The key to a successful vegetable garden is having bloody good soil. I discovered this the hard way, after years of trying to build my own soil using expensive bags of compost or blood and bone and finally gave it up and listened to my wife who said “Why don’t you build raised garden beds?”, boy do I wish I’d done that earlier…
By filling your garden beds with great soil you get the following awesome benefits:
- You are no longer walking on your soil and compacting it, this means that your soil life and plant life is much happier. Oxygen, worms, roots and water can all penetrate the soil more easily resulting in a much healthier ecosystem and therefore healthier plants.
- You have contained your investment (good soil) in an area which is protected from the elements, it will not run off or be fouled by any pets you may have.
- You can more easily apply mulch and irrigation to a raised garden bed than a standard plot of land. The raised bed is a permanent fixture, whereas the form and structure of your standard garden bed planted with annuals will change nearly every year which means you reduce your overhead because you do the work once and it lasts as long as you keep the bed.
Given an unlimited amount of money (I wish) and an unlimited amount of resources you could perhaps craft a super-soil, however what we are going for is a soil which is both extremely healthy and productive, yet doesn’t cost us a fortune.
The most important element of soil is… LIFE! You need a living soil, one which is packed full of microorganisms. Their cycles of life directly feed and support plant life (See this soildoctor.org video for much more technical information). Soil life requires a number of elements to thrive.
Option A: Buy in pre-prepared soil (real soil, not just a high carbon product).
I don’t recommend you buy from many places, as the quality can be overall very low however if you are near Midland then try Green Life Soil’s Vegetable Mix and Vegetable Concentrate. These products include everything to give you a great soil, already mixed in the appropriate proportions. I recommend you buy in bulk, as always, purchasing by the bag is much more expensive. NB: Whilst they do deliver, charges could be an issue if you live a long way away. If you don’t live near Midland then use information about the products these guys offer to compare, if unsure then I recommend you take Option B described below.
Option B, Build your own soil:
You can get 1 tipper load of mushroom compost and 1 of mixed manure for usually less than $40 each. These will form the base and buying them this way is an order of magnitude cheaper than buying bags from a hardware store like Bunnings.
Once I have added my base to the bed it is time to add Rockdust. Another recently discovered fact is that our industrially produced food has been declining in mineral density year after year as the soils crops are grown in degrade; they are especially low in important trace minerals. These are vital for ourselves and our plants, so by amending our beds with Rockdust we provide these trace minerals to our plants and then via consumption to ourselves.
If you have the money and are lucky enough to have a supplier locally (I recommend Green Life Soil) for genuine micronised rock dust then by all means use the authentic product. However, I have been using crusher dust, purchased from our local soil supplies store. It is very cheap and comes as a slightly moist powder/dust with particulate of various sizes. Most soil suppliers are happy to bag it for you, I believe our bag set us back less than 10 dollars. Again it is cheaper to buy by the tipper load, if you are using larger quantities (Which you would only need if you were amending many raised beds).
Benefits of the above recipe are that:
- Every soil store will have the ingredients to get you setup and growing with this available in bulk.
- I have personally tested and verified that it grows really well, and that the rockdust makes a huge difference to the plant health, quantity, size of and flavour of produce.
Common Problems / Questions:
Q) What can I do, I don’t have a ute and buying soil by the bag is too expensive:
A) No problems! Most soil places will let you use a trailer for free, others charge a small hire cost. If you have a tow ball then arrange to use this. If you don’t have a tow ball then most soil places will deliver for a small delivery charge. If you are getting them to do this, they may even be able to mix your elements (1 scoop mushroom compost, 1 scoop mixed manure and some crusher dust) into a mix rather than doing this yourself as you fill the bed.
Q) How deep should my good quality soil be in the garden bed?
A) You should aim for a minimum of six inches of depth with a maximum for around 12 inches. Any more than that and your plants roots won’t penetrate deep enough to get the benefit; enthusiasm is great, but we want to save those dollars and cents.
Q) I already have some soil, which is good but not great; do I really have to throw it out and start again?
A) NO WAY! If you have good soil then thats a very solid base to work from. Most Perth properties have river sand, which is completely lacking in organic matter; is repellent to water and is almost sterile from a living soil perspective… oh and also has very low trace minerals. You should buy some rock dust to amend your soil and perhaps a good application of a strong nitrogen based manure such as pelleted chicken poop which you can get by the bag from Bunnings or any hardware store.
Q) I have also heard that worm manure, bentonite clay and other organic amendments can be used, should I buy all of these also?
A) A mentor of mine John Kohler has the following rule which I believe always applies when gardening; “Good, Better, Best”. If you have the money and the time to pursue further amendment and improvement of your soil, by all means give them a go and see if they work for you; if they do, then send us an email and let us know! Worm manure is especially great, as it is full of good micro-organisms which bring your soil to life. Worms also help with oxygenation of the soil (They are great!). If you have a healthy garden bed, over the years worms will naturally be attracted to the beds and will live in them.
Q) What about all those chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; there are so many options available; should I use these?
A) This is a largely personal decision, but what I will say is that based on my research, experience and intuition you should avoid all chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Many of these chemicals are genuinely dangerous (just read the safety labels on the packages, yikes) but more importantly they actively work against a naturally balanced ecosystem which supports natural living soil (our most important resource).
If you have any questions or comments please let me know in the comment section below; or you can contact me directly on Twitter. If you found this post helpful please share it with your friends and send the girls at Hey You Guys a picture of your garden, because they would love to see it!