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I have been reading a book called the “New Organic Grower” by Eliot Coleman.

http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_new_organic_grower:paperback

There are some recommendations for starting to grow food on bad soil and also for successive applications. I am unable to give you Eliot’s full instructions as it may infringe copyright so you will have to buy the book. The book refers to the use of “Green Sand” which is a sand containing many useful minerals including Potash. I am unable to find any references on the internet to “Green Sand” in Australia so I would recommend the use of volcanic rock dust as an alternative. If anyone in Australia does know about “Green Sand” or perhaps it has another name then please let me know.

Many people are using raised beds, lining them with plastic weed mats (Not something i do or would recommended) and then adding soil mixes from landscape supply companies. There are a few problems relating to this, some of which which may not become apparent for a couple of years. A Raised bed with a liner is basically a large pot and the garden mix most people are buying is compost (potting mix). This will work quite well for around 18 months (This goes for pots too). Potting mix and garden soil are quite different. Potting mix, as previously mentioned, is compost (rotted organic matter) and garden soil (Earth) contains organic matter and minerals which come from our rocks. As soil gets older the minerals deplete (unless maintained by nature or us). You cannot keep growing food in the same spot year in year out without feeding the plants/soil. Growing plants takes the goodness from the soil and needs to be replaced. Many conventional farmers do not feed the soil and feed the plant directly using chemical fertilisers. I choose to feed the soil which in turn, feeds the plant. I could spend several hours explaining how to feed soil and long term solutions for feeding the soil but we can do that another day or you can read a million books on the subject.

The following is a plan for getting soil working well enough to grow good quality food.

For the first year add manure/compost, Soft rock phosphate & Rock dust. After that use green manures and compost to maintain it as best as possible to reduce you inputs and costs. You can also do it differently by adding the Soft rock phosphate & Rock dust to a working compost heap so it is already broken down before it gets on the ground.

Happy Growing!!

I have been attempting to make my own potting mix for the last year with varying successes. Since I started to buy heirloom and organic seeds I have not purchased a single bag of seed raising mix so whether I should blame the seeds or the potting mix I do not know. I probably think that the potting mix is to blame. I have bought one thing and that is sand. I have tried mushroom compost (free from the mushroom farm) and garden soils mixed with sand but only have got about a 50% germination rate. Since then I have built a decent set of composting bays, which gives me 1-1/2 cubic metres of compost every 12 weeks. This should be plenty for my garden and my potting mix.

As the introduction to my potting mix test I will show you my working area. Excuse the mess. It has only just stopped raining and was raining heavily for several weeks.

This is my carport where all my composting takes place.

This will also be the seed raising area.

I will be adding some clear roofing over the next few weeks to allow sunlight through.

I firstly used this old plastic pot to sieve out the large bits in my home made compost.

I then used this small pot to sieve out all the other large bits of wood etc which will be chipped(in my chipper/shredder) and composted again.

The bucket is approximately 1/4 filled with finely sieved compost and now I am adding a large scoop of fish meal. I have read that this greatly improves germination. I have never tried this before so I am excited to see if it works. If it doesn’t, the worms will gobble it up. I use fish meal as part of my seedling planting mix and compost recipe both of which I will explain another day. Fish meal is available from Rural feed stores. I go to to http://www.farmservices.com.au in Windsor. Speak to Frank if you need to order something like this. It costs around $50 for 25kg and lasts me quite a long time.

Now I am adding a large scoop of P-Core sand from Turtle Nursery in Rouse Hill. A few people reckon that this is the best horticultural sand in the Sydney area. It can be bought in small bags or in bulk.

Now everything is mixed together and put into the seedling trays. I pre soaked some of the mix (2 punnets on the left) but found they were too wet. I then watered the rest of the mix before planting the silverbeet seeds so I would not need to water afterwards. I intend to replace the seed trays with cat litter trays so I can water from the bottom rather than from the top which may damage the seeds.

I will update this post after 14 days as the seeds should have germinated by then.

UPDATE  1st March 2010

I had a bit of a disaster with the fish meal. I was invaded by flies, maggots and flying ants within days and it stank rotten as well. I have amended the mix to 3 parts composts to one part sand and a very small handful of fish meal. This is working perfectly and have had 100% success with my latest seed raising.