1. Minimum Tillage

2. Compost Making

3. Compost Bins, Boxes, or Open Piles

4. Compost Crops

5. Worm Composting

6. Bokashi Composting

7. Leaf Mould

8. Liquid Manures

9. Green Manures

10. Terra Preta

11. Mulching

12. How to Increase Earthworms in Your Soil

13. Eco, Biological & Organic Fertilisers

So let’s get practical. The following section describes the approaches and practical applications used by any organic farmer, biological farmer, horticulturist or a gardener who wants to be as organic, and regenerative as possible.

How can we apply our knowledge of this co-operative process between plants and the micro organic life in soil? We need to encourage an abundant population of beneficial soil microorganisms, especially mycorrhizal fungi, and at the same time increase the soil’s capacity to hold onto nutrients, called the “exchange capacity”, but this cannot be achieved successfully if we dig, plough or otherwise expose and disrupted the microorganisms that do such a valuable job feeding our plants; also this excessive exposure to the air greatly speeds up the oxidation and break down of the organic matter already in the soil, which is the opposite of what we are trying to do in our efforts to increase the humus in our soils to healthy optimum levels.


One of the most important things we can do is to use Minimum Tillage methods. Minimum Tillage and No-Dig methods are described fully in the section 'DIFFERENT APPROACHES', - No-dig Gardening & Zero-tillage Farming.

Rule number one – try to limit exposure of, and over manipulation of the soil. If your soils are compacted, then an initial loosening of the soil can be done, by using a garden fork. Push the garden fork into the ground, and then rock it back and forth to loosen the soil. Do this over the entire area you wish to cultivate. All the other methods of increasing organic matter in your soils described below will over a short period of time lead to the soil becoming fibrous, crumbly and aerated and full of beneficial microorganisms and earthworms as well as being able to absorb and hold rain-water better and hold onto plant nutrients, until they are needed. Even poor soils, low in organic matter, can be transformed far faster than the natural processes that occur in a forest, for instance – indeed you will see the changes to the structure of your soil within a couple of seasons if you follow the methods in this chapter.

5-6% humus seems to be a good optimum amount, however higher amounts can also produce productive results, but aiming for the optimum 5-6% should be our aim. When the undisturbed American natural prairie soils were studied in the early nineteenth century, before they were ploughed up and cultivated, the humus content was found to be around 5%, but with over cultivation and continuous cropping the humus content soon dropped below 1% very quickly.

Humus is constantly being broken down in a healthy soil, so it is essential that we regularly replace the organic matter in the soil and increase it to a healthy level. By doing so we will both increase the nutrient holding power of our soils and at the same time foster a huge population of microorganisms, which will feed our plants.

The amount of clay in any given soil is determined by geology, but we can easily increase organic humus. We need to build up well broken down organic matter that has become fine humus as well as applying regular supplies of fresh un-rotted plant material. Fresh plant material encourages a huge army of microorganisms, worms and other essential soil life, while the fine humus colloids hold onto nutrients until the plants require them.

In nature, topsoil is built up slowly, but we can greatly speed up this process, taking advantage of photosynthesis and its capture of Carbon from Carbon Dioxide to make cellulous. For fine humus, make compost – for fresh organic material, grow green manures – we need both for the creation and maintenance of a vibrant healthy living soil.


Many make compost, but few know how to make good compost. To make good quality compost, which will enrich the soil and produce high quality humus, we need to understand the theory and the practical application. The theory is the science bit and the practical bit is the applied craft, which improves over time.

Theory and Practice

1. The organic goal is to feed the soil and more importantly the life within it, which in turn feeds the plants. This is achieved by providing as much high quality humus as possible to encourage a vibrant living soil.

2. To make humus, one requires lots of high cellulose plant material such as straw, crop wastes, hedge trimmings etc.

3. To break down this high Carbon-cellulose material, requires Nitrogen to build the bacteria’s bodies that help break down the cellulose, such as soft green plant material like green weeds and grass clippings, also animal manure and urine, as well as Nitrogen from the air, which is 78% Nitrogen.

4. In this approach, high Nitrogen soft green plant material, manure and urine is no longer seen as a plant food in its own right, but as a precious activator, used in small amounts, to enable the creation of a much larger amount of an even more valuable end product - compost.

5. All organic matter brakes down to a settled state with an eventual Carbon Nitrogen ratio of 10 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen.

6. Course dry brown materials like straw, dead leaves etc., are high in Carbon, i.e. cellulose, fats, waxes and lignins, which are structural forms of carbon that are essential for producing good quality humus.

7. Animal manures, dried blood, urine, grass clippings, green succulent weeds, etc., are high in Nitrogen (proteins and protein waste).

8. The cellulous (Carbon material), is initially broken down by bacteria, followed by fungi and then manure worms.

9. Bacteria need Nitrogen (+ Hydrogen and Oxygen) to make their proteins and build their bodies.

10. If we build a compost heap of just high Nitrogen material (e.g. chicken manure) it will break down eventually to a Carbon Nitrogen ratio of 10:1 by losing its excess Nitrogen in the form of ammonia and nitrous oxide into the air, both green house gasses, as well as wasting valuable plant nutrients.

11. Use small amounts of manures etc., as activators to help start the brake down of high Carbon material, rather than applying manures directly to the soil which is a waste because it will burn up the precious organic soil matter.

12. So, we need a balanced combination of high Carbon material and smaller amounts of high Nitrogen material in the right proportions.

13. Ideally, save up enough materials to build a minimum of 1 cubic metre (1 cubic yard) to build your heap, or ½ cubic metre (½ cubic yard) at a pinch.

14. As a rough guide, build in alternate layers of 20cm high Carbon material then 5cm of manure (or grass clippings, green weeds, or a sprinkling of dried blood, blood and bone, etc.), this will give you an initial Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of 45 or 50 to 1; then add another 20cm (8in) layer of high Carbon material and 5cm (2in) manure and so on.

15. The heap should be made loosely to allow air into the heap and built on a base layer of twigs or sticks too allow air to enter via the bottom.

16. With 20cm (8in) high carbon material to 5cm (2in) high Nitrogen material, there will be enough initial Nitrogen to feed the bacteria, but not enough to finish the process, so the bacteria will be forced to look for the extra Nitrogen from the air which is 78 per cent Nitrogen.

17. As a result, if compost is made correctly, one can end up with more Nitrogen (a valuable plant food) than you put in in the first place (up to 20%) – an old trick of the trade and one not often understood.

18. It is not essential, but if you add beneficial bacteria and fungi to your heap this will help to produce a better product. Look for companies that sell biological compost activators, comprised of micro-organisms (not high Nitrogen activators).

19. Organic material will not rot without moisture. Dry material will just sit there unchanged. So, add water if necessary as you build the heap, but don’t over water – damp as a wrung out sponge is ideal.

20. The process of decomposition has a tendency to create acidic conditions, so to keep the heap sweet, lightly sprinkle garden lime in the middle of the high Carbon layers, but not against the manure as it will react causing a loss of Nitrogen. One can also add wood ash from untreated wood, which contains Potassium and Calcium. The Potassium in wood ash is in the form of an assorted batch of Potassium Carbonate molecules, which are converted in the compost heap to more stable and usable forms.

21. The addition of 1cm of healthy topsoil to this layer is also useful, as it contains microorganisms that help to break down the compost material as well as clay and humus that will hold onto plant nutrients.

To simplify: Build the heap in layers –

1. Start with a 15-20cm (6-8in) layer of course prunings, cabbage stems, or sweet corn stems etc., on the bottom for air.

2. Cover with about 6cm (2½ ins) of spray-free straw or equivalent waste.

3. Add 20cm (8in) of high carbon material such as hay, straw, or other course garden waste and moisten with water (or water plus a biological activator) if dry.

4. Add 5cm (2in) of high nitrogen animal manure, green weeds, grass clippings, or a sprinkle of ‘blood and bone’, ‘blood fish and bone’, fishmeal, dried blood or collected urine.

5. Continue adding layers 3 & 4 until finished.

6. If you are using garden lime sprinkle it in the middle of each high carbon layer away from the manure.

7. If any of the material used is dry it will need watering to make it moist – dry material will not rot, it needs moisture.

8. Ideally after 6 to 8 weeks turn the heap. Turn the outside to the inside, the inside to the outside, the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top. This is your chance to correct any problems that may have arisen. If parts are too wet and smelly, mix in some dry material and a sprinkling of lime – if to dry, add some grass clippings or some water.

9. After 3-4 months in summer, or 6 months in the winter, it will be ready to use at 1 to 2 buckets per square metre. Do not keep it too long, as it will start to mineralise and lose a lot of its life and beneficial microorganisms. Lightly fork into the soil. For people who prefer no-dig gardening – spread the compost on the surface and cover with some mulch to keep the compost from drying out and the sun killing off the microorganisms.

For pumpkins, squash, zucchini and tomatoes – dig a hole, 30cm square and deep and half fill with compost trodden down. Fill the rest with topsoil and plant your plant. When the roots hit the compost the plant will take off!

