Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Great Soil Basics

Starting a new raised garden bed or planting into a pot?

The rule for having healthy soil is a 1-1-1 mix ratio.
  1. A premium potting mix
  2. Compost
  3. Well-rotted manure (cow, chicken or sheep manure)
Using only one of these will result in poor or diseased plants.

Focus on texture, structure, pH, organic matter and fertility.
Great soil feels good to touch.

Potting Mix

Many premium potting mixes now come with added Wetta Soil and Slow Release Fertiliser pellets but they can also have their draw backs.

During winter, the Wetta Soil can retain too much moisture around plants that need to be in well-drained soil.

Slow Release Fertiliser is great for initial planting but needs to be replaced after three months. Some plants require a different type of fertiliser, so please be aware of your plants needs before planting.

A bag of Potting Mix can be used for planting directly into if pushed for space or potting. Just remember to mix in a little well-rotted manure through the top and to put drainage holes in the bottom of the bag.


Never grow your plants directly in compost alone as this can lead to a diseased plant.  Even though many pumpkins often have their beginnings in many gardeners backyards in this manner, please resist the temptation.

Tomatoes are particularly known to suffer in compost-only soil, as they pick up on diseases quickly.

Compost alone can lead to a very high pH level which may kill the plant or prevent fruiting.  The pH is more neutralised when mixed with a potting mix.

If the pH is still too acidic, simple throw a couple of hand fulls of Lime over the top and rake or dig in.

Well-Rotted Manure

Manure is a must have in any garden.  Rich in nitrogen and many trace elements; this is your plant’s food.

If you keep chickens, ensure that their manure is well dried out as it is potentially lethal in its fresh state.  Fresh chicken manure at the base of a tomato will kill the plant practically overnight.  However, the dried chicken manure is still No.1 in garden fertilisers.
  • Chicken
  • Cow
  • Sheep

What about Horse manure? It lacks the high nitrogen for most vegetables but is great for flower beds to enhance the soil condition.

Too much manure/fertiliser can result in excessive leaf growth and no fruiting.

Not every plant requires manure, such as carrots.  High levels of manure/fertiliser will cause carrots to fork and curl.

Bag or Truck Load

If you find that you are making regular trips to get bags of potting mix, compost and manures, then it’s time to consider a truck-load.

Truck-loads work out financially cheaper, and many garden centres have different soil options to suit your garden’s needs. One of my favourites is Railways in Adelaide.

Too much dirt in one delivery? Don’t let the word “truck” put you off as the size of a standard load is as much as what can fit into a front-end-loader’s scoop.

Direct Dig 

If you are digging direct into the ground you need to know what type of soil you have before you start.  This may affect the ratio of soil mix that you may need.

If you have a soil that does not drain properly or does not allow water to penetrate it well, it may be a clay soil.  The solution is to add a wetting agent over the area (allow a couple of weeks – try test digs), and then dig in Gypsum.

Sand is an alternative to gypsum if the clay soil problem is only minor

If the soil is too sandy, you will need a lot more compost.

Garden Life


Never underestimate the benefit of worms to keep your soil healthy, even in pots and planters.  Worms are a must have! The most wonderful garden accessory.

Looking to buy worms online in Australia? Try WormsRUs.

Bunnings also sell worm kits now. Worm poo tea for your garden can work just as well as many other dig in manures. My neighbour swears by it. I'm still a firm believer in my chickens' output.

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