Ways to Feed Your Soil

Soil is the bedrock of any permaculture garden. The quality of your soil will affect the plants you can grow, how well they thrive and the harvest you can yield. The soil is also key in the health or otherwise of natural wilderness. Too often in the modern world, the intricacies and important role soil plays in the health of the planet and the productivity of an environment is overlooked. Modern agricultural practices and removal of vegetation and trees has caused many areas to suffer a complete degradation in the quality of their soil, meaning that either very little grows there, or any crop requires a lot of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. These in turn further deplete the soil of its natural goodness until eventually it becomes barren.

Permaculture seeks to preserve the unique characteristics of soils in different ecosystems. It also tries to repair damaged soil and protect it from further degradation. The primary means of doing this is to increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. Organic matter puts essential nutrients back in the soil, which in turn promotes healthy plant growth and an increase in the bacteria and microorganisms that help to transform those nutrients into forms that are available to plants. On a permaculture site there are several ways that you can ‘feed’ your soil more organic matter.

Compost
Compost is an excellent way of utilizing so-called waste material for a useful purpose in your permaculture garden. By composting food scraps from your kitchen, prunings from your trees and scrubs, grass cuttings, dead animals and, basically, anything that was once alive, you can create a rich, fertile compost. There are many different recipes for compost but as a general ule you want about two-thirds brown matter – the prunings, animal droppings and so on – and one-third green-matter, such as food scraps, leaf litter and grass. Water your compost well and make sure it is aerated, and soon bacteria and microorganisms will colonise your compost pile and turn it into useable material for adding to your soil. Compost is often a valuable addition to plantings in zone 1 of your site.

Animal Manure
Animals have an important relationship to the health of the soil. This stems from the tiny microorganism, beetles and bugs that break up the soil to give space for plant roots to grow, water to percolate and air to circulate to the larger livestock animals who can provide manure. Animal manure is key to getting nitrogen back into the soil. Omnivorous animals for which meat can form a part of their diet, such as pig and chicken, have more nitrogen in their droppings than grazers like cows and horses, but all will benefit the soil if placed around plants. Just be aware that sometimes, animal manure may contain undigested seeds, which may come from plants that you don’t want to encourage on your permaculture site.

Organic Mulch
Organic mulches such as straw, grass clippings, newspaper and woollen clothing break down more slowly than other forms of organic matter provision, but they offer other benefits that make them incredibly useful. So, as they slowly break down, releasing nutrients back into the soil, they provide insulation from extremes of temperature, cooling the soil in the summer and keeping it warm in the winter. They also ensure that moisture is retained in the soil and that it is protected from erosion by rain and wind. And, of course, one of the main functions of mulching is to act as a weed barrier or to cover existing weeds and break them down into organic matter.

Legumes
Legumes are essential for a healthy soil. They are the family of plants that have the best nitrogen-fixing ability. Certain bacteria that live in their roots convert nitrogen into a soluble form of the element that plant roots can take up and use to grow. Species such as peas, beans and acacias are legumes and by providing available nitrogen they help stimulate plant growth and bacterial activity that, in turn, helps develop the organic matter in the topsoil.

Cover Crops
Permaculturists know that cover crops serve a lot of functions. They help to minimize water evaporation from the soil, they provide shade and, importantly, they add organic matter. This is because cover crops, such as potatoes and pumpkin, have deep roots that open up the soil, allowing water and nutrients to penetrate into it and stimulating microorganism activity. These roots also help maintain the integrity of the soil, and the leaves of cover crops rot in place and return their nutrients to the topsoil.

Green Manure
farm manureGreen manure crops are similar to cover crops, but rather than remaining in the soil and naturally decaying in winter and revitalizing in spring, they are deliberately cut and then left on the surface or forked into the soil to add organic matter. Species such as rye grass, barley and lucerne are commonly used as green manure crops, and are slashed back several times when growing as they regrow very quickly. Just make sure you slash before the crop flowers and seeds to retain control over the crop.

Biofertilizers
Biofertilizers have been used among ancient faming cultures for centuries, but it is only recently that they have become better known among modern gardeners. Biofertilizers offer an alternative to artificial fertilizers that are potentially damaging to the soil, crops and the environment (polluting rivers and so on). They are microorganisms that are cultivated on natural material in laboratories and then added to the soil in large numbers. They help increase the biodiversity of microorganisms in a soil, they reduce pests, and, of course, increase fertility. They can also be used to heal soil that has been depleted by chemical fertilizers or exhausted by monoculture practises.

However you choose to do it, adding more organic matter to your soil is almost always a good thing. The animals in the soil will become more productive, your plants will flourish and the productivity of your site will increase. What’s not to like?

