Featured Gardening on really poor soil

Discussion in 'Fruit & Vegetable Growing' started by ClissAT, Oct 1, 2015.

  1. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Having already discribed how poor the soil is at my place, I thought I should elaborate on how I am trying to fix it up.
    Along the way I'll write about the exciting successes & disheartening failures, all the tests, trials & comparisons. Like the one I'm currently doing using plain old super phosphate.

    Firstly how I get a bed started. There were already 2 old vegie garden areas when I came here over 8yrs ago but the soil had me stumped so those areas became overgrown weed places that I let the horses onto now & then to mow it all down.

    I use some things that are way out of the norm & the first might shock some people.
    I call it humipee. We humans discard so much nitrogen, phosphate, etc that it is a crying shame.
    Nitrogen capture is the easiest. The other nutrients are much harder to capture in a hygienic manner.
    I use a camping bucket loo in the bathroom & empty it twice weekly into a 44gal drum with tight fitting full width lid.
    I make a fertilizer for the paddocks out of it with humic acid & lucerne tea added, but some goes on the garden to kick start a new bed.

    Nitrogen has to be applied in combo with humic acid onto wet soil so I use half a 9lt bucket of humipee, 1 tblsp humic acid granules & top up with water. I apply at the rate of 1 bucket per m2.
    I cover the bed with black plastic & a week later I apply the dry fertilizer component, water in well, recover & weigh the plastic down with bricks to exclude light to kill the greenery & let it brew for 4-8wks until required.

    The soil is then so soft it hardly needs to be dug over but I do fork it to get rid of the grass & incorporate the compost which I apply as thickly as I can spare. I make compost by the m3. If I can keep the soil wet during the growth cycle, I generally don't have to refork before next crop. It stays spongy. If it dries out it will go hard & after rewetting will need forking again.

    This is my dry fertilizer mix:- in a large concreting barrow, 1/3 filled with Kaytek Super Organic pellets, 1/3 Searles 5in1, 2 big shovel fulls of fresh wood ash, 2 shovel fulls of blood & bone, 2 double handfulls of humic acid granules, 2 small handfuls of epsom salts, 1 small handful each of borax, sulphur, copper, crystalline potassium. I think that's all although sometimes other things find their way in depending on what the soil is lacking.

    That brew is well mixed with a shovel & 1-2 heaped shovel full is applied per square meter depending on how bad that bed is. I often also apply gypsum at the recommended rate if the soil is a bit 'crisp'. There's generally some fertilizer mix left over to thinly scatter around other parts of the flower garden or exotic trees. After the seedlings have been planted into the new bed I mulch with lucerne hay. I previously mulched with any old hay or dead grass or old horse hay or whatever but since I began using the pure lucerne hay, the soil has really responded by holding some moisture. Previously it did not hold anything & went hard under the mulch.

    I don't need to apply any lime generally unless in readiness for brassicas. The natural pH is around 6-7. I use the same fertilizer mix to top up the beds about halfway through the growth cycle of that crop & apply at rate of a heaped double handful per row meter, scuffled in & recovered with a thin scattering of lucerne hay.

    In the last month I have also been applying fresh live mushroom compost at the rate of a heaped shovel full per row meter. It is scuffled in & thinly covered with lucerne hay for mulch.

    I also apply Manutec Complete Trace Elements with a watering can when I see any sort of deficiency. I also make lucerne tea for the biology plus sheep & chicken manure tea to feed the biology.


    In total it's a helluvalot of fertilizer & it is clear that each bed runs out of fertility by the end of that crop.
    Hopefully after another year the soil should be a lot better.

    In the potato bed I am working towards that by alternating layers of fertilized soil & lucerne hay to build depth for the spuds to grow in. My hope is that bed will be amazingly fertile with super quality soil after the spuds are harvested. Clarification, I don't use my general fertilizer mix in the potato bed for the sol top-up. I keep the pH up & just add kaytek pellets.

