3 Simple Ways to Revive Soil

In an ideal world, our soils don’t end up hungry and tired. We take care of them in a little and often way so they stay juicy + wormy in order to sustain the demands of production.

But – hey, it happens…. life happens! And when it does, here’s some simple solutions to get you back into easy production.

First, Test + Hydrate

sniff the soil
Smelling the soil tells you alot!

Start with your mini DIY soil test. Make this your default go to before planting, sowing or restoring, and let it be your new best habit when things go awry. Don’t ask google – test your soil!

During your soil check in, if you discover any dry soil, rehydrate it before continuing. Hydration is an essential building block and is your go to kick starter for soil restoration.

3 Soil Revivers

1. Sow a greencrop or a lightfeeder crop

shadecoth taken off the newly sprouted greencrop - ready to go it alone without protection
Shadecloth being lifted off the greencrop

Covering soil with plants is the best way to jazz it up and bring it back to life. Honour your tired soil by sowing with nourishing greencrops or light feeding rootcrops or seasonally apt legumes like peas, broadbeans or beans. You could, of course, do a mix of all three.

Spread a fine layer of compost, slightly thicker if soils have been really dry or wet. Vermicastings are a fabulous addition – either alone or mixed in to bulk up your compost.

Shadecloth or hessian pegged on top of the seed protects from birds and improves germination no end.

2. Plant a crop

peas and newly planted saladings in the october vegie patch
Peas, kale and saladings

Get another round of seedlings in the soil – right away! Fertility goes backwards fast when soil is naked.


  • spread a fine layer of home made compost over the bed entire, or
  • create little mounds of compost + some vermicastings, if you have them, for each seedling. Spread mulch between each mound to contain the compost. Mounds are an awesome way to lift above wet soil, and perfect if compost supply is thin on the ground.

Plant a mixture of light feeding crops close together so as to completely cover the soil when grown and provide a diversity of root systems – such resilience!

Mulch generously with slashed down, crunched up crop debris.

3. Build a compost

This is the choice for those of you who cannot rehydrate your dry soil because you have no water to spare. It’s also the way to go if soil is sodden.

Build an easy peasy compost pile direct, on top of the soil that needs reviving – a most brilliant restoration move.

Shout out to trees + perennials

yarrow, lemon balm, verbena and lavendar cover the ground beneath the nashi pear espalier
Espalier nashis and perennials around the vegie patch

We cannot possibly discuss, restoring knackered soils, without a shout out to trees and perennials. They are the heroes of garden stability. Plant lots. Their roots are hubs of below ground networks, and like meals on wheels – get water and minerals to whom ever needs aide. Make trees your new besties.

Little by little + over time, build your soil and work away at creating an awesome garden environment, so that even when it doesn’t rain for months (or it doesn’t stop raining for months), soil stays in good heart.

Expect it to be a little tired by Autumn for sure, but not completely knackered. Be constant – that’s what makes the difference.


  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

  9. Hi Kath,
    Last year I moved into a house with a raised planter box (about 1m x 6m) it was overgrown with weeds, bolted vegetables and flowers. I cleared it and have been using it to grow vegetables.
    I feel like nothing is growing particularly well in it, despite adding some home made and store bought compost + vegetable garden mix. I am guessing the weather hasn’t helped but wondered if there are particular deficiencies/issues which can develop with long term vege gardening in raised planters. Should I just keep adding compost/organic matter? Or would it be worth doing a pH and nutrient test?

    • Hi Ellen, love how you are looking to the soil for your answer – thats the key! Is the planter sitting on the soil or not? Soil contact is the best!
      Have a read through my DIY soil test to see what you reckon. Smell? Feel? Look? All these things tell you how you are tracking and while you may feel a little unsure now there really is no other substitute for getting to know the soil. You’ll see in time, that soil that smells well, feels well and looks well – grows good vegies.
      If its not in great nick, add minerals – Fodda – on my goods and gurus page, and get into biological liquid feeding https://www.ediblebackyard.co.nz/my-2-ingredient-biological-liquid-feed/, while you build the soil up.
      Check in with your watering regime – I have a blog about it. Best watering practice makes all the difference.
      And yes! keep adding – mulch mostly.
      Give yourself grace while you are learning ok – every crop has different needs too and its about understanding that alongside the soil but no need to know it all at once.
      Try stuff and see what happens. Keep it simple and connected is my best advice.
      Best Kath

  10. Oxalis has appeared in my vege garden. I think it may have come with some soil we were given by a neighbour. it is spreading as it does. I would like some suggestions about how to get rid of it please.

  11. Hi Kath,
    We had an ifestation of Bronze Beetles last spring, stripping our feijoa trees and attacking our citrus. I know they hibernate in the soil until next spring, but how should I deal with them?

    • Hi Julia – tricky Bronze beetles! Your best bet, long term – is to target them at the larvae phase while below ground and newly emerging at the soft body stage. Encourage a diverse range of soil and ground predators – centipedes, flat worms, ground beetles and spiders, they are all shown to impact bronze beetles in organic orcharding. So too a well aerated, humus rich soil (which by beautiful coincidence encourages a broad range of generalist predators!) – beetles lay their eggs in grass, preferring drier, firmer conditions so a well mulched, diverse landscape makes a big difference here – get rid of the grass! Magpies and blackbirds also gobble the larvae.
      Once above ground in the beetle phase, things get trickier. The beetles are quick to leap away making them near impossible to squash. Neem sprayed heavily ie 2 or 3 times a week in late spring during the intense beetle season, reduces numbers. You could also try covering your trees with insect mesh but will need to keep your eyes on the trees to be sure none get under the cover.