For potatoes you can take out trenches 1 fork depth, put in 8cm (3in) of compost, spread about 3cm of soil on top and lay your seed potatoes, sprouts up, on the soil layer and back fill the trench with soil from the next trench.

For Even Better Quality Compost

To get even better quality compost you can even increase the initial Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of your compost to 60 to 1, Carbon Nitrogen ratio. This idea has come about from the work of Steve Rioch who experimented over several years in the US, along with the staff at ‘Ecology Action’, California, who compiled a booklet called ‘Grow Biointensive Composting & Growing Compost Materials’ by Ecology Action Staff in conjunction with John Jeavons.

I have been using this method for several seasons to great effect. They found that a higher Nitrogen content in the heap will produce ‘hot compost’ with temperatures of 60-650C (140-1500F), resulting in temperatures where the biological activity is so intense that the excessive fermentation results in a loss of Nitrogen and other nutrients and a loss of organic matter, given off as Carbon dioxide, as well as killing off the very microorganisms that are needed in the secondary cooler stage of composting, which is important for producing humus – the very microorganisms that are also needed in the finished compost to help build up the soil life.

Using an initial 60:1 Carbon/Nitrogen ratio leads to cooler composting with maximum temperatures around 570C (1350F) for the first 2 weeks, dropping significantly after a short time to around 490C (1200F) for a longer period, and is much less destructive, producing higher levels of good quality humus, plant nutrients and essential micro-organisms in the finished product.

Another major change for us has been the addition of topsoil in the layers, which the first time I did it was worrying because it left small craters in my vegetable beds, but then of course I realised it would be returned later! Adding thin layers of topsoil to a heap helps to slow down the heating, and the soil also helps by binding onto nutrients, especially Nitrogen, later available for the plants, as well as adding essential soil microorganisms that help the composting process.

As a result, preliminary tests that they did at Ecology Action were very interesting that at first seemed counter intuitive. Three equal sections of garden had the same amount of compost applied.

1. Compost made on a 60/1 CN ratio

2. Compost made on a 45/1 CN ratio

3. Compost made on a 30/1 CN ratio

The 60/1 made compost yielded twice the crop as the 30/1 made compost, and 50% higher than the 45/1 made compost. These trials are still in the early stages to be definitive, but these results are impressive nonetheless.

Another major change to the way I am making compost is to make the layers thinner. In the past I would build the heap with alternate 20cm (8in) layers of high Carbon material sandwiched with a 5cm (2in) layer of greens and/or manure as already described above. I now realize that the centre of the high Carbon material was not in contact with the manure layer. Often in the past the centre of the 20cm (8in) high Carbon layers was slow to rot, with good reason.

So, I have now started to use shallower layers by using a 20litre (5 gallon) bucket as a measure. For my compost 1 metre x 1 metre (1 square yard) surface area square bins, I apply 3 buckets of high Carbon material (approximately 6cm (2½in) thick, then ½ bucket of ‘greens’ (approximately 1cm (½in) thick), then a ¼ bucket of topsoil (approximately ½ cm (¼in) thick). As a result the different contents are in closer contact and better interaction results. This method has produced more bulky compost, which looks more like composted manure.

I have also started to use a biological compost activator watered onto the layers as it is built. Adding a biological activator plus the soil layers ensures there is a good collection of beneficial microorganisms in the compost. Blooming Good’s ‘Compost Activator’ I have found to be effective, another one is EM (Essential Microorganisms) liquid. In your country you should be able to find companies that sell biological compost activators.

UK Garden Care - 'Biotal Compost Maker'

      Envii - 'Compost Accelerator'

USA Dr Earth - 'Compost Starter' 

Australia  Uban Composter - 'Compost Accelerator'

The only problem I foresee with this cooler composting is that weed seeds will not be killed effectively. A temperature of 600C (1400F) and above is necessary to kill the more difficult weed seeds. However, if you try to ensure that no seeding weeds are added to the compost, or old hay, or horse poo, which has grass and other seeds in it, it should not be a major problem.

Difficult Materials:

• Cabbage, Broccoli and Brussels Sprout stems and roots

• Sweet Corn stems and roots

These are difficult to compost without preparing them first.

1. Dig them up and knock the soil off the roots.

2. Smash them with a heavy hammer or block hammer on a bulky timber, or concrete. This will allow the bacteria and fungi to penetrate and rot them down much more easily in the compost heap.

3. Alternatively, take out a trench 20cm (8in) wide and deep where your spring sowing of runner beans are to grow. Dig the brassica or sweet corn stems up at the end of winter and smash them as above and then spread them along the bottom of the trench to make a lose layer about 10cm (4in) thick. Cover them with kitchen waste and fill in with soil. As the kitchen waste decays between the stumps the soil will sink and will need topping up with more soil. After your crop of runner beans have finished, you will find the stumps have turned to lasting black humus helped by the surplus nitrogen fixed by the bacteria in the bean roots.

Materials to avoid:

Meat, fish and dairy products (see: Bokashi Composting will deal with these), dog and cat poo, oils and fats, diseased plants, bamboo, flax and cabbage tree leaves, weeds that have seeds, nasty weed roots such as convolvulus, couch grass, etc. (see: the section below: LIQUID MANURES to deal with these).

Problem Solving:

1. Smelly compost: This usually occurs with small gardens, where there is not enough high Carbon material to add, and there is only grass clippings, green weeds and kitchen waste – all of which are high in Nitrogen. The compost will start to smell and flies appear if you have put too many Nitrogen rich materials in the compost, and/or if it is too wet. This stops air getting to the heap and it becomes acidic.

Solution: Try to get hold of a small bale of organic or unsprayed dry straw or hay, dry leaves, or a large bag of shredded paper from an office. Turn the compost adding some dryer high carbon material, sprinkling some garden lime on the layers as you rebuild it to neutralise the acidity.

2. Dry unrotted compost: This is more likely to happen in the summer, especially if the compost site is in a sunny place, or if you have added a lot of dry material in the first place.

Solution: Turn the compost; lightly watering each layer as you turn it, along with grass clippings or other high Nitrogen materials to kick starts the compost.

3. My compost is not braking down: This is usually because there are not enough high Nitrogen rich materials in your compost, or it has dried out.

Solution: (see 2).

4. Rodents are getting into the compost: This is usually due to adding kitchen waste, which instead can be composted using the Bokashi bucket system (see below), but they may be just setting up camp or making a nest in the warm compost.

Solution: Add grass clippings to the compost to increase heat and turn regularly, or set traps.

Having followed these instructions and gradually gained experience, you will make valuable humus for your soil. The heap will heat up over a few days to around 50o-60oC (122-1400F) or even 70oC (1580F) although as I have described, the lower temperature range is better. The hot air will rise up through the heap drawing in fresh Nitrogen rich air from the bottom and sides, increasing the eventual Nitrogen in the heap.

Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of some compostable materials:

Browns = High Carbon

Ashes, wood 25/1

Cardboard, shredded 350/1

Corn Stalks 75/1

Hay (low quality)50/1

Hay (top quality) 25/1

Leaves 60/1

Newspaper, shredded 175/1

Peanut shells 35/1

Pine needles 80/1

Sawdust 325/1

Seaweed 25/1

Straw 75/1

Summer grass 25/1

Wood chips 400/1

Greens = High Nitrogen

Alfalfa 12/1

Blood & Bone 6/1

Chicken manure 6/1

Coffee grounds 20/1

Cow manure 12/1

Fish waste 6/1

Food waste 20/1

Garden weeds 12/1

Grass clippings 6/1

Horse manure 12/1

Pig manure 6/1

Sewage sludge 12/1

Silage 12/1

Vegetable waste 12/1


The compost heap can be a great propagator of nasty weeds if you try to compost weeds such as couch grass roots, convolvulus roots, dock and dandelion roots, oxalis bulbils and other such nasties. You can put them in the middle of a large well-made compost heap, but there is no guaranty they will get cooked properly. However, do not throw them away; they contain valuable plant nutrients, for instance couch grass is high in Phosphorus. A more sure way is to drown them in a tub of water, preferably with a tap attached to the bottom. Two tubs used alternately are best. After a minimum of six months, the roots should be dead. The juice can then be used as an activator on the compost layers and the dead material added to the carbon layers. Alternatively put the weed roots in a black plastic bin liner, add a little water, tie the open end and leave somewhere in a corner for six to twelve months. Another rule of composting is not to add seeding material in case the weed seeds do not get cooked in the heat of the heap.

The End Product - Humus:

Much emphasis has been placed on the Carbon/Nitrogen ratio of compost materials and the finished product - humus. This is important understanding when building compost heaps, but it has to be remembered, there is a lot more to the finished product than just Carbon and Nitrogen. Humus is a living substance; it is a mixture of compounds and complex organic chemicals of plant, animal, or microbial origin that has many functions and benefits in the soil. Good quality humus will contain, and has attached to its particles, a whole range of valuable nutrients such as:

Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Phosphorus, Nitrogen, Sulphur, Magnesium, Copper, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Aluminium, Chromium, Cobalt, Iodine, Molybdenum, Selenium, Tin, Vanadium, Nickel, Fluorine and Silicon.