    If I may I want to include the link to the local fertilizer manufacturer at Gympie, Kaytek, for those who may not have heard of or used this brand. It is very price competitive with other pelleted ferts & has been very beneficial for my poor soil. Its based on chicken manure & they do a certified organic version (Kaytek Super) which is the one I use. http://katekfertilizers.com.au/

    I'll take some photos of the vegie garden tomorrow to post here.
     
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  2. Mark

    Mark Founder Staff Member

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    That's a very in-depth post about how you prepare your soil @ClissAT this will be especially helpful to others who need to spruce up their soil if they're not blessed with good topsoil from the beginning.

    Once you add in a few images I'll feature it (the thread has to have at least one image before the system will allow me to feature) then we can promote it more on the site because it's a worthwhile read for anyone interested in gardening.

    I've never heard of Katek fertilizers (interesting how it's spelt with a "Z") but I also like using organic chicken manure based pellitised fertilisers in my garden especially when I run out of the natural stuff I get from my poultry because I find these products work well and as you say are also reasonably priced.

    And I've never heard of humipee either - I've learn't several new things tonight :)

    I remember watching that movie The World's Fastest Indian where Hopkins peed under his lemon tree every morning to fertilise it - not a bad idea!
     
  3. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Busy, busy, busy...never a dull moment here.
    Finally snapped a few photos yesterday morning in the glaring sun. Should've waited til arvo!
    This afternoon it was time to apply crystalline potassium to the beds then watered in. In a few days I will repeat with borax. Potassium & boron are the 2 important elements for strong roots & stems & getting the water to the top of the plant. My plants wilt in the middle of the day even though the soil is moist & the plants are often weak & gangly. Because I have to apply so much water, those 2 elements get washed out of the soil. Once there is a greater ratio of humus in the soil, that problem will resolve itself.


    corn & celeriac.jpg chook greens bed.jpg
    Behind this bed is the next bed covered in black plastic to kill the grass.
    I'll plant it in the next couple of weeks with seedlings I set about 10days ago.


    tomato frame.jpg mixed plantings.jpg
    Tomato frame made from large bamboo is to keep the king parrots at bay. They eat everything.
    I have a lot of flowers planted to bring in bees. We have had a bee drought here for 3yrsvsince the 3yr never ending wet season of 2011-2013.
    Finally this winter they began appearing again. I had been quite worried about lack of bees.

    broccoli sprouts.jpg red cabbage & potatoes.jpg
    I never pull a broccoli plant out. Apart from being preferred chook greens, the little broc flower sprouts are great for eating. Today I covered all those rampant potato bushes with more compost, hay, soil, 5in1 & blood & bone in layers. The wire hoops over the cabbages are to hold the frost blanket. All bed have the hoops although some are removed in the summer.

    part of orchard.jpg tomatoes.jpg
    Down the hill to the left of this lefthand photo are most of the citrus trees. I have planted pumpkin vines around them in the lucerne mulch. All the trees have a thick layer of lucerne hay around them in a square so I can easily mow up & down the rows. I plant all sorts of things under the trees like amaranth, chia, fat hen, pumpkins, cherry tomatoes, lucerne, mushrooms, mung beans, sweet potatoes. I mostly use Katek Super Organic to fertilize the fruit trees.
    The tomato varieties are front & far right: Black Krim; far left: some other super sized red tomato; center & top: Graf Zeplin. I have kept seeds from these fruit being the best of the butt crop.
    They are all semi-determinates so I will cross them because these varieties resisted a form of wilt that seems to be endemic here. I also have green zebra doing well. Other varieties failed. Cherry tomatoes do really well planted into the lucerne mulch to sprawl across the ground around the fruit trees. The fruit tree fertilizer makes them really sweet. I cover some against the birds but leave others uncovered so the parrots have some to eat.

