16 March 2008

Enriching the soil

A new season of growing has begun. We're late with it, all the beds are not ready, but there are plants in the ground. This has been transformed ...

into this ....

Hanno puts a lot of thought into enriching the soil before planting. The dry, summer-depleted garden beds need help if they were to produce consistent high quality crops for us over the coming nine months. The beds have a healthy blend of composted cow manure, old chook poo, lots of compost, worm castings, blood and bone and sulphate of potash (all organic additives). After the first of the greens were planted - sugarloaf cabbage and kale - they were watered in with seaweed and comfrey tea, the tomatoes, cucumbers and squash were watered in with plain seaweed tea.

It's wise to give your plants some help just after planting out. Seaweed tea helps the little seedlings recover from transplant shock and gets them on the road to healthy growth. We give all our seedlings seaweed tea after planting out. Then we divide seedlings into two separate groups - greens and fruiting plants. Greens are obviously plants with lots of green leaves and no fruit - lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach etc. Fruiting plants are tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), cucumbers, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, pumpkins etc. I put root vegetables under fruiting plants too, because although they don't produce an edible "fruit" they are grown to eat the root, not the leaves. (Although usually you can eat both.) Root vegies are potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips, parsnips etc.

We divide these vegetables into two groups because they require different fertiliser. They all need to be planted into well draining soil that's been enriched with manures and organic matter - although with the root vegies, you must be sure the manures are old and well broken down or they will make the roots fork out. Then we give the greens frequent weak feeds of comfrey tea or some other organic nitrogen rich fertiliser; the fruiting plants don't get nitrogen fertiliser as this would encourage the growth of green leaves at the expense of the fruit. Feeding a tomatoes plant (or any fruiting plant) with lots of nitrogen fertiliser will give you a large, lush, green tomato bush with very few tomatoes. The fruiting plants will get enough nitrogen from the manures and organic matter already added to the soil. The additive they need is sulphate of potash. This is an organic compound that will help build up the cell walls in your plants, will encourage flowering and improve the taste.

The photo above is the result of a big pile of wet grass clippings that have decomposed for a year, along with occasional waterings with comfrey tea - to speed up decomposition. Half of this was added to the garden beds after being crumbled up and added to worm castings, the other half was dissolved in water for a few days then poured onto the gardens.

Enriching the soil is the most important thing you can do to give your plants the best chance of producing abundant crops. If you plant your seeds and seedlings into good organic soil, you'll be rewarded for the extra work you do. There is nothing more important you can do than enrich the soil before planting.

We always dig our beds because we get better results when we turn over the soil. It improves soil aeration and allows us to mix in the additives well. Some gardeners develop no dig gardens. If you're new to gardening, you should test both methods to see what works best for you.

The capsicum (pepper) above is one of three we planted last spring. All three are still producing well and all three will probably last another two seasons. They have been given our potash treatment and are planted ingood organically enriched soil.

There are still a couple of garden
beds that need weeding and digging over, and that will be done today and tomorrow. Then we'll put up some trellises and climbing frames and plant beans and peas. We're also waiting on seeds planted in the bush house to mature enough for planting out. There are lettuces, coloured silverbeet, parsley, bok choi and more tomatoes - Moneymaker. We still need to buy seed potatoes that I'll pick up from Green Harvest tomorrow.

Slowly but surely the vegetable garden comes together for another season. Growing vegetables is never a fast process - this is slow food in every way; slow, organic and local. There are many benefits in growing
your own food, it's not just the final product that is the prize. You will enrich your life by connecting with nature and getting your hands in soil, you'll be healthier for it because you'll get some exercise in the open air, you'll built your independence because you'll be able to feed yourself without going to the shops and you'll develop your life skills - skills that can be shared and passed on to your children. There is nothing better than the taste of your own backyard produce and when you finally get it on your plate, I bet you can't eat it without smiling like a Cheshire cat.



  1. Isn't it wonderful to know where your food came from and that it was produced naturally with plenty of hard work and love -- and no chemicals?! Good luck with your garden! Do you ever preserve your peppers? I like to slice mine into strips, place them on a baking sheet, freeze them, and then bag them up for later use. Just wondering if you have any other ideas. Thanks so much! Have a good day!