It also contains important enzymes and plant hormones, fulvic and humic acids + beneficial bacteria, protozoa, fungi, muco-proteins – etc.,

For further reading:


What containers you decide to use (or none) entirely depends on your circumstances – whether you have a small town garden with neighbours, live in the country, have a life-style block or small farm, or work with others to grow food collectively in a community garden or landshare scheme – it is basically a matter of scale and how tidy you need or want to be. We will start with the smallest versions of bins and work up to large-scale freestanding compost piles. 

Plastic Compost Bins:

The smallest type for small town gardens is a simple round or box shaped plastic bin, about a metre high, smaller at the top and tapering out towards the bottom, with a lid and often an access door at the bottom. The value of these types is that when full, one can lift the whole bin off the pile easily to start a new pile next to the original one, rather than use the little door at the bottom.

Another benefit is that composting is kept tidy, which is often important if you live next door to neighbours in a town or city. In some countries, local councils offer a subsidy to locals to buy a bin in order to encourage composting and cut down organic waste ending up in landfill, as here in Nelson, New Zealand. It is worth checking in your area or country to see if there are similar schemes. Whether you pay full whack, or get a subsidy, it will cost money.

Tumbler: The next type is a tumbler, which is a barrel, which is turned regularly, to which you add compost material over time. This type does not allow hot composting, because they are not big enough and are too exposed and lose what heat is generated and they need turning every few days. The only advantage is that if you have a lot of waste food, especially cooked food including meat, then at least the tumbler compost bin will be vermin proof. Apart from that I personally see no value in spending money on such a product.

Complex Compost Bins: These types are large, hugely expensive compost bins with several sections where the developing compost is moved down into different compartments where it continues to mature – ending up in the bottom in a finished state. When I see this kind of overcomplicated, over thought out and over designed piece of equipment, I wonder what planet industrial designers are living on! Certainly, this type of oil made over sophisticated piece of equipment has nothing to do with sustainability.

Wooden Bins: There are flat-pack versions you could buy, but you can make your own for little or no money! Just Google “build your own wood compost bin” and you will get many ideas and instructions, including making them from free out of 1 metre square pallets that some shops are happy for you to take away – just ask them. This is how we built a three-bin system at Waimarama Community Gardens, and how I built my own three bins at home. By building a three, or two bin system, you save on wood, because the sides are shared. Also you need to have them cheek to cheek so you can turn your recently made compost into the second bin next to it and then turn the finished product into the final holding bin until you need to use it. However, you can get away with two. Notice the brick air channels fitted under the bottom timber of the first bin.



Compost Heaps:

On larger properties, community gardens, farms, etc., where large heaps of 2 cubic metres (2 cubic yards) or more at a time are made. The open piles should be up to 1½ metres (5ft) across, up to 1½ metres high and as long as you like. There will be a little unbroken down material on the outer layer, which can be added to the next heap – or turned in if you turn the heap. I usually cover the top with a 150mm (6in) layer of straw to finish off the heap, which allows the top layer of compost to keep moist and rot down properly. This is how we made the bulk of our compost at Waimarama Community Gardens and how I made 30 tonnes a year on our farm – no problem.




Compost crops are crops that are grown to provide carbon rich material to make compost. You may ask – “so you are growing crops to make compost which you then put back into the soil, so where’s the gain!” As already described, the gain comes from the main bulk of the plants, which is made from carbon dioxide (C02) from the air, absorbed by the plants and made into cellulous by the process of photosynthesis – and it comes for free!

Many compost crops can also produce edible seeds or fruit at the same time (such as maize), or just produce bulk material. They can be grown as part of a crop rotation system, or be a perennial crop that is cut regularly. To be entirely self-sufficient in carbon rich compost material it has been estimated that one needs to grow compost crops on an area 60 per cent the size of your cropping area to add to the waste material from cropping. For instance, if you are growing 50 square metres of crops, including fruit, then you will need to grow 30 square metres of carbon crops, or 80sq metres in total. Below is a list of compost crops that you could grow:

• Amaranth – bulky material, high yield + edible seeds

• Jerusalem Artichokes perennial crop, bulky material, edible roots

• Maize – bulky material, high yield + corn cobs for eating fresh or for drying and processing.

• Naked Barley straw + edible seeds (no de husking necessary).

• Naked Oats – straw + edible seeds (no de husking necessary)

• Quinoa – reasonably bulky material + edible seeds

• Sorghum – very bulky material + edible seeds

• Sunflowers – bulky, high carbon material, but the seeds are very difficult to de-husk, but great for poultry – cut heads and let the poultry self harvest.

• Wheat – straw + edible seeds

• Barley, Oats and Wheat – can be grown together or separately and cut at the flowering stage, but before setting seed.

• Globe Artichokes – perennial crop, very bulky tough grey-green stems and leaves + edible flower heads.

When we were farming we had plenty of high Carbon material from the straw left from growing grain crops. As we now have limited space, we do not have the room to grow many crops through the summer and to harvest seed, but crops can be grown solely for their carbon material by harvesting them just before flowering. Instead of growing winter green manure crops, we sow oats and lupins and broad beans, as early as possible, as the summer crops finish. This way we end up in the spring with a green compost crop 1 to 1½ metres high with a considerable amount of stalks and carbon, but still with a considerable amount of Nitrogen and water, so you will need to add about 25% dry spray-free straw when building the compost heap to stop it becoming wet and smelly. Having chopped the crop, dig in the roots with added finished compost.



When we were farming we had plenty of high Carbon material from the straw left from growing grain crops. As we now have limited space, we do not have the room to grow many crops through the summer and to harvest seed, but crops can be grown solely for their carbon material by harvesting them just before flowering. Instead of growing winter green manure crops, we sow oats and lupins and broad beans, as early as possible, as the summer crops finish. This way we end up in the spring with a green compost crop 1 to 1½ metres high with a considerable amount of stalks and carbon, but still with a considerable amount of Nitrogen and water, so you will need to add about 25% dry spray-free straw when building the compost heap to stop it becoming wet and smelly. Having chopped the crop, dig in the roots with added finished compost.


Worm composting is a very useful way of composting kitchen waste. Waste food and food trimmings in an ordinary compost heap can attract rats and mice, but in the confines of a worm farm container, this can be avoided. The resultant digested compost is much richer than the average compost, as already discussed.



Worm composting is a very useful way of composting kitchen waste. Waste food and food trimmings in an ordinary compost heap can attract rats and mice, but in the confines of a worm farm container, this can be avoided. The resultant digested compost is much richer than the average compost, as already discussed.

Left is a homemade worm bin made from a wastebin + upturned lid underneath with a hole in the middle to catch worm juice.

Worm composting is a very useful way of composting kitchen waste. Waste food and food trimmings in an ordinary compost heap can attract rats and mice, but in the confines of a worm farm container, this can be avoided. The resultant digested compost is much richer than the average compost, as already discussed.

How to Start a Worm Farm

Make a worm bin made out of a plastic dustbin, with air holes in the bin and lid and with an upsidown lid underneath with a hole in the bottom placed on bricks, with a tub underneath to catch the worm juice:

Buy a worm bin or make one easily out of plastic dustbins, old baths, stacks of old tyres, or larger containers from commercial establishments

Have drainage holes, or a pipe in the bottom to collect the precious worm juice

Choose a site sheltered from sun, wind & rain. Carports, or sheltered porches are ideal

Spread a 10-12cm (4-5 ins) layer of bedding dampened hay/coconut fibre/shredded cardboard or paper in the bottom

Purchase your worms, 1,000 [250g] (½ pound) or even better 2,000 tiger (compost) worms – not garden earthworms

Put worms into their new home and add the first food scraps Keeping it Going

Keep the compost damp, but not sodden. Add dry leaves or torn up paper if it gets too wet

Add food scraps regularly

Don’t overfeed – if the worms can’t keep up, the food scraps will ferment, which is not what the worms, or you want

Regularly empty collected worm juice, dilute 1:10 & use as liquid plant feed

Manure Worms Like –

Most fruit & veg scraps

Potato & other peelings

Cooked food (not to much)

Coffee grounds & tea bags

Horse poo

Newspaper (not shiny)

Vacuum cleaner dust

Manure Worms Don’t Like -

Too much - spicy foods, chilli, garlic onion etc.

Too much - meat & milk products

Too much - flour products, bread etc. (which ferments, producing alcohol, that kills the worms)

Citrus waste

Course garden waste

How do I Extract the Worms From the Compost?