    paprika.jpg beets.jpg
    I had many failures of germination when I got a large batch of organic seed from one particular provider so they sent me a heap of replacements or alternatives. The paprkia is what she sent me for capsicums! The beets are globe & cylindrica, a bit small but par for the course here. Yesterday I preserved them. I threw lucerne seed in everywhere to create a green mulch & brighten the soil. It is just getting going now with the warmer weather.
    compost bays.jpg
    I make this bay full & it sinks as it matures. I steal compost as needed well before it is ready! Today I took about 1/3 to put on the potatoes. The black bin in front holds the chook manure plus a bit of horse in water for anaerobic composting prior to adding to the main heap. Just out of shot is a big rubbish bin with lid for making the lucerne tea & another for manure tea using sheep, horse, cow, chook manures.
    This current batch of compost is made with horse manure, camphor laurel shavings, lucerne hay, chipped green prunings from the exotics garden, household scraps,woodash from the gumtree branches, along with various mineral, biological & other nutritive elements. It's quite hard to always get organic manures.
     
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  4. Mark

    Mark Founder Staff Member

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    Is this builders plastic and does it do a pretty good job?
    Do you have any problems with pollination or can the insects get through your mesh?
    Nice tip!
    Great looking larger variety tomatoes! How do you go with fruit fly?
    I've never been able to grow the Green Zebras very well unfortunately they seem to get hit with disease early...
    Beautiful paprika!
    Yeah, I have a similar setup.

    Your garden looks terrific Clissa and obviously a lot of hard work goes into it to keep this standard and to grow all those food crops. Good pics also!
     
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  5. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Mark it probably some form of builders plastic but it is 24yrs old left over from my hydroponics, is in tube format & UV stabilized. So there are 4layers there because it is folded. So long as I weight it down well with lots of bricks it mostly keeps the light out. There will always be grass around the edges. But it sure gets hot under there!

    The mesh is 20ml bird mesh so the bees & insects do get through easy enough. Also most tomatoes & broad beans (planted at the other end of that trellis) are self pollinators where the pollen falls down from the flowers higher up even with the slightest breeze or movement. So even if the insects didn't get through very much, once there are a couple of layers of flowers, pollination will occur.

    Those tomatoes were planted before winter into a deep trench to create huge root systems & are halfway through their cropping. Just last week I put up heaps of fly traps, some with Ceratrap liquid for male fruit flies & the other half with vegemite mixture. I have already trapped several male fruit flies in the Ceratraps hanging from the mango trees which really surprised me. Good to trap them but I never knew they stung the fruit so early. The mangoes are still just less than pea sized on the flower spikes. I have put traps under the tomato net but nothing in there yet. There is always some darn critter stinging the occasional fruit. As summer comes on the number of stung fruit gets bigger. Eventually it will all be horse or chook food. Tonight while watching the NRL grand final I did a heap of preserving, canning, bottling & lemon curd.
    Preserved tomatoes.jpg
    Here's some of what I did. I made up a litre of lime & lemon juice with dozen eggs, 300g butter & 4cups sugar makes the best lemon curd.

    I do as many bottles of tomatoes as I can from all the varieties I grow so I still have cooking fruit in the wet season. Last week I did beetroot. I also grow a few tomato plants up on my verandah which also have to be netted against the parrots! So I always have some fresh tomatoes through the wet season because the fruit fly don't seem to get up there under to roof.

    I lost several green zebras to the wilt that affected my seedlings this year. But the variety most affected was the Graf Zeplin which is why I am keen to set the seed from the 2 vines that did well. They are open pollinated varieties.

    Thanks for all your kind comments Mark. It certainly is hard work. I have never had to work harder to get a few veg for dinner! One of the things that still afflicts the soil is that the yield is well down. Plants look healthy but flower & never set fruit or take 6mths to mature rather than 6-10wks. But at least they are growing. Last 2 years I struggled to grow anything properly.
     