111 comments

if the gmo soy seeds sprout in my washer,does that mean i stold the right ones?

Thom

Healthy plants and good harvests are manifestations of a healthy soil. It ALL starts there.

Karen Martinez

Some composting toilet was very high priced. almost $1,000. Is there any better priced of this thing?

We got the new low flush ones and they really do save lots of water.

Put sinks on backs of toilets that fill the tank as you wash your hands.

Is BS. Unsustainability of water ? If you live in the southwest US. Don’t put this on the rest of the country. Here in the Northwest, we have plenty of water. Too much sometimes. Even in The Peoples Republic of California, if they used some common sense they would be OK. Spend some of the money on desalination instead of more beaurocracy.

Let’s dry it, burn it, make steam, make electricity.

partly agree with Carol Davison; grey water such as the waste from washing machines, dishwasher and sink drains are the way to go.

We have a low flush toilet and every drop of water used for flushing goes right into our septic system, and eventually nourishes our precious trees. And, please don’t tell the health dept. about the times that my husband bypasses the toilet in favor of the outdoor relief plan. lol

The 100 gpcd usage rate is high. It includes commercial activity. In small residential towns without much commercial activity use rates are more like 70 gpcd.

In the midwest US water is already recycled. Sioux Falls gets water from the river and puts it back. Sioux City gets water from the river and puts it back. The same for Omaha, KC, St Louis and numerous smaller cities all the way to New Orleans.

I would be very very careful about putting fecal waste derived compost on food crops. I doubt that a home sized composter would get to the temperatures required for disinfection, or sit long enough without additional material being added for the pathogens to die off.

eerrr aahh uumm

It’s not like the flushing water in the average home toilet disappears after it is flushed, never to be seen again like if it were some kind of “fuel”. Most municipalities have waste treatment facilities and your drain water is cleaned and returned to the environment to be used again and again.

Saving water is great. One of the ABSOLUTE BEST WAYS is to STOP CONSUMING ANIMAL PROTEIN. All the effort to conserve water should not be wasted sustaining an industry that is the single biggest waster of water.

It’s not really an issue in rural areas with heavy rainfall but for cities, it is. They have these Swedish units which are non water and seem to work.

Where I live I think we are pretty neutral on water use.

just flush and forget!

There is no new water made and none consumed. It is self sustaining and self cleaning………eventually.

Water is a renewable resource.

NAWAPA would solve any potential water shortage with gazillions of gallons to spare.

Septic – only flush 1x per day unless #2, then flushed immediately. Bokashi composting takes care of animal protein, no worry.

Fellow permi person uses this in her garden and I’ve never seen more lush, lively and healthy plants in my life.

Mom taught us “if it’s brown .. Flush it down..if it’s yellow let it mellow…”

one of my favorite books—“Who pooped in the park” A childrens book worth the fun and learning!

Check out Earthship Biotecture or earthship.com. The normal amount of water used in the USA, per person, per household, per day is about 90 gallons. The normal amount of water used in an Earthship per person, per day is about 20 gallons in the USA.

I am considering plumbing my rain barrel to my toilet.

Water is infinite. Water is neither created nor destroyed via the water cycle you learned in grade school. However, clean water located where the people who wish to use it are is another matter, and the US has very population-dense areas that are very unsustainable, water-wise.

We actually have plenty of water at our place, but will be building our house with a composting toilet nonetheless. Why? Wastewater can then be handled via a simple gray water system. Also, modern toilet designs that use less water per flush do a generally poor job of flushing. You either end up needing to flush multiple times and/or use the plunger every time you defecate, or you have a toilet that can handle that, but the water does a poor job of cleaning the bowl, necessitating more frequent cleanings. Either is annoying, so we will just skip the flush toilet altogether.
We will, however, do something that composts better than a simple 5-gallon bucket look, though. In practice, for our family of 5, the bucket requires emptying every other day, and, even with liberal addition of shavings, it does get smelly by the time it’s full.

(We are building a homestead and straw bale house on 40 acres of a Montana mountainside)

Don’t consume feedlot animals. Then there is no water wastage

Also you really don’t have to flush all the time!!!

Antonia Wallace

How bout corn cobs. Dad said you butt gets tough over time. That’s all they had on farm.

Composting toilets or recycled grey water toilets should be mandatory in states that get their water from aquifers in other states…just an opinion. The rest of the world should also use them… It just makes sense

I used a compost toilet for about a year and it was beyond disgusting. Cockroaches lived in it and ran all over the house, oh my goodness, there are far better ways to save water.