When the waste is thoroughly broken down into dark crumbly compost, remove the fresh waste from the top, where most of the worms will be and place aside. Take out the finished compost and pile it up in a cone on some plastic sheet in the daylight but protected from the rain. The worms will naturally move away from the light and each day you can take 3 to 5cm (1-2 ins) of compost off the pile to bag up. Eventually you will have saved the majority of the compost free of worms that will be huddled at the bottom of the remaining compost. You can then add them back to the worm bin along with the fresher material set aside to start the process again.

If on the other hand, you have bought one of the worm bins on the market, these are designed so that the worms move up from the finished compost into the top section with the new material. As a result the finished compost will be largely free of worms.

How to Use the Compost & Worm Juice

The rich compost is great to use in making potting compost, or mixing in a handful to the soil where you are planting out seedlings. It is also useful to mix a bucket of worm compost per square metre into the top few centimetres of soil, where you will be planting heavy feeding plants, such as brassicas, the onion family and sweet corn.

The worm juice is a very useful rich plant food. There are conflicting suggestions on the dilution, this entirely depends how dark (rich), or pale it is. The best suggestion is to water it down to week tea colour.

A Typical Worm Juice Sample Analysed

• Healthy bacteria 100,000 (these include high levels of Nitrogen fixing bacteria)

• Nitrogen 64 mg/L

• Phosphorus 21 mg/L

• Potassium 940 mg/L

• Sulphate 82 mg/L

• Calcium 62 mg/L

• Magnesium 150 mg/L

• Sodium 120 mg/L

• Copper 276 mg/L

• Zinc 105 mg/L

• Manganese 0.26 mg/L

• Iron 1.5 mg/L

• Boron 0.41

Also found in worm juice and compost, are high levels of humic acid, which encourages the growth of beneficial soil bacteria, and fulvic acid, which encourages the growth of beneficial mycorrhizae fungi.


As already described there is a problem with adding waste food, especially waste meat to a normal compost heap, because this can attract rats and mice. Also citrus is difficult to compost and banana skins, onion and meat waste are not suitable for worm composting. For these wastes Bokashi composting is the answer. We use all three types of composting and use Bokashi to rot down our citrus, onion and meat waste, our worm compost for general food waste and vegetable trimmings and the garden compost heap for all the other bulk garden waste. The citrus waste turns into slush rather than staying unrotted as it often does in a garden compost heap. However, Bokashi compost can be used, on its own, but it will never give you enough bulk carbon material to build soil humus to any great extent.

On a farm or industrial scale liquid Bokashi containing essential microorganisms (EM) is exceptionally useful for processing large amounts of household and waste from the wine industry, beer making and other industrial organic waste into humus to enrich the soil. It has also been shown to be useful in composting human waste safely.



Bokashi is a composting method that uses an additive of beneficial micro-organisms to ‘pickle’ and break down food waste through anaerobic fermentation, which starts the composting process. The composting process is then completed when the contents are buried and mixed with some topsoil where vegetables are to be grown, or added to the compost heap.

The advantage is that the Bokashi composting bucket can be kept under the kitchen sink, because it doesn’t smell nasty – just a light pickle-smell. It also has a sealed lid. The composting bucket is a double box with an airtight lid in which is placed a household or commercial kitchen’s waste food and vegetable trimmings. The top box has holes in the bottom to allow nutrient rich liquid to pass to the bottom box.

Bokashi Boost is a dry mixture of bran and or sawdust with added spores of:

1. Lactic acid bacteria

2. Yeast

3. Photosynthetic bacteria (bacteria that can photosynthesise)

4. Actinomycetes and other types of micro-organisms

How to Use Bokashi

First buy your Bokashi double bucket, or make a homemade one by buying two buckets, one with a tight fitting lid, and drilled holes in the bottom of the top bucket for the juice to flow into the bottom bucket.

Keep your bucket out of direct sunlight.

Add a tablespoon of Bokashi mix to the top box.

Add food waste and food trimmings. Brake up large pieces of food. All foods are OK including meat and citrus waste. Avoid excessive liquids, oils, fats, paper and of course plastic.

Press down each layer of food to avoid air pockets.

Sprinkle each layer with about 2 tablespoons of Bokashi mix, and then make sure the lid is always sealed.

Drain the juice once or twice a week. To use – 4 tablespoons to 4 litres (1 gallon) to water to water your plants, or pour onto the compost heap as an activator.

Keep adding food sprinkled with Bokashi until full.

Stand in a warm place for 7-10 days. There might be a white mould growing on it, this is normal – it is now ready for use.

You can simply dig it into your veggie garden, by digging a trench or holes about 30cm (1ft) deep, half filled with Bokashi compost, mix with some soil and fill in the hole with the rest of the topsoil. Alternately spread it in your garden compost heap as you build the layers.

Wait at least 2 weeks before planting to let the Bokashi compost rot down. Any earlier and it might burn the plants roots.

If used to feed fruit or nut trees, dig holes 60cm (2ft) apart around the drip-line and fill as above.




Another way of accumulating carbon in your soil is the use of deciduous tree leaves. The use of peat, dug up from peat bogs, is both environmentally damaging and is not sustainable. If you can save enough leaves you will be self sufficient and have an even better product than peat, in the form of long lasting lignins and hemi-celluloses, which makes the longest lasting humus. If you have a dark, out-of-the-way corner in your garden where nothing will grow, that is a good place to have your heap. To stop the leaves blowing around while they gently rot, drive in some stout posts at the corners of what will be your heap and then attach chicken mesh to the posts to make an enclosure. Just pile the leaves into the container – nothing else. Making leaf mould is not the same as composting.

Do not add anything else, just leaves, although an occasional sprinkling of topsoil will help. A leaf mould heap does not heat up; it just rots gently through the natural process of fungi as it would on the floor of a forest.

After one year it will be broken down into beautiful long lasting humus, high in Potassium and Phosphorus, which can be used as mulch around fruit bushes and trees – their natural food – and as a useful mulch between rows of seedlings like carrots, and finally as an important ingredient of seed and potting compost. For every 2½ cubic metres (2½ cubic yards) of fresh leaves you will get 1 cubic metre (1 cubic yard) of leaf mould, or roughly half a tonne (ton)– so well worthwhile.


Generally speaking, given a healthy soil life and balanced nutrients (see section on Ideal Soil Mineral Balance) it should not be necessary to use high Nitrogen liquid manures on a regular basis. However, they do have an important role to play in plant nutrition when used intelligently. There are also other types of liquid manures that can supply high levels of potassium and/or a wide range of essential trace elements, or other benefits. Here is a suggested list:

1. Liquid animal manures

2. Stinging nettle

3. Comfrey liquid

4. Seaweed liquid

5. Liquid fish fertiliser

6. Nasty Weed Roots

7. Compost Tea

8. Lucerne Hay tea

All these liquid manures are likely to smell. If they start smelling badly, then this is a sign that the liquid manure is fermenting and losing nutrients. This can be controlled by adding 4 tablespoons of Essential Microorganisms liquid (EM) + 4 tablespoons of dissolved molasses to a 50 litre (13 gallon) tub, which will reduce the smell and add beneficial microorganisms to the eventual liquid manure.



Liquid animal manures provide valuable Nitrogen boosts plus Calcium, along with many other nutrients. For most crops growing in a healthy balanced soil the natural supply of Nitrogen will be available, but there are times and particular types of crops that will benefit from liquid animal manures. The best are cow poo, horse poo and sheep poo (chicken poo is very strong). The heavy feeders such as Maize, Sweet Corn and the Alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) and brassicas, will benefit greatly from a Nitrogen boost once or twice during the growing season. Place the manure in a woven bag and hang by string or cord in a barrel of water. Water down to around 9 parts water to 1 part liquid manure, or until it looks like week tea.

Stinging Nettle provides Nitrogen and Iron and a general tonic if fresh. Fill a barrel of water 2 thirds full of nettles – and use as a fresh tonic within a few days. Alternatively, leave it until it smells like manure. Water down 9 to 1 and water plants and soil.

Comfrey Liquid is high in Potassium plus trace elements extracted from the subsoil with its deep roots, which is ideal for fruiting plants such as squash, pumpkins, peas beans, tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, and of course all fruit (with the exception of citrus fruit which prefer a high Nitrogen feed). The biggest mistake is to make comfrey liquid by adding comfrey leaves to water. Comfrey is very low in cellulous and as a result will rot down without water, resulting in a very dark and not very smelly liquid that will keep for many months. It needs watering down about 40 parts water to 1 part comfrey liquid, or until it looks like week tea. When you cut and add more comfrey leaves, draw some liquid off and pour over the top of the new leaves to encourage the rotting process.

Seaweed Liquid is not a general fertilizer, being low in Nitrogen and Phosphorus - however it is a valuable source of Potassium, which promotes flowering and fruiting, and also more importantly it contains all the essential trace elements and plant hormones, and is particularly rich in almost every trace element in a fully chelated (immediately available) form, such as Iodine and Selenium.

Seaweed also contains a healthy dose of natural plant hormones that stimulate plant and root growth. It contains alginates, which improve soil structure, and is also loaded with carbohydrates that encourage large populations of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil. Seaweed is also an excellent food source for beneficial fungi in the soil such as mycorrhizal fungi.

