How to Grow A Living Soil

bed of spring salads at edible backyard

The health of all life above ground – you, me and our crops included, rests on the shoulders of trillions of tiny organisms – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes et all. Though you cannot see them, you see their handiwork in the health of your soil, your crops + ultimately – your good self.

These microscopic critters are in constant motion maintaining the balance that is at the core of all life and wellness. The best thing we can do for our garden is focus on creating an environment that’ll grow a diverse and vibrant community of soil life.

It’s super simple and it works.

Here’s How

Purple Sprouting Broccoli underplanted with redclover parsnips and red clover
Plant in guilds
  • Be as diverse as you can in as many ways as you can – use a broad mixture of organic matter, grow a range of crops, varieties and companions, use animals if you can and plant in guilds.
  • Promote life in new or unwell gardens with liquid, biological feeds. Use these as often as weekly or little as seasonally. Ease back when all is well and move on it when not – like a dance, not a rule. And if you are unsure, sit back and watch – which is I believe the best fertiliser of all.
  • Feed with natural, simple kai like compost, seaweed, green waste, leaves and rotted manure. Use things that soil knows and understands. Gather organic matter (OM) as a regular thing so you always have some to hand. Avoid artificial fertilisers, like the plague.
  • Plant trees and perennials in all your spare spaces. The root systems of perennials are hubs of soil life, a wellspring from which your annual garden springs.

Keeping the Balance

Below ground, there are trillions of moving parts, and yet leader-less they manage to move as one. They know that in order for the whole to function at optimum, every single. little. part. must function at optimum.

And so they share resources with whom ever needs it most, warning of + protecting each other from pest and disease, nourishing the weak and nurturing the young and dying gracefully as nourishment for the next generation.

Our role is to bear witness and as best we can, create the environment via all the ways we’ve talked about above. Watch how your garden responds to your gardening choices, and if you feel confused or unsure, stand back. Doing nothing is often far better than rushing in, guns blazing.

We are the support crew, not the main event. Oh the relief!
Breathe out, my friends.


  1. Garth Guptill says

    Kath can we use borage in the same manner as we do for Comfrey… as a liquid fertiliser…
    I also make my own liquid seaweed but I’m unsure of what strength I should put it on at,any ideas,cheers Garth Guptill

    • Oh yes to borage – go for a mix of mineral rich herbs – eg yarrow, comfrey, borage, parsley. As for seaweed, dilute to the colour of weak tea is best, ratios only work where production is standardised. Less is more in the case of liquid feed. The power is in the regular usage. Enjoy! Kath

  2. Christine Koeleman says

    Katch, have you ever used rue in your brew? I have this herb in my garden and the smell is just awful. It stays with you for a long time. I understand it is an insect repellent. You use neem in the soil. I have grapes in a glasshouse (they won’t grow outside with a huge amount of fungicides) and I have a HUGE problem with mealy bugs in my glasshouse. I have used everything, from soap, pyrethrin, oils, neem, alcohol, garlic, chili, but nothing works except picking them off by hand. I thought a rue treatment might help, or have a rue plant in the glasshouse. Maybe I should water the roots with neem. What are your thoughts? Many thanks for your blog, It is so good to see how you get the most out of your garden and how your share all your knowledge with us.

    • Hey Christine, I have good news for you – my advise is to eschew the sprays and focus on beneficial insect control. Epidemics of pests are best managed by calling in the predators – in this case mealy bug ladybird, steely blue ladybird and parasitic wasps – there are heaps which is good news. It takes courage to let the pest go in the beginning but is so very thrilling once it starts to work. Do you have plenty of fodder in the greenhouse for beneficials? Check in with the health of your soil – what are you feeding your plants? Over feeding, over or under watering and artificial fertiliser all contribute to sucking insects. This tag team of soil health and beneficial insect power is the ultimate and will in the future have you relaxing back into paradise with less and less insect issues as the years roll on. Keep handpicking but leaving most about will encourage the predators. Dont spray – no herbicide around the edges outside etc spray will put the beneficials right off. Basically follow along as per this article – Enjoy!

  3. Christine Koeleman says

    Hi Kath, thanks for your reply. I looked at it a week or 2 ago. To buy mealy bug lady bird cost me 15 dollar +GST for 10. I was thinking, they will fly out of my glass house in no time. I can open the door in the hope they come in? I did not see that one in my garden when I tried to look for them. I have heaps of flax also covered with mealy bug. The steely blue one I find in my garden on citrus. I can give it a go and move them actively in the glasshouse. The surrounding area have heaps of beneficial plants (vegetable plot). There are no beneficial plants in the glasshouse. It is a grape only. I can grow something underneath, that might be worth trying. It might be nasturtium and leave the door open? Do you have a suggestion what to grow underneath? Many thanks, you just gave me the nudge to try and give it a go.

    • beneficial insects will come of their own accord if you provide the right environment and ongoing food for them. Focus on this first and soil health. I cannot emphasise soil health enough here. Weekly biological sprays will boost plants at a cellular level making all the difference to pest levels – more so than insecticides – it doesn’t happen over night but eventually instead of drowning in them they abate. In the article I sent you theres is a link to beneficial plants also use the search bar on my website and put greenhouse in. Google up mealy bug predators also to learn specific food. This approach will bring you long term solution otherwise you’ll be ‘fighting’ them forever. There is a period in the beginning where its hard to keep going as you await the arrival of the benies but they will come when all conditions align. Putting them there wont cut it if theres no food available – they’ll leave. Love to hear how you get on.

  4. Christine Koeleman says

    Okay, thanks. Let’s open up the doors and see what comes in. I don’t fertilise the grape plant. There is a layer of mulch and a sprinkle of water on a timer. The plant is very healthy, and I have to prune lots out. The mealy bugs are brought in by ants I suspect. Let start by doing this and adding some other beneficial plants.