Monday, 3 April 2017

A Peek Into Permaculture: Soil

Our bare block of land, that we bought and built on fourteen years ago, was covered by a layer of shale on top of clay. All the garden "soil" (and I'm using that term very loosely here) had to be carted in. Over the ensuing years, I came to realise that this "soil" wasn't a living soil, it lacked depth and structure and nutrients. It was the source of my great frustration that very little grew well here because, as was reinforced at the Introduction to Permaculture course I attended recently, rich soil is the basis for healthy plants and abundant yields.

So how do you begin to build up and rejuvenate even the most lacking of soils? One way is to create a no-dig garden bed on top of existing soil. Our course teacher, Morag Gamble, involved us in rejuvenating two big container gardens in at the city farm but her method is just as applicable to non-enclosed garden beds. Here's how we did it:

 Choose a site or old garden bed to rejuvenate.

 Loosen and lift soil without turning soil over.

 Add thin layer of fresh beneficial green leaves.
(e.g. comfrey, pigeon pea, leopard tree, canna lily)

 Add a thick layer of compost.

Water in compost with diluted worm tea.

Soak old newspapers in water and lay over compost.

Completely cover compost with newspaper.

 Spread a layer of mulch over the newspaper.

Plant your seedlings well into the compost layer.
Water them in.

After rain is a great time to make a no-dig bed as the existing ground is watered and moist. So, after the torrential rain of Thursday just past, I spent the weekend rejuvenating my garden beds. I can't wait to plant out some seedlings of Autumn veg like kale and silverbeet and beetroot. They should really "take off" in the replenished and nourishing soil of my no-dig beds.

How do you build up/rejuvenate your soil? 


p.s. In the third photo, you can see a layer of newspaper underneath the beneficial green leaves. You only need to do this if you have concerns regarding soil contamination. If you do have such concerns, you should consider getting your existing soil tested.


  1. These are great inventions, if you've got bad soil to begin with. Although I haven't been a fan of using newspaper, since reading Jackie French's views on it. She said words to the effect, it would set like concrete, and actually prevent moisture from reaching the soil.

    I've steered clear of newspaper since, as I have seen it happen. But if you water regularly, I suppose the paper won't get a chance to set like concrete, which might make the difference. If it's a veggie bed, you're more likely to water regularly.

    I'd love to know your experience with it. I haven't had much. I hope that doesn't sound like a downer? I support your new veg renovations, and look forward to how they grow in all the good ways. :)

    1. Hi, Chris. The "soil" here was pretty much non-existent. Just shale and clay underneath. Since beginning the process of feeding the soil, a few years ago now, I've been able to get some decent plant growth through adding compost, applying liquid worm tea, Seaweed extract etc. An improvement because at first nothing much really grew well.

      I've not used newspaper before either. Morag Gamble lays the newspaper at about 10sheets thick, I didn't do that because I don't have an issue with weeds or grass coming up from under the mulches. I will let you know what a thinner layer of newspaper under the topping mulch is like as that's what I did this time. Time will tell, I guess.

      We have had an issue here with lucerne mulch setting like concrete and I think that happened because I laid it too thick and it "matted" together. Last time I rejuvenated veggie bed I applied only a light "dusting" of lucerne (worked well) and this time I've added a thicker layer of the sugar cane mulch as we did in at the city farm. A bit of an experiment here.

      I must get hold of some of Jackie French's books...perhaps local library will have them.

      Thanks for your comments. I find I always learns something from you or you point me towards a good idea or resource. Meg:)


    2. I just love talking gardens though. ;) Thanks for sharing the conversation. I like to read all the comments too.

  2. I tried Morags newspaper mulch method and had great success with it, as weeds are a BIG problem in my garden beds.

    I see many people promoting "loads of compost" to improve soil, but I find I never generate enough to do that, and its way too expensive to buy all the time. I don't know what the solution to that is??

    My veggie patch is a bit sick, I've not been very successful with growing veggies lately, ive been meaning to test the ph but just haven't had the time lately.

    Le Sigh,so much gardening to do, so little time!

    1. We don't generate anywhere near enough compost either, Cheryl, and it does get expensive. I have a bit of a plan forming on how to source extra material to make more compost because I do think it's the key to building up healthy rich soil. Part of that involves growing more that I can "chop & drop" like Canna Lily and Pigeon Pea. The other involves sourcing things like coffee grounds from local cafes. I also want to get an extra worm farm too. I hope to pick one up cheaply. Great for processing food scraps. I hope you find time for some gardening soon, Cheryl. I wonder what that pH reading will be??? Meg

  3. love Morag Gamble's site, she has some wonderful ideas but i do notice that she does live in an area that gets high rainfall too. i live in an area that is dry most of the year & it's hard getting plants to grow here, have had many failures but i keep planting;
    another way too is to use twigs & small branches in the bottom of a garden & pile it up with all your prunings, grass clippings, scraps, etc, cover with mulch & leave for 6-12 months, topping up periodically;
    am like others here, can never make enough compost.
    great post
    thanx for sharing

    1. I am going to try your idea for composting twigs and small branches, Selina. I've not done that before and I have a lot of trimming and pruning that needs doing at the moment. When I was in at the city farm, one idea I saw in use was the composting of material within cylinders of chicken wire. The material inside is layered up (a mixture of fresh, green material and carbon-rich brown/dry material)in the same way as for compost bins/tumblers. I built two of these up the back corner of my garden on the weekend and have started building up the layers in them. When it's broken down into crumbly compost, I can either spread it on my garden beds OR I can plant on top of the spots where I've had the chicken wire cylinders set up.

      You are right in that Morag does live in an area that receives good rains. Gardening is a challenge when you don't get that regular rainfall, I remember how hard it was here during the drought all those years ago. I certainly found out which plants were resilient! As gardeners, I think we have to be resilient too and keep on trying things, ideas, experimenting, and seeing what works. Meg:)