It is particularly beneficial for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, potatoes, fruit bushes, strawberries, peas and beans. In fact it is useful for all plants, and if there is a complete range of essential trace elements in the soil and the plant, then we get them when we eat the food!

Water the soil around plants, or better still, water or spray on the leaves as a foliar feed every 2 weeks, because plants are very efficient at absorbing nutrients through their leaves. The spray also helps the plants resist pests and diseases. Liquid seaweed has mild fungicidal properties and helps to deter pests. You can also water onto layers in your compost heap as an activator.

Collect seaweed from the beach, spray off the excess salt with fresh water, then half fill your tub, topping up with water. Start to use after two weeks. To use: add 1 litre of liquid seaweed to 5 litres water (2 pints to 10½ pints). If you don't live near the sea, you can buy liquid seaweed concentrate from the gardening section of many stores. Also dried seaweed powder, or meal, that can be found in stores or on line.

Liquid Fish Fertiliser

Fish fertiliser contains amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, macronutrients and the vast array of micronutrients found in anything that grows in the ocean. Liquid fish is not the best balanced fertiliser, as its Magnesium is twice that of Calcium, which should be the other way round, and Sulphur should be half the amount of Phosphorus – again the wrong way round. However, if it is not over used, and used essentially as a Nitrogen rich fertiliser with a wide range of trace elements, then it can be a very useful fertiliser for spot feeding hungry crops like onions, leeks, brassicas, sweet corn and maize. Using it as a foliar feed is best, but applying to the soil can encourage earthworms, who love liquid fish. It contains:

• Calcium (Ca) 135 mg/L

• Magnesium (Mg) 248 mg/L

• Total Potassium (K) (as organic) 0.55%

• Total Phosphorus (P) (water soluble) 0.30%

• Sulphur (S) 0.71%

• Total Nitrogen (N) (as organic) 3.31%

To make your own:

Use any fish waste, heads, fins, guts etc., especially from fishing friends or clubs, or if you are a regular fisher.

If you have a tap on your tub, it is a good idea to place some form of filter behind the tap to stop it being clogged with bits of fish. Novaflow pipe is good; it needs to be fixed to the outlet and held upright in the tub by a timber fixed across, near the top of the tub. A well fitting lid is also necessary.

Place the fish waste in the tub and cover with rainwater (or tap water that has been sitting in the tub or other container for a few days to rid it of chlorine).

1. For Biodynamic Fish Manure, add biodynamic compost preparations 502-507. Add these at the rate of one set for every 200 litres (50 gallons). Wrap each preparation 502-506 in old compost into a ball and add to the liquid. To prepare preparation 507 (valerian), add 10ml to ½ litre of rainwater (1/3 fluid once in 1 pint) in a 2 litre (4 pint) glass bottle. Shake the bottle horizontally at shoulder height, firmly back and forth for two and a half minutes. This is the equivalent of stirring in the usual way for valerian use in compost. The brew should be stirred regularly after one month. After 7 months it will become clear and ready to use.

2. For Organic Fish Manure, add to the brew, 4 tablespoons of E.M. (Essential Micro-organisms) liquid + 4 tablespoons of molasses, which has been diluted in some warm water. If the brew starts to smell bad after a few weeks, add more E.M. and molasses. The brew should be ready in 3-4 months.

What is E.M? As this liquid manure is one of the really smelly ones, the smell can be reduced considerably if you add Essential Microorganisms (EM) Liquid plus an equal amount of molasses. The microorganisms compost the liquid fish in a healthy way, reducing the smell, which is associated with incorrect fermentation, and you end up with a much healthier active fertiliser.

Essential Microorganisms Liquid is available from:

New Zealand: EMNZ

UK: EM-1/Actiferm

Canada: Activated EM from ‘The Organic Gardener’s Pantry’


Australia: Nutrifort from ‘Grazetech’

Nasty Weed Roots Liquid

The roots of convolvulus, couch grass roots, oxalis corms, dock roots, dandelion roots, etc., are hazardous if added to a compost heap, because they will most likely not rot and you will spread them around your property when you apply your compost.

However, they do contain many valuable plant nutrients, which should be recycled; couch grass for instance is high in Phosphorous. One good way is to drown them in a tub of water, preferably with a tap on the bottom. After a minimum of 6-12 months the resultant liquid can be added to the compost heap as you make it; or the juice can be used as a liquid feed, 1 litre of liquid weeds to 5 litre water (2 pints liquid to 10½ pints water) and when you are sure the weeds are dead, they can also be added to a compost heap.

If the liquid manures start to smell this is a sign you are losing valuable plant nutrients. To control this and improve the effectiveness of the final product, add Essential Microorganisms (EM) liquid, plus an equal amount of molasses – see above.

Compost Tea

Making compost tea is more complicated than most other organic liquid fertilisers, but it is well worth doing on a regular basis. Compost tea is not just a rich brew full of plant nutrients; it is also full of beneficial micro-organisms. When sprayed on the leaves and stems its huge number of beneficial microorganisms consume and out-compete disease-causing organisms for plant surfaces and food resources. They also occupy the space around infection sites so even if the disease-causing organisms do start to grow, they can't penetrate into the tissues of the plant.

When added to the soil it feeds and increases the beneficial micro-organisms already there and also adds a lot more. It is a great addition to adding compost to the soil, because you are putting it directly on the plant’s leaves and stems as a feed as well as disease control.

What are the benefits of Compost Tea?

• Increases the number of beneficial organisms on and around the plant which out-compete disease-causing organisms for the plants surface and food resources.

• Occupies the space around the infection sites so even if the disease-causing organisms do start to grow, they can't penetrate into the tissues of the plant.

• High nutritional value for plants and soil

• Provides food to:

       1. Feed beneficial organisms that protect plants

       2. Sustains and inoculates plants

       3. Helps to extend root systems

       4. Adds nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms to the soil

• Increases water and nutrient retention

• Aids in the breakdown of toxins in the soil and on plants

To make compost tea you will need:

1. An aquarium pump

2. Several feet of tubing

3. An aquarium airstone bubbler

4. A stick to stir the mixture

5. Unsulphured molasses (preferably organic)

6. Something to strain the tea, like an old pillowcase, tea towel, or a nylon stocking

7. A bucket – 20 litres is best (5 gallons)

a) Don't try to make compost tea without the aeration equipment. If the tea is not aerated constantly, the organisms in it will quickly use up the oxygen and the tea will start to stink and become anaerobic. An anaerobic tea can harm your plants.

b) It is best to use collected rain water, but if you can only use city water, run the bubblers in it for about an hour first, to blow off any chlorine, otherwise the chlorine will kill all those beneficial organisms you've gone to the trouble of raising.

c) Fill the empty bucket a third full of compost. Don't pack it in; the fish tank airstone bubbler needs loose compost to aerate properly.



d) When it's going, add a tablespoon of molasses, then stir vigorously with the stick. The molasses feeds the bacteria already in the compost and gets the beneficial species growing really well. After stirring, you'll need to rearrange the bubbler so it’s on the bottom and well spaced. Try to stir the tea at least a few times a day. A vigorous mixing with the stick shakes more organisms loose and into the tea. Every time you stir, be sure to reposition the bubbler.  

e) After 24 hours, turn off the pump and remove the equipment. If you leave the tea aerating longer than three days, you must add more molasses or the good organisms will start to become inactive because they don't have enough food. Let the brew sit until the compost is pretty much settled out, 10 to 20 minutes, then strain it into the other bucket or directly into your sprayer. You will have about 9½ litres (2½ gallons) of tea. This is the time to add liquid seaweed for extra trace elements if you want to. Use the tea right away, within the hour if possible.

You can put the solids back on the compost pile or add them to the soil. There are plenty of good bacterial and fungal foods left in them.

Lucerne Hay Tea

For some reason beneficial soil protozoa live on and love lucerne. A healthy population of protozoa in your soil are important for releasing Nitrogen for plants to feed on and are also a very important food for earthworms. To increase the populations of protozoa in your soil, apply lucerne tea.

Lucerne tea is made in the same way as compost tea, only using spray free, or organically grown, lucerne hay at 70 grams (2½oz) of hay to 2 litres (4 pints) of rain water, or 500 grams (1 pound) to a 15 litre (4 gallon) tub. Use the fish tank airstone aerator as for compost tea for 24 hours then water onto the soil.

Protozoa play an important role in mineralizing nutrients, making them available for use by plants and other soil organisms. Protozoa (and nematodes) have a lower concentration of nitrogen in their cells than the bacteria they eat. (The ratio of carbon to nitrogen for protozoa is 10:1 or much more and 3:1 to 10:1 for bacteria.) Bacteria eaten by protozoa contain too much nitrogen for the amount of carbon protozoa need. They release the excess nitrogen in the form of ammonium (NH4+). This usually occurs near the root system of a plant. Bacteria and other organisms rapidly take up a lot of the ammonium, but the plants also get plenty.


