gardeners but we ended up using this product because it was sitting on the shelf when the need arose. It might help, Herbman! There may also be better products for the job!

    #283858
    jaygee
    Member

    plumtreee, detergent contains a surfactant, which is what is designed to lift grease off your dishes etc, which is why it helps break the down the coating on soil particles to let the water penetrate. Products like “Wettasoil” that are sprayed or watered onto the soil are also surfactants. I presume though, that they don’t contain any of the salts that might be present in detergents that might alter the soil pH? So I understand why the detergent is working for you, but would be hesitant to use it myself? No worse than greywater though, lol.

    Herb, do you have a sandy soil? Very often they can become water repellent (hydrophobic), and sometimes uncomposted mulch can make it worse, depending on what it is. I have often found that soil I have brought in from gardening centres has a high proportion of sand, and it can become hydrophobic after a year or so, if it dries out. I have used Wettasoil to rewet the soil, combined with a watering probe (http://www.wateringprobe.com/) to really get the water in, which has worked a treat. An easy way to check if you soil is hydrophobic is to scrape back the top cm or so after you have watered – if its’s dry underneath, it’s hydrophobic. If it’s wet underneath, perhaps you have drainage issues? Which would be addressed by the stacks of compost you are spreading around?

    #283859
    peterh
    Member

    I’m with Stark on the importance of feeding the soil not the plants. i add a bit of gypsum, my soils are clay based and blood and bone with lots of my own compost. I actually ran a little experiment on my gardens beds as they were all new this year. i left one with just the loam I ordered in, the rest were all prepared with the above. The difference has been astonishing. The non prepared soil forms a crust (its a bit on the clay side) and water penetration is poor. The prepared beds have almost no crust and water takes up well. There is a huge difference in the quality of vegies growing too. i am going to dig in some compost to this bed very soon.

    Here is a gardening Australia link on soil improvement if you are interested;

    http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s1503292.htm

    Peter

    #283860
    Herbman
    Member

    Julie – Thankyou for that. I learned a new word. My soil is hydrophobic. It is exactly as you say – bought soil that has become water retardant since it came in 8 months ago. My seed raising mix has the same problem – though I hope to cure that when the worm farm starts next year. The mulch is sugarcane mulch and no it’s not been composted. Should it be?

    I will get some Wettasoil and look into some of those probes you mention.

    Plumtree – Yep, methinks we are having the same problems.

    I too have learned that feeding the soil is the most important thing. That’s what I’m trying to do. Hence this post asking about why it isn’t happening properly yet.

    Next week is a holiday week. Will get some Wettasoil and see about some other water penetration tricks. I’m in the process of rotating 3 of the beds, so hopefully I can do something before planting them. And also improve one that is still only partially planted. I think this might also help my seed germination – they prolly are either not getting any water, or washing away when they are too close to the surface (but that’s another can of worms).

    *Time is it’s own master. We can only hope to prepare ourselve so that when Time is ready so too are we.*

    #283861
    jaygee
    Member

    Herb, I’ve only heard good things about sugar cane mulch. I think it’s just the sand content of your soil – once it has dried out it can become difficult to rewet. Once you’ve rewet it, as many of the PPs have suggested, feeding your soil should mean it doesn’t happen again, and it should also then be full of worms to boot πŸ˜€

    #283862
    Gianna
    Member

    It’s hard to say what I do as I’m so dis-organised and do different things in different parts of the garden but I currently grow vegetables in no-dig garden beds and find that the worms move in very quickly. Once the bed is established, I usually only use seaweed tea when I feel it needs it but the creation of the new bed requires the addition of manures to start with so it’s all in there.

    I have access to lots of hay from animal cages (soiled with poo and pee) and I put that all about the place, around fruit trees and so on and the worms come along and it all soon ends up in the soil. The soil quality seems to be steadily improving in most places. I have also used pea straw, normal straw, barley straw to mulch with as it all helps.

    I use that dried chook poo with seaweed meal pellet stuff to feed fruit trees and ornamentals a couple of times per year.

    I’m not very good at making compost so I just steal soil from the chook’s pen if I need very rich soil.

    I still have areas of water repellent soil and have fixed one spot (very shady and I forget to water it regularly) by putting mushroom mulch over it. Now when I do remember to water there, the water goes in. I have some other difficult spots where the soil is hard and repellant but they are low priority at the moment and are planted with ornamentals. I will probably chuck some hay on them too I think and put up with the seeds sprouting.

    I keep all of my fallen leaves and throw them back onto the garden beds where some ornamentals grow. I very rarely rake up the leaves anyway and just let them rot where they fall but sometimes there are lots and they will stop the grass from growing which is when I do a rake and put them somewhere else.

    I think very seriously before letting any of my prunings leave the property. We do sometimes take a green load to the tip but I try to keep as much as I can if it is useful to me.

    I have kept chickens in an area for a few years and then moved them to another area and planted vegetables in the old chook pen with glorious results – no additional fertiliser required. You can put chickens on very ordinary soil and each year you will see the depth of the top soil get deeper and deeper. I really see a lot of value in keeping chickens on the property. :tup:

    That’s all I can think of for now. πŸ™‚

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