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  6. Mark

    Mark Founder Staff Member

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    Maybe it's pond liner then since it was an only hydroponics system - that's thicker than the builders plastic - really good stuff. Probably a better idea than my carpet and old rugs I use to cover my beds sometimes.
    Nice one - so was the game...

    How did you do the tomatoes - were they heat treated in the jars?

    The only beefsteak I grew this winter/spring was Rouge de Marmande and they were great but I have the last few ripening now as my plants are just about done. This is normally the time when my cherry tomatoes take over - which is what's happening with some good pickings over the past month and still more plants maturing.

    I'd like to try a tunnel next season, if I can find the time, built over my existing reo mesh tunnel framework and exclude all insects to ensure fruit fly can't get in and perhaps use a light shade cloth to extend my big tomato season into summer - it might work...
     
  7. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    I wash the tomatoes in vinegar water, pack firmly into sterilized jars (it doesn't matter if a few burst a bit), add 1/4tsp salt plus 1tbsp lemon juice, top up with very hot water & put lid on.
    Then put jars into the same water I used for the sterilizing for around 10mins depending on average jar size.


    When your tomato plants are pretty much finished, cut them right back to about 30-40cm from ground & give a big feed. With any luck they will shoot away again with fresh foliage. I have plants that are 3yrs old in pots on the verandah.
    Also you can bury the plant deeper into new soil/potting mix & it should send out more roots from along it's lower stem. If you have a particularly nice tomato plant you can take cuttings of semi hardwood with a leafy branch on it. Or layer the branch then cut it free once it has developed roots.

    Mark, have you ever visited an horticultural merchant where they sell products for the plant nursery industry? I sometimes go to Fernland which is now at Yandina on eastern side of the highway off the roundabout. You will be able to buy the white growhouse plastic by the roll in various widths. From my experience it is pretty much impossible to keep the critters out completely. Better to grow plants that will aid the beneficials & let them deal with the nasties. I found that moisture & heat buildup inside the growhouse in the tropics was almost unmanageable unless I was there all day to open & close screens. Even though the gauze used in the screens is quite small, it is still big enough to let many critters through anyway. It's about the same size as mozzie netting you can buy at Spotlight which is good enough & a lot cheaper than the real thing. So I found it became a bit of a waste of time & big expense for no real return. Actually in the end I had a major outbreak of fungus which prematurely killed most of the plants in the growhouse.

    Have you used the CeraTraps? Nutritech Solutions at Yandina now has a fruit fly bait that attracts male & female fruit flies. The CeraTrap is supposed to bring in the males from 400m around. But the drowning traps using anything like vegemite only work for 2-4m diameter.
     
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  8. Ash

    Ash Valued Member Premium Member

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    Wow Clissy! Your explanations are so detailed and informative. Thank you! Has CeraTraps made a significant difference to the sting rate of the fruits and vegetables compared to Vegemite solution, given its greater lure range?
     
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  9. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Ash re the mangoes I won't know until the fruit is near full sized. There are always some stung tomatoes but that is fairly natural I think.
    It is the first time I have actually seen males in the traps. Currently the vegemite traps have hardly any insects in at all.
    I went over to the neighbour's house (150m away) yesterday for another reason but noted they haven't cleaned up their fallen citrus fruit so that probably explains the fruit fly catch.

    Tongue twister:- 'fruit fly catch' say that 5times over fast!
     
  10. Becca

    Becca Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Wow! Amazing post! So much info! your garden looks amazing! :D
     
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  11. Mark

    Mark Founder Staff Member

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    I've been meaning to try it because I have heard lots of good things about its effectiveness to control fruit fly.

    I like your tomato preserve I have a ton of cherry tomatoes been eating them like crazy but wouldn't mind preserving them whole like you did instead of only making sauces (cherry toms do make a great sauce but) I'll see if I can remember to pickle a jar or two.
     
  12. Ash

    Ash Valued Member Premium Member

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    Would having traps with rotten fruit inside work better than Vegemite? What do those fruit flies see in Vegemite anyway?
     