Although well-rotted humus rich organic matter is essential for thriving vital soil life, it is also important to supply regular fresh organic plant material. For this we need green manures. Bare soil is an anathema to anyone growing food sustainably (and indeed in nature), nutrients wash out when it rains, and ultraviolet light and wind can desiccate and kill soil life. One answer is to cover the soil with a green manure between growing crops. Green manures are a crop of plants grown solely to dig in or apply to the surface of the soil to give the soil life some fresh organic material to work on. When green manures are incorporated or added to the surface layers, there is a huge increase in biological activity in the soil.

The Benefits:

• Green manures hold nutrients in their leaves, roots and stems, which stops the nutrients being washed out of the topsoil, especially during winter.

• When the plants die, they return nutrients and organic matter to the soil to feed soil bacteria and useful fungi, which will release food for the next lot of plants.

• During the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, compounds are formed that are resistant to decomposition, such as gums, waxes, and resins.

• These compounds, plus fungus threads (mycelia), mucus, and slime produced by the microorganisms; help bind soil particles together into granules, called aggregates. A well-aggregated soil is easy to work, is well aerated, and holds water better

• Legume (pea & bean family) green manures also capture nitrogen (an important plant food) from the air & hold this in their root nodules • Some green manures help to control diseases. Others attract beneficial insects to your garden, which help to control pests

There will be periods of the year, especially in the winter, when there will be gaps in cropping and this is just the time when green manures should be grown. Green manures also stop the leaching of plant nutrients during wet periods.

Which Green Manures to Grow?

It is important to know what crops will follow your green manure. For instance, if you were going to grow peas and beans next season, a good winter green manure would be oats or mixed grain. The carbon crop will stimulate the Nitrogen root nodules on the following peas and beans, and that will help to rot the grain down. On the other hand if there is going to be a brassica crop next season, a winter crop of lupins, vetch or crimson clover, or a mix of them will provide nitrogen for the hungry brassicas planted in spring and early summer.

However what has been shown to be the best green manure mixes are complex mixes of several different types – so try to mix a load of different types. Each has its own benefits, for instance the acid released by buckwheat roots helps to release Phosphorous for the next crop.

Here is a list of green manure crops, their particular values and their place in the rotation system. The legumes will add nitrogen and some will help control pests and diseases as well.

Blue Lupins

Blue Lupins

Blue Lupin (Lupinus angustifolius)

There is one problem with Lupins – they don’t make mycorrhizal associations with these valuable beneficial fungi, so sowing Lupins on their own will lead to the death of much of the mycorrhizal fungi in that plot – so, always sow lupins with oats, beans or vetch, or better still, oats and beans and vetch and buckwheat.

A better option - Blue Lupins + Oats

A better option - Blue Lupins + Oats

Blue Lupin: 

• Adds nitrogen to the soil from its root nodules

• Winter hardy

• Vigorous grower that produces a mass of green matter • Breaks down quickly when chopped prior to flowering

• Good before potatoes, sweet corn, brassicas and other Nitrogen hungry crops

• 1 handful per square metre (per square yard) – sow in drills, or chop in with rake

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)

• Fast growth

• Excellent beneficial insect attractant

• Frost sensitive, not winter hardy, but sown in late summer/autumn it will die off benefitting the next crop

• Good quick crop between late summer crops and autumn planted crops - e.g. between spring and summer brassicas and June sown garlic

• Sow 1 handful per square metre (per square yard) late spring & summer – sow in drills, or chop in with rake

Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)

• Adds nitrogen to the soil from its root nodules

• Winter hardy

• Excellent beneficial insect attractant

• Annual clover

• Good before potatoes, sweet corn, brassicas and other Nitrogen hungry crops

• Sprinkle 1 handful per 2 square metres (2 square yards) and lightly rake in to cover

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey is the exception when it comes to green manures. It is a tenacious perennial and has to be grown in a permanent area. However, its leaves can be cut up to five times a year and used as a green manure.

The advantage of comfrey leaves is that the leaves already have a Carbon Nitrogen ratio of 10 to 1, the same as well rotted compost, so there is no chance of Nitrogen starvation for the next crop, as will happen if you dig in a high Carbon crop like straw. This means you can plant and sow immediately you have dug in the comfrey leaves. Comfrey leaves have high levels of Potassium in them, which is great for any crop that fruits, like tomatoes, pumpkins etc. The leaves can also be used as a mulch around fruit trees and shrubs for the same reason.

Lucerne (Alfalfa) (Medicago sativa)

• Adds nitrogen to the soil from its root nodules         • Winter hardy                                                                • Establishes easily and is perfect for rejuvenating worn out soils                                                                • Breaks up soil pans with its vigorous roots and draws up sub-surface minerals                                     • Drought resistant                                                        • Good for growing through winter before Nitrogen hungry crops                                                                   • Good for breaking in new land. Keep cutting for a season, and then turn in                                               • Sow 1 handful per 4 square metres and lightly rake in or cover with 1cm crumble compost

French Marigold (Tagetes patula) 

• Use as part of a rotation

• The marigold root exudes ozone which encourages all nematodes in the root zone to mature without reproducing

• Grow as a companion crop with tomatoes and around kiwi vine roots

• Sprinkle 1 gram on 2 square metres and lightly rake in

Mustard (Brassica alba)

There is one problem with Mustard (a brassica) – brassicas don’t make mycorrhizal associations with these valuable beneficial fungi, so sowing

Mustard on its own will lead to the death of much of the mycorrhizae fungi in that plot – so, always sow mustard with a mixture of other green manure crops that do make mycorrhizal associations.

Mustard is:

• Excellent for weed seed control

• Very fast growing and prefers most soils • Cleans up some harmful soil fungi

• Helps control potato eelworm and verticillium wilt

• Grow before or after potatoes

• Sprinkle 1 small handful per square metre (square yard), aiming to sow the seeds at approximately 25mm (1in) apart, and then rake over again to cover the seeds

OATS, WHEAT, BARLEY or better still a mixture

OATS, WHEAT, BARLEY or better still a mixture

Oats, Wheat, Barley (individually or better still, mixed)

• Provides lots of organic matter

• Predator insects love it

• Winter hardy

• Suitable for all soil types

• Prevents soil erosion

• Good winter crop before peas and beans

• Sow 2 handfuls per square metre (square yard), in spring or autumn – sow in drills, or chop in with rake

Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia)

• Quick growing

• Excellent beneficial insect attractant

• Good for early spring growth, before late crops

• Sow from March-August (northern hemisphere) or September-April (southern hemisphere). Sow one handful per 4 square metres (square yards) and rake in

Tick Beans (Vicia faba)

Tick beans are a form of small broad bean.

• Adds nitrogen to the soil from its root nodules

• Winter hardy

• Good to sow with oats, wheat, or mixed grain

• Good before potatoes, sweet corn, brassicas and other Nitrogen hungry crops

• Sow at around 5cm (2in) spacing. Push 2cm (¾) into soil, or sow in drills 5cm (2in) apart

Vetch (Vicia villosa)

• Adds nitrogen to the soil from its root nodules

• Winter hardy • Good mixed with oats, or mixed grain

• Good before potatoes, sweet corn, brassicas and other Nitrogen hungry crops

• Sow seeds 7cm (2¾in) apart in drills 10cm (4in) apart – or one handful per square metre (square yard) and rake in

How to Plant and Incorporate a Green Manure Crop:


• Clear the soil of the remains of the previous crop and clear weeds

• Rake level

• Scatter fine seeds (mustard, vetch, phacelia, oats etc., crimson clover, Tagetes) at the rate instructed on the packet

• Rake in

• Alternatively the seeds can be covered with a fine coat of well-rotted crumbly compost, or a light sprinkling of untreated or organic straw.

• Water

• Cover with fine netting against birds

• Sow larger seeds (lupins, buckwheat, oats etc.) in seed drills 1-2cm (¼-¾in) deep drawn out with the corner of a hoe, or the side of your hand, at the rate instructed on the packet

• Rake the soil over seeds

• Water

• Cover with fine netting against birds


1. Before the plants flower, cut down with a spade at the base, or chop lightly with a Bombay hoe. Chop before flowering while there is still a reasonable amount of protein in the plants to provide nitrogen for the next crop

2. Alternatively, pull the plants and leave on the surface.

3. Leave to wilt

4. You can also sprinkle some grass clippings on top of the pulled or chopped green manure

5. Then sow or plant the next crop through the mulch. To help the green manure to rot, water on liquid Essential Micro-organisms (EM) plus an equal amount of dissolved molasses on the chopped plants.


One problem when growing food and fruit trees and bushes and nuts, and indeed the bi-products of forestry, is that you end up with a lot of woody material that is difficult to cope with. You can use a shredder, but this uses a lot of fossil fuel. The best way to process woody material is to make and help to sequester carbon and take it out of the atmosphere, as well as improving the soil.