  2. Hi Rhonda Jean :) I enjoyed this! And it's true about enjoying what your land and hands have worked to grow. Miss M is six, and she is already in love with the process.
    From the seeds to the harvest bucket and then to the table - what fun! Love, Q

  3. Thanks for post!

    A question. Last autumn I put organic compost that we brought in by the truck load. But all my seedlings, bolted then went to seed. I asked at nursery & she said too much compost.

    Any thoughts for me? I didn't get a good winter crop at all.

    Oh and another question - any tips on how to tell when to pick pumpkin

  4. Hi Kristina. Now that we're growing for most of the year I don't do as much preserving as I once did, but I do preserve things that change flavour or combine things. With peppers I usually wait until they ripen, when they're red I grill them and peel off the blackened skin. Then cut into strips, place in a jar and cover with olive oil. Often I put in a chilli - with seeds - for spicy peppers, or thyme if I want a more subtle flavour. Never garlic. These are not processed but will keep in the fridge for about three or four weeks. They're delicious added to salads, sandwiches or to a cheese board.
    When I have a lot of capsicums (peppers) at one time, I stuff them with spicy rice and vegetable mix, then top with cheese and bake. Delicious!

    Hi Quinne, teaching your daughter to garden is one of the most precious gifts. Please tell Miss M I said hello.

    Leanne, vegetable plants usually bolt to seed when the temperature is too warm. This could be caused either by warm air temperature or the compost still decomposing and creating its own heat. Check your seed packs and make sure you plant when the temp is right.
    Pumpkin is ready to be picked when the vine that's attached to the pumkpin withers, goes brown and wrinkly. Cut the pumpkin off with about three of four inches of vine still attached. and carry the pumpkin underneath, not by the vine 'handle'. Leave it under cover to ripen and dry properly. If the vine falls off, get a plain white candle or a beeswax candle and drop melted wax over the opening. You can do this if there are any cuts on the pumpkin too. However, when you treat a pumpkin like this it should be the next pumpkin you eat.

    Happy gardening, ladies. :- )

  5. Pepper plant lasting more than one season - something I've never thought about, but I guess that's what comes from growing them in a cold climate where you have to nurse them through the summer.

    Hopefully I should have an easier time as I'm in a slightly warmer climate now but it's still amazing to think of them lasting more than a season

  6. green grass! what a lovely thought. eventually our snow will melt here.

  7. Your garden looks great! I hope you don't mind, but I've tagged you. Just look at my blog.


    It really is fun!

  8. You are so right that home-grown vegies are far superior. As you know, I grow as much as my small suburban garden, and the needs of my children for play space etc, will allow.

    My biggest problem is not lack of nourishment in the soil, but lack of water. I am finding our extreme heat and almost complete lack of rain extremely frustrating.


  9. Yes growing your own food is indeed the best! We have a very short growing season but continue to make it work. My husband stopped farming a few years back but we still have the results of his composting over the years. Our only issues are not to grow too much of any one thing!

  10. Very good post Rhonda. I love seeing how others prepare their gardens in the spring/fall. I had a couple of questions for you. Are you able to produce enough compost for your entire garden right their on site? We haven't yet gotten to that point yet, but definitely supplement with our own. Also, with the unfortunate loss of the Aquaponics earlier in the year, have you increased any part of the soil garden this year to make up for it? Maybe planters where the Aqua garden used to be?
    Thanks for the good info.

  11. I am getting gardening fever! However, our house is going on the market in a couple of months. Maybe next year :0) You and your wonderful blog have inspired me to move to the country so that we can have a garden, chickens, and room to play. I will keep you posted on our progress!
    Mary in Texas

  12. Hi Patrick, we buy in about 10 bales of organic mulch hay each year. Apart from that we make the most of our lawn clippings - we harvest clippings, we don't see it as mowing anymore. In summer we have to cut the grass almost every week. This forms the basis of our compost. We add comfrey, potato peelings, some citrus peels, old soil from pots, shredded newspaper, old hens' nests and green waste from the garden. We also have another, faster, method where we add grass clippings and shredded paper to the chook run and add kitchen scraps, garden waste etc to that. The chooks turn it over and it's ready in a couple of months.
    The aquaponics only went a couple of weeks ago. I sold it to one of the readers here. We won't have to make up for its loss as the soil garden is able to supply us with most of our needs.

    Good luck with your move, Mary!


I welcome readers' comments. However, this blog never publishes business links or advertisements. If you're operating a business and want to leave your link here, I will delete your comment .

Blogger Template by pipdig