My 7 Garden Must Haves, Managing Slugs and a DIY pH Test

These are the things I buy in to support my food garden to be great. The things that I deem essential. I dream of buying nothing, relying only on foraged and homegrown gifts from nature, but I haven’t made it there yet. What I have done is whittle down my buy ins to the bare essentials.

Being armed with these 7 is the difference between pest explosions and hungry gaps. See a white fly, can put up a trap. Harvest a broccoli, can sow some carrots. Stressed plant, can foliar feed. Armed and ready.

Looking after your Soil

compost pile1.Roksolid is the only fertiliser I buy in.  It’s different from anything else on the market because it’s a full spectrum, living (yes it’s alive!) mineral fertiliser. Minerals are a team, they need each other to work. It’s crazy to separate them out … its white bread all over again. This brew is the best way I know to repair a deficiency or maintain general health. One product feeds everybody – the paddock, the citrus, fruit trees, roses, the lawn (if you must!) and the vegie patch. Applying individual minerals is for scientists. Really it is. You need to know the exact amount of the specific type or you’ll tip your soil balance and lock everything up. I sell it at my place (pick up only),  Agrissentials deliver it, or will help you find a supplier in your area.

2. Liquid Feed is an essential support for your hard-working crops. A monthly boost for maintenance, or weekly dose in times of sickness or temperamental weather, makes a huge difference. Seaweed and fish are my personal favourites. They’re particularly useful as a preventative if fungus is a regular occurrence in your garden – think leaf curl or blackspot. I can recommend Oceans Organics, Oceans 100, Moana Naturals or your own brew.

3. Lime Flour. High rainfall and a clay base inclines my soil towards acidity. I use lime flour to keep my soil sweet which frees up minerals to do their thing and ensures a bountiful soil life. The finer the lime the faster the impact. Wood ash is an excellent alternative. Only use dolomite if a soil test declares your soil magnesium deficient. It’s takes a while for lime to make an impact, so add it 3 – 6 months before the target crop.  For example I add the lime for my Brassicas’ when I sow the legume greencrop that goes in before them.

A bit about pH and a DIY pH Test

For the home vegetable garden a pH of 6 – 7 is the goal because this suits most of the crops we want to grow.  The scale goes from 0 – 14. 0 being the most acidic, 7 neutral, after that alkaline. pH is important because no matter how mineral rich your soil if your pH is out of whack then the goodness isn’t being shared. Also because plants all have their own preference. You’ll find lists on-line of which vegies prefer acid conditions and which alkaline. Take them with a grain of salt – most will happily adapt over a range. Potatoes for instance prefer to grow in soil with pH of about 5, but they’ll adapt up to about 6. Though it seems small, the difference between each number is significant – 10 times in fact.  5, for instance, is 10 times more acid than 6. See how adaptable plants are! Blueberries are the one crop I’d test for properly – they need a pH of about 4.5, without which they wont flourish. (This being the reason I don’t grow them)

A pH test kit will set you back about $30.00, and a meter about $50. These tests are easy to use and tell you exactly where you’re at on the scale. If you are happy without a number, if a general idea satisfies then DIY like this:

  • Put a handful of dry soil in a container. Pour over about 1/2 cup of vinegar and give it a stir. If it’s alkaline it will bubble. The more furiously it bubbles the more alkaline it is. (Sandy soils as a rule)
  • Put a handful of dry soil in a container. Add 1/2cup of water, followed by 1/2 cup of baking soda. Give it a stir. If it’s acidic it’ll foam and bubble. (Clay soils as a rule)
  • No bubbles on either test means your dirt is neutral, sitting at 7 on the pH scale. Compost is, by the way, neutral and should your soils fall into either extreme it is (once again) the answer. The beneficial organisms that compost encourage, buffer pH bringing your soil to a level that vegies will happily grow in. Here’s some more pH help from Rodales.


4. Seeds A stash of seed is crucial to achieve a constant flow of harvest. With seed to hand you can resow as soon as something is harvested. Little and often sowing keeps your food garden happening, and keeps it exciting too!

Be sure to have a few quick turn around crops in your stash. They’re handy to fill those awkward 2 month gaps between main crops, to sow at the same time as crops that take ages to germinate, and to fill the gap beneath tall crops. Eg rocket, lettuce, dwarf beans, kale, mizuna, radish, beetroot. Get plenty of greencrops and companion flowers too.

There are some awesome NZ seed shops online. Find a seed supplier that’s on your page. Consistent germination, detailed information, heritage and open pollinated seed are what’s important to me. There is, you know, the perfect someone for everyone. For me it’s LovePlantLife.

Pest Control

aphids5. Neem Sometimes the suckers, chewers and raspers get out of control (aphids, scale, psyllids, leaf miners, thrips, whitefly…). Even with your best efforts for balance, __it happens. Neem’s your friend, it sorts all those pests, safely.

Neem is an oil, and for it to work it must be digested to begin its fabulous work of disrupting reproduction and digestion. Because beneficials aren’t eating our plants, they’re safe as houses. Did you know that pyrethrum, garlic or rhubarb sprays indiscriminately kill everything? Natural can be nasty.

Be sure to read the small print. Check to see if the Neem you are buying is safe for food crop’s. Here’s the one you want, Naturally Neem.

white fly yellow sticky trap6. Yellow Sticky traps are always in my cupboard for whitefly in the greenhouse. Someone is going to write me and tell me I can make them – yes, indeed you can, and I salute you! I get in such a sticky mess doing this I lazily opt for the bought option. Aphids are also attracted to yellow so hang them in your lemon tree if you have sooty mould (and stop using artificial fertiliser!) At the first sign, hang the traps. The trick is to hang them close to the juicy tops. Commercial growers use them as indicators only, but in a home garden they sort the problem out if you get in early enough.

7. Slugbait Tui Quash is the least toxic bait I can find, and boy do I need it – it’s slug central at my place. Without it we’d never grow anything. Every newly planted seedling, newly germinated seed and sprouted perennial gets some.

Some thoughts on slug management

  • Slippery molluscs are designed to slither unperturbed over razor sharp edges. Crushed eggshells, sand, even broken glass, dear people, will not stop a slug.
  • A barrier of lime or salt works. It will, however, kill not only the slug who crosses it but your soil as well.
  • Beer traps work to a degree, but you need lots of them and I can’t bring myself to waste beer on slugs.
  • Night missions are good as long as it’s not ball season. Take a bucket of limey water in hand (to drop your slugs into), put your head torch on and go hunting, it’s amazing what happens out there in the dark! Regular nightly forays will make a massive dent in the population.

There, that’s it. My secrets are out.


  1. Thanks for sharing your secrets… I am coming to get some more rok solid for our community… buy a bag and share the love!
    See you soon

  2. Margie Cavill says:

    Big thank you for this advice. And very jealous of the picture of celery posted promoting yellow sticky traps. As novice gardener I grew celery thinking it was an easy crop – the whole lot ended up with brown spots – sounds like dosing it with liquid feed is the way to go? Actually, I discovered that there must be a serious base of fungi in that particular patch, because everything that could be covered, was…

    • Dear Margie
      Thanks for your note, and youre right! celery is a tricky thing to grow. For best success make a compost pile including seaweed if you can, on the spot where your celery is to grow, 3 months before you want to plant it. Monthly seaweed liquid feeds make a huge difference as does making sure it never dries out, so deep mulch is a must.
      may all your celery be crunchy! Kath