The use of ground charcoal added to soils has been used as a technique by various groups of traditional societies, like the Maoris and some African tribes, but it was a rediscovery of an extinct civilisation, wiped out by European diseases in the sixteenth century that existed on the banks of the river Nigra in Brazil, that has excited interest in this technique. Amazonian rainforest can be considered as a ‘wet-desert’, because it grows on red and yellow clay-like laterite soils, which are rich in aluminium oxide and iron oxide, but little else, with almost no ability to hold onto nutrients. But the peoples of the river Nigra discovered the use of ground charcoal as a way of creating a very fertile soil many centuries before the arrival of Europeans.

They used ground charcoal along with composted organic waste to create Terra Preta (black earth) that still contains up to 30 per cent black carbon and covers an area twice the size of New Zealand. It appears to play the same role as clay minerals that ‘hold onto nutrients until needed by the plants. The charcoal lasts for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years, continuing to do its job. When viewed through an electron microscope the charcoal particles look like black coral, full of holes, which provides a huge surface area to both hold onto plant nutrients as well as provide a lot of space for microorganisms. Overall populations of beneficial fungi and bacteria are high in Terra Preta soils.



However, it is important to be aware that using charcoal is not a substitute for humus. Charcoal is primarily Carbon, and in itself lifeless. Humus on the other hand has Carbon (10 parts) and Nitrogen (1 part) – as such it serves as a source of energy for the development of various groups of microorganisms as it is constantly being formed from plant and animal residues and is continuously decomposed further by microorganisms, which among other things make the Nitrogen available for plants.

The ancient peoples of the river Nigra used charcoal to create soil that had a high cation exchange capacity and with its porous structure provided a huge area for beneficial bacteria to live and thrive as well as good water holding and aeration capacity, but in studying the ancient sites, archaeologists analysing the Terra Preta have found a lot of plant and composted remains mixed in the soil, which shows the ancients understood the importance of composting and recycling their food and other organic waste as well.

Having said all that, using ground charcoal is a great way to re-vitalise soil fertility and help rescue infertile soils, or soils that have been damaged by modern conventional horticultural and farming techniques as well as increasing the exchange capacity of already healthy soils. One of the best ways to add ground charcoal to the soil is via the compost heap.

Perennial crops, such as shelterbelt trees and many natives can be grown and trimmed or cut on a regular basis to use to make biochar. Indeed shelterbelts around commercial orchards are regularly trimmed and could be used for this purpose.

To make biochar, pile up woody debris, along with dried leaves if you have them, in a shallow pit in your garden bed. Burn the brush until the smoke thins and then damp-down the fire by covering it with about 3cm (1in) of soil. Let it smoulder until the brush is charred, then put the fire out. On a larger scale, industrial scale plants can be built to burn woody material, making charcoal and gas or biofuel as a bi-product.

Whatever way we make biochar, we just need to remember that the vast majority of the bulk of all plants is made from carbon dioxide and sunlight and what we are doing is reversing the process of burning fossil fuels, which were originally made the same way. Burning fossil fuels increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Making biochar and compost and adding it to our soils will reverse the huge damage we have been doing to our soils over the last century in particular and help to reverse climate change at the same time. If adopted world wide these two techniques alone would have a huge effect; not only in sequestering carbon, but also in helping to revitalise soils denuded by modern farming techniques.

Herbs mulched with grass clippings

Herbs mulched with grass clippings


Mulching is one of the most important methods of helping to build organic matter and subsequent beneficial soil microorganisms. One rarely sees bare soils in nature. There is a covering of growth and/or a natural mulch of decaying leaves and other dead plant material, as on a forest floor. 

Silver Beet Mulched with Straw

Silver Beet Mulched with Straw

So to replicate this in a horticultural setting, apply mulches of plant materials. This will help to protect the top layer of soil from the battering effect of rain, from the drying of the wind and the searing of ultraviolet rays. Regular mulching helps to improve soil texture, moderates extremes of soil temperature, and conserves moisture, cutting down on water use. It also encourages an increase in beneficial microorganisms and soil organisms, such as earthworms.

A warning! There is evidence that applying very thick mulches continuously over time, which is not replicated in nature, smothers soil life and eventually results in excessively high levels of potassium. The best approach is to use mulches judiciously and not too thick for too long. Never spread mulch on dry soil, as it will keep it dry, which is the opposite of our purpose. Always spread it after rain or water well before applying.

Often when growing crops, especially large plants like sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fruit bushes etc., there will be a lot of bare soil around them; this is the occasion to cover the soil with a layer of spray free straw, old seed free hay, or grass clippings. One can also grow green manure crops for cutting and using as mulch. For smaller plants, such as young carrots, use grass clippings or leaf mould and for large fruit trees, wood or bark chips, but better still use home made leaf mould which is the most natural mulch for trees and bushes.

Mulching is very effective against annual weeds, it is not perfect, but it greatly cuts down the task of weeding. It is not a panacea for perennial and nasty weeds, but it will definitely cut down the workload of weeding out annual weeds.


Earthworms are great fertility builders – (see: ‘THE LIVING SOIL’ - ‘Miraculous Earthworms’). How do you recover your earthworm populations to profit from this wondrous workforce? There are several foods that stimulate earthworms, including protozoa and fungi.

1. Increase the soil humus to an optimum of 5 per cent. The worms themselves will help greatly to increase the humus content, as they are the best creators of humus, but they need a helping hand at the beginning.

2. Create the ideal soil nutrient balance, especially the Magnesium/ Calcium balance, which is the single most important ratio in the soil because it governs oxygen delivery (see: section 3 ‘DIFFERENT BUT COMPLEMENTARY APPROACHES’ – Biological Gardening & Farming – Ideal Soil Mineral Balance).

3. Grow regular green manure crops to provide fresh organic material to the soil, To feed worms directly and to increase the bacteria that protozoa eat – because worms love to eat protozoa.

4. Also make and apply Lucerne tea to your soil regularly to encourage protozoa, which are a very important food for earthworms (see: LIQUID MANURES above).

5. Reduce physical cultivation of your soil as this disrupts worm activity and their burrows. Over cultivation also interferes with the growth of beneficial fungi – another one of worm’s favourite food.

6. Anything that increases the number of fungi in your soil will boost earthworm populations because fungi are a major food source for these creatures. Humic acid is the most powerful promoter of fungi followed very closely by kelp. Ironically it is worm juice and worm compost from worm farms that are high in humic acids, but well made compost and compost tea are also a valuable source.

7. Worms also love liquid fish fertiliser. They will come from far afield to enjoy this concentrated mix of protein, fatty acids, carbohydrates and minerals. The important thing is that the liquid fish fertiliser still contains the full oil component, as the fish oil is a major attractant.


In addition to all the homemade ways of increasing soil fertility and producing nutrient dense food, there are an increasing amount of companies around the world producing exciting new Eco and Biological fertilisers, as well as the more traditional Organic fertilises, many of which can be bought from garden stores and departments, as well as online. These eco, biological and organic fertilisers are not a substitute for the methods already described above, non-the-less they are a very useful addition to help the production of nutrient dense food. These products are particularly useful to correct imbalances in soil nutrients, and to kick start new plots of land, or old worn out plots. They can also be important in building vibrant, healthy and productive living soils and nutrient dense food.

Eco & Biological Fertilisers

Eco & Biological Fertilisers are often based on correctly balanced nutrients, according to Albrecht and Reams calculations – (see: the section  DIFFERENT APPROACHES’ – Biological Gardening & Farming). They also often contain beneficial soil micro-organisms that improve soil life as well as encouraging the assimilation of the organic nutrients contained in the fertiliser mix. Companies like ‘Environmental Fertilisers’ New Zealand and others around the world (see; end of this section for contacts) often compost the mixtures first to increase the beneficial micro-organisms in the fertiliser. These companies are producing a whole new range of exciting regenerative fertilisers and plant boosters for farmers, horticulturists and gardeners that help to create highly mineralised biologically active soils that are able to produce nutrient dense foods.

Let’s look at some examples of these extraordinary new types of fertilisers, from Environmental Fertilisers and others in other countries. First let’s look at the constituents that are in some of the mixtures:

Beneficial Soil Micro-Organisms have already been covered in the section: The Living Soil, but they can also be added to the soil. These include a whole range of beneficial soil bacteria such as Azotobacter, as well as beneficial fungi, like Trichoderma virid and Mycorrhizae. Which:

• Improve better nutrient uptake for plants (especially when added to an      eco fertiliser mix)

• Help to release locked up trace elements

• Improve soil activity

• Improve Nitrogen fixation

• Increase Phosphate availability

• Increase the faster decomposition of organic matter into valuable              humus

Humates: These are carbon-dense, soft coal deposits found near coalmines, as well as one of the constituents in humus.

• When Humates are added to soil they immediately increase the cation exchange capacity of the soil – that is the soils ability to hold nutrients in store is increased, thus preventing the loss of nutrients that would otherwise get washed out of the soil during rain. I would suggest applying humates to farm soils, would be one very effective way of cutting down the leaching of Nitrogen and Phosphates out of dairy and other conventional farm’s soils into waterways.