  13. Mark

    Mark Founder Staff Member

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    If you check out this old thread on making a fruit fly trap you'll see I tried it with fruit (as per my father in-law's instructions) but it wasn't at all successful plus I don't use any hard pesticides at all in my garden - anymore - not even to put into a trap; however, I still do think it would work well with Cera which I still haven't gotten around to experimenting with placing it in the traps myself. So BUSY :D

    I'll try and give it a go soon!

    The yeast in the vegemite attracts the fly for some reason...

    Edit: forgot the link
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2015
  14. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Having an organic garden here also means no hard chemicals. CeraTrap is certified for use on Australian organic crops which is why I am using it this year.
    It is definitely working with more fruit flies in those traps where as the vegemite traps are mostly still empty or with just general insects in them.
    I'll take a photo of my PET bottle traps. Too easy to make with just a drill bit & string.
    Apparently having a yellow top aids attraction so I was thinking of painting them with my bright canary yellow paint.
    1kg honey tubs often have yellow lids which would make a good trap with a few holes drilled in the sides.
     
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  15. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Over the last several days I have been applying more Potassium & Boron. The brand of Potassium I buy in a 1kg pack can be dissolved in water & applied by watering can or applied directly in it's fine crystalline form then watered in.
    The later is my preferred method since I can't carry weight anymore. However the amount per square meter is very small so it can be a bit tedious in high wind like today.
    I'm not supposed to bend over either but with the wind blowing, the fines were going everywhere.
    The application rate was 9g /m2.

    Also today I began application of Boron in the form of general garden variety Borax from the supermarket.
    It also can be applied via watering can or directly but I prefer to dissolve the borax because it is a much bigger crystal & is applied at only 10g/25m2.
    So I did a few garden beds & my daughter did some more plus most of the fruit trees.
    I like to leave at least 4 days inbetween potassium & borax applications.

    It's also not that cheap! 2 kg potassium + 500g borax worked out to almost $30:eek:

    Since I have been forced to do that on 3 previous occasions already these veg & fruit work out really expensive. Not to mention all the other fertilizer & trace elements that I also put in.
    However in general, my costs have begun to reduce & quality of growth is definitely improving, so it is money well spent. Hopefully by the time the summer crops are planted, they should leap out of the ground & bear like crazy in under 6mths! Gee that would be something for here :p
     
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  16. Mark

    Mark Founder Staff Member

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    As we know though, GYO is not all just about saving money but yes initial setup costs to improve soil or make new garden beds etc can be a little pricey in the short term but then pay you back over the long.

    This wind around here isn't helping with anything in the garden at the moment - broken plant stems everywhere :eek:
     
  17. Ben Jamin

    Ben Jamin Active Member Premium Member

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    Wow - awesome thread. The King parrots are just smashing my beefsteaks at the moment. Much more damage from them than fruit fly. I also use cera traps with PET bottles (a couple of decent holes drilled in the sides and I screw a hook into the lid to hang it).

    I think I'll have to invest in some netting too. I have some long lengths of old water pipe which I might put over some star pickets to make a frame. The parrots are so pretty but I'd rather they munched on my pigeon peas.

    That's quite a big fertilising regime you have Clissy! I like the way you use the black plastic. I tend to clear manually (the hard way) but then I just mulch it heavily with chipped wood/branches. My newest bed I've done it completely with this method using no ammendments and although the ground stays moist it is not massively fertile yet. It's a long term experiment in laziness that will hopefully pay off. I just apply more mulch in Autumn after the heavy rains are gone. Things are growing better this year than last year and the ground is getting softer - just need to keep on top of the weeds in summer (which is easier with softer ground and my Dutch hoe). Loved reading your posts Cliss
     
  18. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Now why didn't I think of the hook in the lid solution?? I must be getting old:rolleyes:

    Weeds are the 'other' strange thing I use in my soil improvement process.