What a friggin joke! Excuse me…but how many gallons of water does 1 Friggin Fracking well use in a day??? About 165,000,000??? Give me a break and let them point their dirty fingers in the real direction: Fracking wells!!!

I think you might be interested in this:

“unsustainability of water in the long term” is a ridiculous phrase.

Depends on where you live……Here in Minnesota, we have no water issues.

Composting toilets=outhouses

Yes. We have composting toilet for nine months now. Much better now that me and my fam are not pooping in the water.

Gordon , you can add to this!! Su too…

Coffee grounds…

You take the worlds organic garbage, compost it with care, and there you have the soil to feed the world. Simple!

We tear up boxes, newspaper, kitchen waste, egg shells, coffee grounds, sticks, leaves, branches, wood ash from rocket mass heater, chicken manure then add red wiggler worms & let them do the work to make new soil!

If you’re going to “Hot Compost”, you don’t need the worms. It cooks them. Hot composting ( 170 f for 72hrs) kills pathogens and weed seeds. It requires additional green or nitrogen.

Got a worm bin just mix the castings in with the regular soil.

Interesting how we say that “feasibility of water usage” in a planet that is 7/10 water. And water will eventually become vapor, float up and become clouds and rain down again as clean water. I will zone out anytime I hear someone say that the world is running out of water.

Looks like an area ripe for more enlightened awareness!

The premise has as much validity as when we were taught in school that we were running out of land to place landfills. Propaganda.

I make and add high microbe compost tea and use it weekly.

Got manure?!

Horse manure – next only to bird/bat droppings.

Organic matter, don’t add it to the kitchen garbage, add it to the kitchen garden. Compost is key. Yard waste is second, bag the grass clipping to keep down the thatch and compost them for the garden.

all that above and miracle grow… miracle grow… every other week…

Seaweed !! 🙂

carbon (like dead charred wood, bio char etc) and lots of healthy happy micro organisms! 😀

Trying out mulched leaves covering the garden over winter. Also tried cover crops in the fall. We’ll see what happens this spring!

My wife and I are planning on building a green house this summer a Huge one so we can be less dependent on buying Organic vegetable because of their outrages cost ! We both love gardening and have 13 Flower beds , flowers are beautiful but beauty does not feed you ? My concern if you are even aware of it is Geo – Engineering Toxic Chemical that fall from our skies like Aluminum Nano Particles , Barium , Chromium , Desiccated Mold Spores , Yellow Fungal Mycotoxins , Thorium , Polymer Fibers , Strontium , Arsenic , Mercury , Viruse’s of Unknown Nature and of course the Fukushima Radioactive fallout that falls with our Rains … !!! How does one grow Organic safe foods with all this bombarding our Gardens and our lungs … !!! Anyone … ??? No unintelligent response please … ???

Learn how to compost?

Composting is essential, but keeping the soil covered and adding rich quality manure (we have chickens) will truly enrich the soil.

The idea of water supply being an issue is not based on some notion that the planet is going to shrivel up into a desert state. It’s based on the feasibility of providing water that has been processed through water treatment facilities – in great enough quantity to meet the needs of growing populations. It’s not as if the water goes down your gutter and out your pipes. There is an extensive process to make tap water safe for drinking (I use the word safe loosely – see also: fluoridation).

Truly, we need to put more effort into the utilization of gray water. We shouldn’t be flushing toilets with water that has been deemed drinkable by an extensive treatment process. That’s just silly. If we used biodegradable detergents, then the gray water that results when we, say, wash our dishes could then go into a holding tank and then be used again to flush the toilet. Right there we’d double our investment. Likewise, rainwater could be diverted to such holding tanks too, for flushing purposes. Flushing poop with drinking water is just foolish.

coffie grounds

Earthworms and food waste!

Joanie Olin Robert J Shore

Old straw bales and horse manure… put on the garden in the fall and ready for planting in the spring.

Check out the Gardens of Avena Botanicals in Rockport, ME. It is the first farm in Maine to be certified as a permaculture site. The gardens are open to the public on weekdays. It is also the largest producer of medicinal herb products in Maine.

This has been of concern for me too; ‘some say’ that all the rain & snow that’s blessed us these past few weeks have been sent to “Clean and Clear” all that away. I’d love to believe this to be true! Along with all the other marvelous suggestions, I’d like to add that ‘BLESSING’ the ground, earth, and seeds being planted, with the INTENTION of Goodness and Wholeness/Wellness; truly does add significantly to your purpose. Daily doses of LOVE also recommended.

humanure the greatest most abundant resource available

We have pet bunnies and guinea pigs that take care of a lot of our kitchen scraps. When we clean out their pen, the waste goes into the garden beds. The spoilt timothy hay will often sprout and create a fresh snack we can pick for them! On nice summer days, they “mow and fertilize” the lawn in a covered pen that we move around the yard. We grow organic, heirloom veggies and herbs in the beds they fertilized all winter long: then they get to enjoy some of the treats that they helped grow! Everyone wins! 😉

get a compost pile going and mix it in with the soil

oh free wheeling has a few tips up his sleeve.

also, dehydrate and grind your banana skins to add potasium.