• They are also food for soil life, stimulating beneficial microbe growth in the soil and are a storehouse for energy, minerals and water.

• They stimulate plant root growth.

• They improve the absorption of minerals into plant cells.

• They promote soil drainage and improve water holding capacity of soil, thus reducing soil erosion and improving soil structure.

• They also help to balance soil pH and detoxify soils

Fulvic Acid: is an extremely potent and high-energy organic compound that stimulates plant metabolism. It is another component of humus.

• It increases stress tolerance in plants and acts as a natural detoxifier in the soil.

• It is so powerful that one fulvic acid molecule is capable of carrying over 60 mineral and trace elements to boost cation exchange, so your crops get access to more nutrients, increasing the nutrient density of the food.

Triacontanol: is a naturally occurring plant growth hormone, which also enhances a plant’s ability to photosynthesis.

Paramagnetic Basalt Rock Dust:

Dr. Phil Callahan, spent many decades studying paramagnetism in soils and rocks around the world. He discovered that the most productive soils are highly paramagnetic. Paramagnetic rock dust increases the electrical conductivity of the soil, which assists in the cation exchange capacity of the soil and the easier transference of nutrient ions to the plants. The term ‘paramagnetism’ does sound a little unusual, but it is actually a measurable energy that occurs in certain natural materials like basalt. Increased paramagnetism brings:

• Better water retention in the soil

• Increased earthworm and microbial action

• Better nutrient utilization in plants

• Improved seed germination

• Resistance to insect pests

• Resistance to environmental stresses

The energy from a highly paramagnetic soil flows into plants, vastly improving their growth. This energy also improves microbial growth in the soil.

Reactive Phosphate Rock (RPR):

RPR is ground up phosphate-rich rock that originates from natural deposits that formed on the sea floor and releases both Calcium and Phosphorus to the soil at a rate determined by the natural activity of worms and microbes over time.

Kelp, Fish, Amino Acids, Vitamins, Calcium and Organic Carbon: are also some of the other ingredients along with other organic sources of plant nutrients.

Eco Fertiliser Examples

Here are just two of the products from Environmental Fertilisers to give you some idea of the sophisticated products that our coming onto the market to help increase true soil fertility and nutrient dense food.

Natures Organic Fertiliser: This organic fertiliser has been certified by New Zealand’s BioGro organic certification agency. It contains EF Soil Force, which is Reactive Phosphate Rock composted with EF Fish Plus natural blend of fish protein, polysaccharides, natural chelating agents, humic and fulvic acids, liquid vermicast and a plant extract called triacontanol, which provides a profound response in a variety of crops, producing yield increases plus humic acid. It also contains EF Recharge (composted calcium carbonate with humates, and fish) and Paramagnetic Basalt Rock Dust. This blend has been composted and during the composting process there is a huge increase in beneficial soil bacteria and fungi.

EF Vegetative Foliar: A specifically formulated foliar spray designed to maximise the vegetative capacity of crops, fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals. A power-packed product full of growth promoting minerals, chelated with fulvic acid, kelp, fish, amino acids, vitamins and natural growth hormones.


New Zealand companies:

• ‘Environmental Fertilisers’

UK companies:

• ‘Eco Worm’

• ‘Symbio’

Australian companies:

• ‘Life Force’ home garden range • ‘Eco Growth’ Prime Garden fertiliser from:

• ‘Batphone’

United States companies:

• ‘AEA - Advancing Eco Agriculture’ and

• ‘ILA - International Ag Labs’

There are probably a lot more as well as similar companies in many different countries, check them out.


Horse Manure: can often be found bagged and sold in plant nurseries or beside the road in country areas, or on the outskirts of urban areas where there are stables or individual horse owners. It often contains bedding straw or wood shavings from the horse’s stables. Horse manure is not high in nutrients, but has a wide range of nutrients and reasonable levels of organic matter. Do not use around plants when fresh as it can cause the leaves and roots to get scorched and it also has a lot of weed seeds from the hay the horse has eaten. It can be used in various ways:

• As an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.

• For making liquid manure.

• Used sparingly as an additive in your worm bins.

• Larger quantities can be stacked, treading your heap down as you stack it. Cover with a plastic sheet in wet weather, or winter to protect from excess rain. It will be ready in a couple of months. If you have read the section on composting, you will see that this traditional way of composting horse manure tends to lose quite a lot of Nitrogen in the process, however it is better than using it fresh and the heat will have killed the weed seeds mixed with the dung.

Cow Manure: is usually more difficult to obtain, unless you have cows or live in the country and can get permission to collect fresh manure from the fields of an organic farm. Cow manure is rated by many as the best animal manure. In Biodynamic agriculture and gardening it is considered THE best manure – (see: the section: ‘DIFFERENT APPROACHES’). Try and shovel up the manure when it is reasonably fresh and not full of grubs, beetles etc. It can be used in so many ways:

• As an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.

• For making liquid manure.

• For making the Biodynamic preparation 500.

• For making Biodynamic preparation CPP (Cow Pat Pit).

• For drying and using in an Agnihotra Homa.

Sheep Manure: is higher in nutrients than either horse or cow manure and is well worth collecting it from fields where sheep are grazing. Half a sackful will provide enough liquid manure for an average garden for one year.

Use it:

• As an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.

• For making liquid manure.

Pig Manure: is another manure with a high nutrient value. It is definitely colder, wetter and smellier than horse or cow manure, but still useful if you can get some.

• Use as an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.

Chicken Manure: is one of the strongest and richest of all animal manures, and as such needs treating with caution.

• Use as an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps, but half as much as other animal manures.

• As a thin spring dressing around and under a citrus tree.


Dried Blood: is a fast acting high Nitrogen fertiliser. It is often combined with Bone Meal to make Blood & Bone fertiliser and Bone Meal & Fish Meal to make Blood, Fish & Bone fertiliser.

• Apply 30g per square metre (1oz per square yard), or 1 teaspoon around individual plants for a boost.

• Use as an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.

Bone Meal or Flour: is high in Calcium and Phosphorus. It is also combined to make Blood & Bone fertiliser and to make Blood, Fish & Bone fertiliser.

• Spread in a hole where you are going to plant a tree or shrub to encourage new root growth.

Hoof & Horn: is equivalent to Dried Blood in Nitrogen content plus Phosphorus, but the nutrient availability is released slowly, which is better for your crops causing less "leaf burn" damage. Its starts to release its nutrients at around 4-6 weeks and can last up to 12 months. This product may not be available in some countries, but is available in the UK, USA and Australia.

• Scatter ½kg (1 pound) of hoof & horn + ½kg (1 pound) of bone meal, in the hole when planting young citrus trees.

• For a new row of Raspberries, dig in ¼ kg (½ pound) of hoof & horn + ¼kg (½ pound) of bone meal + ½kg (1 pound) seaweed meal to a 2 metre x 60cm strip.

• When planting new fruit trees, scatter ½kg hoof & horn + 1kg of bone meal + ½kg in the planting hole.

• When planting Globe Artichokes, dig in ½kg (1 pound) of hoof & horn + ½kg (1 pound) of bone meal + 2 buckets of garden compost per square metre.

Fishmeal: contains Nitrogen and Phosphate (phosphorus). It is also combined with Blood and Bone meal to make Blood, Fish & Bone fertiliser.

• Use for high feeding crops like the onion family and sweet corn and maize.

• Use as an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.

Sheep Pellets: contains a wide range of nutrients, including trace elements.

• Mix into the top 10cm (4in) before planting out hungry crops, like brassicas, onions, garlic, leeks, and sweet corn (maize).

Seaweed Meal: is high in Potassium and also a huge range of essential trace elements.

• Sprinkle and lightly fork in around fruit trees and fruiting shrubs and plants in late winter/early spring, or when replacing mulch.

• Scatter ½kg (1 pound) into the planting hole when planting fruit trees.

• Mix in 1kg seaweed meal + 1kg (2 pound) bone meal per 4 square metres (4 square yards), when planting gooseberries.

• For a new row of Raspberries, dig in ½kg (1 pound) seaweed meal + ¼ kg (½ pound) of hoof & horn + ¼kg (½ pound) of bone meal + to a 2 metre (6ft) x 60cm (2ft) strip.

Alfalfa (Lucerne) Meal: is for those that do not want to use animal remains, this is the perfect organic fertiliser for you. Its analysis is 2.5% Nitrogen, 0.5% Phosphorus, 2.0% Potassium plus some Magnesium as well as trace minerals, and it also contains trianconatol, a natural growth hormone. It appears to stimulate essential microorganisms in the soil, which benefits the plants - so a good all round organic fertiliser.

• Use at 1-2 cups per square metre (yards) as a general fertiliser.

• Use as an activator in your ‘green’ high Nitrogen layers when making your compost heaps.