I look at failure as the fertilizer to success.Thomas Jones
I’m removing my raised beds in my front garden and replacing them with swale beds. The narrower beds will follow the curve of my awkwardly shaped, sloping block.
I will be planting directly into the soil, and my soil is essentially, sand.
My swales will be
In addition to this slow release fertiliser, I will dig in my own, stock-free compost into the soil as I plant and the beds will be heavily mulched with either pea hay or lupin mulch.
Transforming “Gutless” Sandy Soil
It is ironic that Perth soils are often described as “gutless” which is a common Australian colloquial term for someone who is a bit weak or cowardly. Fans of 1992 Australian film Strictly Ballroom might recall Fran taking down Scott Hastings with the line “You really are a gutless wonder!” Ouch.
But, in the context of a whole garden, Perth’s poor soils behave very much like someone who has a leaky gut. Applied minerals, vitamins, and nutrients just pass through the soil, without much chance of nourishing the ecosystem.
Instead, fertilizer is too easily over-applied. Soluble fertilisers rush past the roots where they are needed and end up polluting groundwater that rests 18 metres below my vegetable patch.
If my soil was a person, it would be perilously malnourished. I need a soil that is fertile, productive, full beneficial bacteria and microrganic life.
Applying concentrated fertilisers would be the same as propping up a frail person with a few multivitamins when a complete overhaul of diet, environment and lifestyle would be much more appropriate.
Thinking about my soil as a living entity helped me decide what to feed it and how to care for it. If I were to make a sustainable, substantial meal for my soil, what would that look like?
Admittedly, this is a big experiment, and my results perhaps won’t be definitive until 6-12 months time.
All soils have a physical and chemical structure. Physically sand is hard, sharp and coarse. Chemically, it is not able to electrostatically bond
Clay, on the other hand, is fine, absorbent and smooth. Chemically, it electrostatically attracts and holds soluble nutrients to its surface, where they can be readily used by plants to grow.
Bentonite clay is available in two types, sodium bentonite, and calcium bentonite. Calcium bentonite is considered the superior of the two and can be sourced through most specialty soil providers.
Sodium bentonite is readily available at your supermarket marketed as clumping kitty litter and available in bags in varying sizes. I like this brand of sodium bentonite because it has small granules and is very reasonably priced and I have a big area to cover!
You may be surprised to see gypsum here because it is traditionally used to break up clay soils, and is known to be detrimental to some sandy soils for adding too much calcium.
However, it also reduces salt levels in soils, so a small amount will compensate for using the cheaper sodium bentonite, as well as minimise the salt naturally occurring in my coastal
You can purchase gypsum at your local garden supply store and a big bag will go a long way!
Imagine a rock with the properties of a sponge, and you’ll understand why zeolite is essential to this mix! It physically traps water and soluble nutrients in the little holes that make up its structure, making them available to plant roots.
It is this nutrient trapping property that makes zeolite a great filtering medium in pool filters. So while you might not find zeolite in your garden centre, look in the pool maintenance section of your hardware or pool supply soil and you’ll find it! Again, a big bag will make many batches.
Perths soils are ancient, long since leached of soluble minerals,
Without these minerals, my plant’s basic cellular structure is compromised. This will have an impact on their immunity and their resistance to
As with people, a robustly healthy plant needs minerals to flourish. You will find rock dust at your local garden centre, hardware store or nursery. It is another ingredient where a small amount covers a large area, and many batches of this mix.
Charcoal is an absorbent form of carbon that does not decompose in the soil. Charcoal is included in this mix to increase water absorption in the soil, draw toxins from the soil and promote beneficial bacteria and fungi.
I used some charcoal and ash created by burning off some organic matter in my last garden cleanup. But you can also buy bags of charcoal at your local hardware store or nursery. The charcoal I purchased had huge chunks, so we crushed it in a mortar and pestle before mixing it in our blend.
Shredded Paper or Paper Pellets
Carbon-rich, the paper serves two purposes, to absorb the nutrients when the fertiliser mixes, and to release them when in the soil. The paper will readily break down in the soil, help with water retention and keep the nutrients from draining away.
It also helps this mix be easy to spread and work with! The high clay content can otherwise make this mix a bit clumpy, and the paper helps to maintain its spreadability.
My last round of shredded paper went into the worm farm, so I purchased the paper pellets for this mix. I actually prefer the pellets! They are tightly compacted and will expand when wet and in the soil before breaking down and improving the soil. You will find the pellets in the pet aisle of your supermarket, marketed as kitty litter.
Worm wee brings the probiotics and organic nutrients to the equation! If you don’t have a worm farm, trust me, you need one! If you are not sure where to start, checkout my worm farm revival post.
Worm wee is concentrated, nutrient-rich fertiliser, so if you have been throwing away your garbage, you are basically throwing away good money AND the opportunity to make your own fertiliser! A worm farm is a great investment.
Worm farms produce nutrient rich casings, essentially worm manure, which I dig into the soil before planting out seedlings. Worm wee is the soluable, microbially rich liquid produced by your worm farm, which we will be using in this mix.
Shredded Dried Comfrey
Comfrey is like a superfood for soil! It will assist in adding much needed organic nutrients into the soil. Each time the soil is watered, the comfrey will behave much like tea leaves, infusing the soil with soluble nutrients.
I simply chopped some comfrey from my garden.
My Slow Release Fertiliser Recipe.
Mix the ingredients in the following order, stirring with each
- 3 litres of paper pellets or shredded paper
- 1-2 cups of shredded comfrey leaves
- 2 big handfuls gypsum
- 1 litre charcoal
- 4 big handfuls of rock minerals
- 2kg of zeolite
- 4.5kg bentonite
- 2 litres undiluted worm wee
I wish I had a cement mixer to blend this in! We found rolling the bucket along the ground a good way to mix all the ingredients, (until my old bucket fell apart in our hands) as was the spiral compost airer.
We are blending the lightest ingredients first, graduating to the heaviest. This makes stirring and blending your mix much easier.
When adding the worm wee, add in 500ml increments, stirring thoroughly each interval to prevent the mix clumping.
This mix will keep covered in a bucket for a long time! But for maximum freshness, blend your mix right before using.
Applying Your Slow Release Fertiliser
When I am prepping my beds, I will dig 2-3kg of this mix into every 1 metre squared of soil.
This recipe makes enough to cover 4-5 square metres of veggie patch. I will dig it into the topsoil, 20-30cm deep. As I mentioned earlier, I will also be digging in my own compost to boost the organic matter in the soil
Then, my soil will be ready to plant!
Do you make your own mixes? I would love to hear from you, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below.