Healthy Soil Healthy Garden

For the last 15 years I have been attempting to teach people about the importance of the health of the soil for their garden’s health. I just watched an episode of gourmet farmer on SBS tv which graphically illustrated the point.

On the show Matthew enlists the help of a soil scientist to assess the condition of his soil and then with her help he adds beneficial microbes and soil conditioners to one garden bed and leaves another with just standard preparation. Various vegetables are then grown simultaneously in both beds and harvested at the same time. The results are remarkable, the healthier soil has produced stronger, bigger, less diseased, less insect attacked and more flavoursome vegetables. Of course it did, otherwise he wouldn’t have put it on the show! I knew it would but the thing that stood out to me was the simplicity of the intervention and the size of the result.

You can make small changes in the way you look after your garden and reap big rewards. The former curator of the golf course at the Hyatt Coolum told me that just by changing the type of fertiliser they used, the incidence of lawn grub attack went down by over 50%. A small change with a big result even in dollar terms for the resort.

People often judge the health of soil by how many earthworms there are but did you know that earthworms need bacteria and fungi populations in the soil for their nutrition? Just adding earthworms to an unhealthy soil may not improve it but may result in many starving earthworms. The soil food web diagram illustrates a simple version of how it all works:

The Soil Food Web for a Healthy Soil


Simple things you can do:

Build humus levels in your soil.
Apply home made or bought compost ( you can even buy humic acid granules in the lifeforce range for an instant boost in humus ).

Use fine mulches which are broken down easily, by the microbes, into the soil – cane, lucerne, ti-tree mulches are all available in bags. Natra mulch ( my favourite ) and hoop pine fines are available in bulk from landscape yards. A good rule of thumb is to use mulches made from leaves and bark not from timber as wood takes nutrient to break down where as leaves and bark give to the soil. Keep the soil covered with mulch, a ‘hungry’ soil may require mulching every year until humus levels build up.

Use chemicals carefully.
Insecticides – Insects are attracted to stressed and unhealthy plants so rather than always spraying the insect it may be better to spray this time but also work on the health of the plant.

Weedicides – Organic farmers will tell you that weeds are an indicator of an imbalance in the soil so by improving soil health and using thick mulches you can reduce the use of weedicides. Weedicides are harmful to lots of types of soil organisms.

Fungicides – May also kill beneficial fungus and other microbes so it is worth looking at alternate methods such as Eco – fungicide, even milk is used for some problems.

Start to check whether just grabbing a spray is the right reaction. Remember the gourmet farmer example, the two crops were side by side but the cabbages in the healthy soil had far fewer grubs than the cabbages only a metre away.

Choose fertilisers for long term benefit.
Water soluble chemically compounded fertilisers give quick results but are ‘harsh’ on the soil and leech away quickly. Naturally derived products are slower but build soil life and add to the soil life cycle. If you want a healthy quick result it is better to use a foliar feed using seaweed extract ( like a multivitamin for plants ) combined with a plant food.

Soil additives such as rock dust, coal overburden and bio char are now well accepted as having great benefit to the health of the soil. Seaweed extract watered on to the soil seems to boost the result due to its effect on building microbe levels.

Gardening sustainably can actually be easier, safer and more fun. Same input, much greater result for you, your family and pets, and the world at large.