Soil Amendments

Soil Amendments

The garden we have put in this Spring at Kotare Village is the 5th huge garden I have planted since leaving Kaiwaka 4 1/2 years ago.

I have continued growing much of our own food and over half the seeds sold by the Institute during that time, and I have had a range of soil types and situations to deal with! I have been totally committed to absolutely doing my best to produce high brix food/seeds.

I have never had compost to greet me when I arrived other than the rule I made myself, that each time I shifted I took a heap with me to the next place and I did that for every shift. I have had to find fast short term solutions to providing the right minerals in the right relationships.

I have been working with Grant from Environmental Fertilisers and using his products since before leaving Kaiwaka, and I now feel as though I pretty much have it sorted. Environmental Fertilisers have an amazing dedication to doing the absolute best they can for our soil, our health and carbon sequestration on as large a scale as they can. They are a small family business who base their recipes not only on the science of Dr Carey Reams and others, but also on Grant’s 20 plus years working with New Zealand soils, and many other inspired people.

I have learned some hard lessons and I’d like to share those so that you don’t have to learn them the same way I did…


• Firstly, there seems to be some kind of threshold with the minerals that you have to reach for things to work at all. I.e. if we take the attitude that this is expensive fertiliser and only put on half as much as recommended, you will possibly get no result at all making it even more expensive. The application rates that I have found to work, in all cases, is about the same, and this is what we put on the bags we sell. I have found however that in occasional situations it requires more applications and higher quantities to kick things off.

• Secondly, all the various bits are critical – it’s not just the EF Nature’s Garden, but also the EF Fish Plus applied in a watering can to the soil and roots at planting time that actually kicks things off. This form of liquid fish is complexed to a carbon source, so does not burn up soil carbon or wash away fast like other forms of liquid fish. All of the soils I have worked in produced better results when I added as a one off an extra dose of calcium also complexed to a carbon source: EF Active Calcium.

• If your crop is a gross feeder, i.e. tomatoes, pumpkins (all curcurbits), corn, brassicas etc., then it will also make a big difference if you add another 100g per square metre monthly for 3 months after planting.

• With all crops I found the EF Growth Foliar spray will bring the brix’s up further which means you have higher brix material for your next compost heap as well as knowing that you are getting higher and higher quality food. Bob and I have just planted our own vegetable garden – 200 square metres of double dug beds – and we have used all of the above as well as biochar and paramagnetic rock dust. Both of these things are once only applications, although we will continue to make biochar and add this to our compost heaps. All this adds up to a lot of additives to the garden. It also basically takes us to a place where we can go from veges not doing well at all with a brix of 3 or 4 to a brix of well over 12 in 6 months. I had oats up to a brix of 23 over Winter with this regime. I’m also adding Compost Minerals and Microbes to my compost heap during these 6 months so that at the end of 1 year I will have a garden that is growing high brix veges and I will have compost that will do possibly all of the feeding from then on. I believe that is very good value when we consider that this is our future health insurance, and it is a once off that adds so much value to our lives in so many ways.

My strategies from now on will be:

• to grow oats and lupins as Winter carbon crops (the oats seem to have incredible ability to extract both calcium and phosphate from the soil that is unavailable to the vege roots),

• add all my burnt animal bones to the compost heap

• as well as home made biochar,

• and as much seaweed as I can collect.

• I am also growing a patch of alfalfa and comfrey specifically for recycling minerals from the bottom of our housesite back through the heap.

• I will also continue with the practice of adding agnihotra to the compost.

• I’m sure I’ll continue learning…

I’m pretty excited about the potential benefits of biochar in the ground. Albert Bates’ book The Biochar Solution is a great resource if you’re keen to learn more. In my conversations with Albert at IPC10 in Jordan he confirmed my feeling that the incredible story of the Terra Preta soils of the Amazon were built up by ordinary people like us who were gardeners, foragers, meat eaters, and farmers who were simply composting all of their waste – animal bones, burnt animal and fish bones, ash, all vegetative waste etc.Everything in their lives they did not use or eat was composted or thrown into piles around their gardens and fields. The thing that made these soils so extra special was that they clicked onto the fact that black soils were building up faster in areas where there was more charcoal going into the mix. The thing that created these very deep black soils was the mix of humus and biochar. The biochar is not biologically active but is very, very stable, and when working together with humus or biologically active carbon, they have a synchronicity of their own and build soil relatively fast. They actually learned how to make charcoal and ensure they added it to the mix in greater quantities than they had been previously.

We can do that now by cooking on stoves that make charcoal as they cook our food or heat our spaces, or we can upskill ourselves and make our own charcoal in the back yard, using tree prunings etc. I feel as though I have it sussed using bought products, however this is obviously a short term solution, and now that we’ve been here for one year we have a lot of other systems being set up. I plan to be off these bought inputs very soon, and I’ll share in detail with you in the next catalogue all the systems we have put in place to create  far more sustainable systems that are easy for all.

Kay Baxter