If we compost do we put GMOs into the soil. I would like to think there are no GMOs in my food. I am sure there are.

That’s right brother but we must be careful about not allowing any GMO in the mix..

Try to be diligent about not buying GMO products as these are dangerous to have in your food supplies..

Bought a soil pH kit to determine what will be needed this year in the soil…. way back, Dad and I went to a maple hardwood forest and filled up three or four big sacks with the forest floor soil..what a beautiful garden dad had that year.. also used old composted sheep manure…he could tell what was needed by tasting the garden dirt!

Compost everything, grass leaves, all kitchen scraps, clean put your neighbors rabbit hutch or chicken coop.

llamatwo.com buy some llama beans from ME.

cow chips moistened.lmao

Best fertilizer is green fertilizer. Plant buckwheat, amaranth, etc. mow, spread, repeat.

Coffee grinds and eggshells!

Scott Rossini

Can’t get it to open

Would like to see us get good at making the kilns and perhaps selling them or a mobile unit service??

all of the above. I moved into sandy soil of Northern FL and am trying to reclaim, amend and build up the soil with leaf mulch, bone meal and organic fertilizer when I plant something new. I’ve mulched with pine grounds & needles but I already have Live Oak leaves falling pretty much all year. Acid loving plants are happy. But mostly, my grandchildren fructify the soil with their rich imaginations & lovely relations with the garden fairies….

Soil building is a continuous endeavor. For every pound of vegetables grown a pound of organic matter should be added, compost, leaf mulch, green manure.

If you have room start a compost pile. we had a garden in Albuquerque in the sandy back yard. we composted almost everything organic. our neighbor was a midwife. she added a placenta from a delivery she had done, with the permission of the mother. our garden came back great that summer.. Just to show that anything organic decomposes and can be tilled into the garden improving the soil twofold

This applies on so many levels. Is your soil fed?

Fish emulsion!!

“dead animals and, basically, anything that was once alive,” Yes, Glad to see that in print here. So many people have said to me that they don’t add any meat related scraps, but I add everything that is organic including the butchering scrap from deer. I leave the bones in the stage three bin for a couple extra years before disposing of them in the woods, and also add a small amount ash from my wood stove in place of lime.

I use a three stage system. The worms do their work in bin 2.

Rabbits, the best poop for gardens! many people keep rabbits just for their poop!

Isn’t that called an outhouse? Out with the old tried and true. In with the wasteful new. Full circle back to the old tried and true.

This article does not address the medications we take and THAT residue in our waste.

Would love to see gmos gone, something like seven to ten years the soil stays bad. A farmer in Oregon wanted to grow vegetables for Gerber baby food and couldn’t because he had grown gm. They won’t accept it in Europe as yet for baby food. We do though, speaks volumes. By the way, this farmer stopped planting gm.

Jasmyn Campbell

Unfortunately, up here in the mountains, we’d have more bears in our gardens than produce! LOL!

I get raccoons, opossums, crows, and feral cats… no bears yet. 🙂 The bones never get as far as the garden. I don’t leave them in the compost after it is ready to use.

wood chips is number one, just takes a little while to break down into the rich soil that earthworms etc. love. Just don’t use pressure-treated-wood chips.

goat manure

100 rabbits yield 10 cubic yards of fertilizer/year.

I tend to utilize a layering system to enrich my soil. When I first make a new plot, usually a 4×4 raised bed, I dig a hole and throw in a ton of twigs and leaves at the bottom. Then I add lots of food scraps (including coffee grounds and eggshells). I’ll add some grass clippings if available, and then throw on some bags of Evergreen compost+manure from Lowe’s, and sometimes some mushroom compost. Every few months, I just add a bit of compost+manure. When I re-pot container plants, I dump the old soil from the containers onto the permaculture beds. When it is time to plant, I add a thin top layer of Jungle Growth or some organic potting mix to the beds for sowing seeds. The first 4×4 permaculture plot I built didn’t start out as a raised bed, but I’ve added so much compost to it that it is now almost a foot off the ground. Then I water everything in with a mixture of rainwater and urine with a small amount of black-strap molasses mixed in.

Aidan Craig

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