How to repair dry, tuckered out soil

oscillating sprinkler

Keeping soil moist through summer is not about litres and litres of water. It’s a team effort of grunty homemade compost, little and often watering, being weedfree, planting in guilds and at all times keeping the soil covered with mulch or a living mulch.

All these things come together so that even when it doesn’t rain for months, soil stays in good heart. Expect it to be a little tired and a little musty by Autumn for sure, but not completely knackered.

perfect beetroot sowing soil - friable and lush

Check soil moisture with this simple test. If its dry, the microbes will have migrated and you need to entice them back before you plant or sow. Begin by getting moisture levels back up. If you have enough water or there’s rain in the forecast, clear the bed and give the soil a good soak. If neither of these things is true for you choose the 3rd option in my list below.


trenching foodscraps

OM is as good for your soil as it is for your soul. OM is organic matter and it’s the answer to all your garden woes. Ideally added in a little and often way through the season via trenching of foodscraps, side dressings of rotten manure or seaweed for heavy feeders, and an often topped up, homemade mulch for all. This kind of equation holds the moisture like you wouldn’t believe! Make this your goal next summer.

3 ways to restore weary soil

Sow lupin seed generously


Saturate the soil with EM or milk and molasses or whatever liquid feed you have to hand.
Spread a fine layer of compost on top
Sow a life giving greencrop

Buckwheat, meadowsweet, yarrow homemade mulch
A nourishing herbal homegrown mulch of yarrow, buckwheat, dandelion and fennel


Saturate the soil with EM or milk and molasses or whatever liquid feed you have to hand.
Spread a fine layer of homemade compost on top
Trench food scraps/ fish waste/ seaweed up the centre of the bed if you are planting brassica.
If you’re sowing a root crop, skip the trenching and lightly mix the compost into the topsoil and sow direct.
Cover it all with a lovely deep, mixed mulch and leave for a few days to regroup before planting or sowing. For an added bonus, give each seedling a handful of vermicastings should you have them.



Saturate the soil with EM and whatever liquid feed you have to hand.
Build a compost pile or two on top
This is the styles to go for if you have dry soil and no available water to bring soil moisture levels back up.


  1. Ruth Harrison says

    Hi Kath – with making your own mulch – can you use prunings from shrubs and trees? Thanks

  2. Ruth Harrison says

    Hi Kath – what is EM?

  3. Thanks Kath. Nicely written and good options for those of us in a drought/tank water situation. So true abut not turning the compost pile and time savers (so good with a young family) for digging compost bucket straight in are great. I often have too much stalky stuff as I let a few things go for seed or just like the insects and the cover but then a lot to try to chop down ie: a giant celery gone to seed, kale and old brassica stalks/roots, perennials gone mad. Be great to have a mulcher! I mow over a lot but think Im slowly breaking the lawnmower.
    Such a great blog. Writing, photos, tips all so useful and inspiring. Thank you and happy gardening:)

    • With those big stalky bits Wendy, I make a big pile of them somewhere on the edge of the veggie patch. Come next spring the stalks have broken down and are now a more user friendly mulch. The other option with big stalks is to use them under the Avocado tree as mulch – subtropicals love living in that jungley deep mulch environment. Both super easy! Hope this saves your poor mower 🙂

  4. Heather Ryan says

    Hi Kath …Thank you for the great post …very informative as usual. …are the milk and molasses ratios one in ten for feeding the soil.

  5. Phil Quinn says

    Hi Kath, What flower plants/seeds do you use in your veg garden for winter? I only want to add 2/3 general use type ie for colour and insects..
    Regards Phil

    • Hi Phil, My fav annuals in the winter/ spring vegie patch – chamomile, calendula, borage, cornflower, cosmos, larkspur, anise hyssop, bishops flower, poppies, sweet peas.

  6. Do you have any thoughts about coffee chaff. I have been offered a weekly supply by a coffee roasting company for our school gardens. Rather than him paying to have it collected. So far it is sitting on our parched soil in gardens I have left fallow over the summer holidays. We have also put some in the compost.

    • Any organic matter is fabbo – its just finding a way to break it down and recycle it back through. Find out the carbon nitrogen ration of the chaff – I’ve never used it before and that’ll give the clue as to how to best use it. If its high carbon (which makes sense to me) use it as the dry brown part of compost and mix it with vegie scraps manure etc to best compost or if its high nitrogen go the other way. Or shuffle it through a worm farm – even easier! I’d for sure be using it. All OM is good, especially in a school garden 🙂

  7. Hi Kath – we rent and so have to restrict ourselves to some raised beds. I’ve been working on the soil for the last year but have noticed that this summer when I water, millions (literally) of tiny white wriggling little larvae wash up over the mulch (mostly lawn clippings) on the surface of the soil in all of the raised beds. It’s crazy! What could these be? And what have I done wrong to have this infestation?! I’ve been trying to rotate my crops and do semi-regular sprays of EM, neem, and seaweed (haven’t been too consistent with this admittedly). We’ve also trenched a bit of bokashi over the last year too.

    • Isn’t nature something Alana! First up what exactly are they – little threads (fungal)? or actual little worms (pot worm)? or millipede like critters? Properly identify them if you can – use a photo on google and refer to university type websites not garden bloggers of whom most are just copy and pasting!! It’s not so much that you’ve done anything wrong – whatever is happening in your soil is simply showing you that an aspect of the soil environment needs tweaking. While you identify the little white critters do a ph test – get a simple kit to check. This is your go to when imbalances strike. And do a few simple tests yourself – pick up a handful and smell it to be sure its not ammonia like or musty but good n earthy and squeeze it to see the moisture content (like we did at the workshop). Bring your soil back to balance with aeration, just the right amount of moisture and all operating from a good ph and things will come back to balance. Another layer of learning and clarity in your food growing tool kit! Let me know how you get on.

  8. Thanks Kath, I’ve got some investigating to do! They’re not threads but tiny little creatures. Will get out the magnifying glass and do a ph test too. Will let you know. Cheers Alana