Home-made soil nutrition

Mid-Spring and two months since we’ve had rain on the Adelaide Plains…

P1060043About now I’d normally be starting to see the late winter crops drying out and I’d be struggling to start seedlings in drying soil.

But just for once I’ve got the ‘covers’ on the garden in time; a deep layer of barley straw – about 60 bales – covers all the working beds, paths and the orchard floor. Soil moisture levels are under control, needing only 10 tonne of water per week (10 000 litres) to hold steady.

P1060042But with watering and the seed table under control I’m forced to face a more insidious problem that’s been creeping up on me for some years now; the nutrition levels in these soils is starting to fall. This is particularly true along the edges of the garden bed (mesh) fences where I grow beans and cucumbers year after year.

Fortunately we’ve been saving kitchen scraps – imported nutrition – for a decade now in three Gedye bins that have been in constant rotation. Each bin takes at least a year to fill even though we throw in a bucketful of scraps each day and occasionally add green cuttings from the garden and a shovel or two of soil. Where does it all go?


So I choose the oldest bin and pull the tapered top off (the bottom is open). Compost worms everywhere! These worms - Tiger worms, Indian Blues and Red Wrigglers - are different from earthworms; they live on the surface and enjoy moist, cool, dark, oxygen-rich places with lots of food scraps to eat. This lot seem particularly fond of the cook’s lecture notes that she dumped in there; they are living between the sheets of these thick wads of old A4 paper and loving it.


This job stinks.

But I wouldn’t know – at sometime in the past I lost my sense of smell, so I’m the perfect guy for this work.

P1060035The top layer of the heap is set aside, the worms are moved to the two remaining working Gedye bins by the shovelful, the nutrition-rich worm castings at the bottom of the bin are loaded into the wheelbarrow and sieving begins.

Old cake trays make great coarse sieves for such compost, removing old bones, sticks, avocado pips and other bits of hard rubbish.

New bean trenches are hoed along the fence lines and ‘Lazy Wife’ bean seeds are dropped onto the trench floor with compost then straw mulch added on top; these large bean seeds will push through this as they germinate.

P1060037I add a brand-new drip line to totally saturate the root zone so that the beans can get out into the moist surrounding soil for extra nutrition. The cook helps out by planting the cucumber seedlings, adding compost and back-mulching as well.

And that’s that.

Except that – a day later – there’s still a funny smell lingering around wherever I am. Even I can occasionally detect it.

Luckily the cook is away at a seminar in the Barossa Valley or I’d be sleeping down the back-shed tonight…


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