    I actively encourage all sorts of weeds & once they have flowered I begin picking off the tops & dropping those greens on the mulch around the vegie seedling to compost right there in the bed.
    I allow the weeds to grow fairly thick to provide a microclimate for the seedlings to grow better.
    Now as the rains are around I have either pulled or reduced the height of the weeds in general so the moisture doesn't build up too much.
    All that greenery is building up on the soil helping to keep it evenly moist & provide minerals as they compost.
    The weeds are bringing up from deeper down, the minerals that I know are there, just not available to my garden plants.
     
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  19. Ben Jamin

    Ben Jamin Active Member Premium Member

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    haha - it seems obvious but I doubt I came up with the idea myself. I used to make blow fly traps by cutting the top off a pet bottle and then inserting it into the neck of another PET bottle to make a funnel. A bit of meat or fish soon has the bottle full of flies but it tends to stink of death. I always used to put a hook in the cap and found it to work really well. Works great for fruit fly traps too and you can pretty much use any containter. The hook pierces the plastic and then screws easily in.

    I have lots of comfrey growing for that purpose, but I can only just keep the onion grass, cobblers pegs, billy goat weed and Singapore daisy from taking over my claimed soil. It's like a jungle here but i try to focus on my little areas and hope the jungle doesn't take over. It probably just means I have decent soil. I've noticed that comfrey is one of the few plants that out competes these weeds for light. The little purple flowers are loved by insects too. I might keep spreading the comfrey around and see what happens. I've learned not to hate weeds and value the carbon and nutrients they bring. I just wish they weren't so prolific. I grow pigeon pea everywhere, figuring I could harvest the peas to eat. It makes great mulch, fixes nitrogen and the flowers attract bees but I'm yet to eat the peas. I just keep planting them - last year I planted half a kilo of dried pigeon peas I harvested. Nasturtiums are another plant I grow, they are starting to become weedy but don't smother out the weeds that well. They grow well under fruit trees though and cover the ground in pretty edible flowers.
     
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  20. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    That's really interesting re your comfrey, Ben. I wish it grew like that here. I have 2 struggling plants.
    My nasturtiums are beginning to take off now that they have self seeded & those seeds have grown, they are now naturalized to this poorer soil. Same with Italian parsley & basil.
    Since my weeds are organic it saves me buying expensive hay but the lucerne itself is really good so where I do put it, it makes like tea when I water that area.

    I say don't knock the weeds unless you want the perfect flower garden. Weeds are not welcome there usually. However they can become a tiresome chore in the vegie garden once your soil is rich. The trouble is it could have been the weeds that made the soil rich so you have to continue to allow them otherwise the vegies will suck the goodness out of the soil very quickly.

    In essence that is the thinking behind rotational cropping & fallowing. If you do rotational gardening, every 6th crop you allow that bed to fallow & the weeds to proliferate or you plant a green manure crop, cut it down a couple times then dig or plow it in & start the rotation again. So you have 6 beds or 6 areas where each type of vegie is planted rotationally on 5 of the beds while the 6th rests or fallows.
    I'm still getting to that point. I have 6beds but since my plants grow & mature so slowly & even then may not set fruit, I have had to use all beds. But I think once the rainy season begins next year I will be able to fallow a bed because the garden will be watered mostly by the rain so I won't have the growth retardant factors from the dam water.

    Which brings up another point. After many tests, my current thinking is that it is the dam water causing at least half my problems in this soil. I plant to get it tested soon but the type of tests I need are quite expensive so saving for those. Another thing showing itself now since we've had some decent storms is that the paddock grass is much greener & thicker in the fungus rings. That indicates there is no living fungus in the soil. Without fungi, the bacterial biota can't do their job to make the nutrient the plants require.

    So I need to inoculate the soil, but what with is the burning question. I added untreated mushroom compost to several garden beds but results are not obvious yet. Perhaps eating variety of mushroom is not the right fungi for this soil.
     
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