A pile of plant material sits waiting to be composted and broken down by heat and biological activity. This pile is primarily palms that have been removed from a local land site and chipped. If you can get a relationship going with a local arborist or tree removal business then it helps a lot as they often have excess material to dispose of. You need to trust that they will only be disposing of plant material that is free from herbicides and other contaminants and the material is coming from a site that is less likely to have these.

One of the most difficult aspects to fully grasp of ‘organic’ gardening is soil building. It involves many theoretical and practical concepts about environmental patterns, structure and life. The underlying idea is to get a chemically, biologically and texturally balanced growing medium but also to get there by using the least intrusive and sustainable methods. These more ‘natural’ processes are usually slow and tend to be very site specific taking advantage of the local climate, geology and geography.

So this makes for a lot of replenishment problems to solve when using organic soils in pots for ongoing sales and removal from the local area.

To grow lots of smaller plants in pots for quick culinary use the usual propagation methods with bulk germination and small cuttings etc rely on a medium that is substantially inert and non reactive. But you need a lot of it and it’s all eventually leaving your property.

And fertilising small pots to enable fast and ongoing growth means you are likely to need to add some sort of nutrients in solid and/or liquid form.

So it’s not so much about what I would see as ‘traditional’ organic farming and soil building but more of a ‘do least harm’ farming technique.

However I still persist with the soil building as though the soil was going to be used on site and try to make it as sustainable and healthy as possible. Even though possibly it’s more reliable using just inert perlite and sand etc with liquid fertilisers and this might seem like a faster way to go – it feels better to be able to use a more complex biologically active soil. This is obviously just a feel good thing for me as there are many more possible or likely pathogens in a complex soil.

I have found that given enough time even fairly dense hardwoods become viable soil if left to break down for some time and then get mixed with other materials for some structural improvement. Generally keeping the piles moist and then growing a small fast crop of legumes directly in and on the pile will often help with this to add nitrogen and help convert the structure and add active biological life and healthy microbe activity. A season of growing crops like broad beans, buckwheat or lucerne (alfalfa) does wonders.


Freshly chipped Hardwood and palm sits waiting to compost…

Directly in the ground one of the most useful items I have found over time is harvested Lucerne (Alfalfa). You can usually get the bales in two forms – feed quality which tends to be fresher and with longer stems and strands ( which catch in your cultivator) and garden grade lucerne which is usually older and more broken down with smaller strand sizes. The garden quality lucerne tends to be older and considered lesser quality  and can have a lot of extra weeds in it so you have to be careful selecting it.

If at all possible try and make sure the lucerne is from either an organic farm or one that has low inputs (eg less fertilisers and less likely to be using pesticides and herbicides). Sometimes this can be hard to do – so if you can – buy it directly from a farm source that you can trust. But generally as lucerne is used as a soil building crop or a feed crop the likelihood of contaminants is less than say random straw/hay.

The nutrient profile of Lucerne makes it an excellent slow release fertiliser for your soils. It opens up the structure with slow decaying plant matter, attracts and holds moisture well and adds a huge amount of microbe and fungal activity. I have yet to see soil that lucerne can’t improve by adding it into the structure or as a mulch – and it can even be used as a direct planting bed as a bale with a little extra trace elements added.

The certifying organisations in Australia tend to have fairly good information and guidelines about allowable resources and ‘organic’ options when building soils.

see for example:

It is not necessary to belong to these organisations but it helps as many sales outlets will not label or list your produce as organic unless you are certified with one of these bodies.