The difference it makes and why we do it
As our garden team prepares for the winter months, a big focus is on our soil health and ensuring we can bring a strong winter crop to harvest.
We talked to our head gardener, Lydia Blocksidge, and biodynamic extraordinaire, Kesh Mudaly, about why soil health is so important and simple tricks we can do at home to improve our garden’s health.
Soil health & why it matters
First, we’ll start with what soil health even is. Have you ever stuck your hand into your garden bed and pulled up a handful of dry, dehydrated-looking dirt with no diversity in colour or texture and not even a worm in sight? It’s likely that your soil is unhealthy. Just like our own bodies, the health of our soil is crucial to the overall health of the garden. It’s impacted by everything that’s put into it and what’s left out of it.
``I like to think of the soil like the stomach of the garden. What we put into the soil is processed (digested) and then directly reflected in the vegetables that grow from it.” - Lydia
Quite simply, the healthier our soil is, the stronger and better quality everything we grow in it will be.
Biodynamics & biodiversity
Because we are a certified biodynamic farm & vineyard, biodynamic preps are at the heart of our farming, and they are a crucial way we build and maintain soil health. A key principle in biodynamics is biodiversity – co-mingling different plants, vegetables, nutrients, etc. that are mutually beneficial to each other. If you think back to our bodies, if we ate only broccoli for the rest of our lives, that wouldn’t be healthy at all, because we’d lack all the nutrients and proteins that we get from other food groups. To be healthy, we need a balanced diet. And our soil is no different.
We’re lucky to have Kesh on board who makes these preps for us throughout the season depending on what the soil needs at that time. These preps, nine in total, include all sorts of things like compost (from our animal manure & food waste) to ingredients that stimulate soil health like Nettle, or Oak Bark which helps fight off disease.
If you’re scratching your head wondering where you’d even begin to find something like Oak Bark, I’ll stop you there. Because we’re a working farm, we’ve got the equipment, tools, and time to invest in making these biodynamic preps, but this isn’t the only option when it comes to improving soil health. In fact, our team regularly uses the preps in tandem with some of the tricks they’ve provided below, like cover cropping!
The most important thing to remember is that if you’re doing a few simple tricks to add biodiversity and improve soil health (adding nutrients and microbes) the plants will do the rest of the work and you won’t need things like synthetic fertilisers to jump-start your garden!
Simple tricks you can do at home
It’s as literal as it sounds! This trick creates compost on the top layer of your garden. When you go to prune back plants, simply chop the leaves or stems off and let them fall straight into the garden bed. That’s it! The plant you just cut will eventually begin to decompose and the nutrients will work their way down into the soil.
Worm castings & worm wee
Worms provide incredible benefits for our gardens! Having a worm farm at home not only is a place for all your food waste, but it then turns that food waste into castings (what is left once the worms eat through all the waste) and worm wee (the liquid extracted from the compost castings) – both of which have tons of minerals and microbes for your soil. Just mix and pour both directly into your gardens and viola!
If you have another compost system going at home, mixing the compost directly into the lower layers of your garden creates a great, nutrient-rich base for your plants to grow. Just make sure to mix it in well with fresh soil and not lay a bunch of food scraps on top of the garden – as you’ll likely attract more smells and unwanted creatures than you’d like to have.
Another simple trick to increase that diversity when planting your seedlings is to mix them up in the garden bed. Rather than planting identical rows of potatoes and beans, alternate or even mix up 3-4 plants at once so that they’re all getting benefits from their next-door neighbour.
Remember when we said biodiversity was important for your soil’s diet? Cover cropping, or green manure, is one of the most effective ways to add biodiversity and increase soil health. You can buy a cover crop mixture for a specific season and plant it directly in your garden bed. Once these crops start to grow, you use the chop-and-drop method letting the green manure lay on the soil and slowly decompose adding nutrients. Some of our favourite foods are cover crops – radish, daikon, broad beans, barley… the list goes on! They feed us, and the soil.
If you do want to add compost to your garden and you’re not making it yourself, always make sure that it is microbial-rich compost. Many store-bought composts, while they might read like they’re full of all the good stuff, they’re dead due to the lack of oxygen, and therefore won’t give your garden what it needs!