Step by Step to a Perfectly Fed Vegie Patch

Overfeeding is easily done. Surrounded as we are, by seductive marketing and miracle soil food. Home gardeners fertilise wildly, mostly because there’s no business bottom line, but also, please forgive my directness, because you’re not sure why you are feeding.

Lets start there before we dive into the details.

Why, what + how

The broccoli lupin dream team: soil life flourishes around plant roots, in this way plants nourish soil

All soil, your vegie garden included, is, by design, self sustaining. From seaside to mountain, natural environments are nourished by recycling all the plants and animals that grew upon them.

Hmmm, Why then am I feeding?

  • Because in a natural system, the entire plant is recycled back to the soil, whereas in your garden, you take the crop away for your dinner. A small deficit appears. One you need to redress.

Ok. I see the gap. So how do I feed to bridge it?

  • You bridge it by supporting a diverse array of soil biology – the trillions of microscopic critters, who team up with your plants and take care of everything they need, from nourishment to immunity.

How helpful are they! I want them on board! What can I do to best support a diverse population of soil biology?

  • Use homemade compost, greencrops and mulch. That’s it! These are the very best ways to build a strong soil biology.

And with a diverse soil biology thriving in your soil, plants grow robust cells = less pests, less disease, good vigor and steady cropping. Nailed it.

Enduring fertility

Best news of all, this kind of fertility endures and becomes pretty much, self maintaining.

It endures because it springs from a stable baseline – a reservoir of nutrients and water in healthy soil, called humus.

Humus is the end result of decomposed organic matter and is what is missing from overfed, or tilled, or sprayed soils.

In a most virtuous cycle, humus is nurtured with homemade compost, mulch and a diversity of plants (living mulches + greencrops.)

No matter which way you come at it, these 3 are the answer. Simple, yes! Easy, too easy! And tried + true.

Lets walk through the nuts and bolts of each.

Homemade compost

Compost doesn’t directly feed the plants.

It inoculates soil with biology, who feed the plants. When fully decomposed, compost becomes humus. Humus houses the biology that feed the plants, and round we go in the wonderful web of life!

Homemade compost, friends, is chalk and cheese from bought compost.

It sounds arduous, I know, making your own, but it’s less work than vaccuming and waaaay more fun/important. Make some, if only to mix into your bought compost in order to try save it. Here’s my easy peasy compost set up.

How much compost does my soil need?

a handful of finished compost

But a humble amount. Compost is really concentrated, you don’t need much. Which is a relief, seeing as how much a pile shrinks!

  • If your soil is in good heart, a fine layer is all you need, applied once per rotation. Compost fits into my crop rotation like this:


  • If your soil isn’t in good heart (check with this DIY mini soil test), spread a second, fine layer of compost before the light feeder as well. A temporary measure until your soil comes good. Which it will.


leaves collected in a fadge

Compost feeds the biology, mulch protects both and becomes another source of food for biology.

Mulch is a key part of enduring fertility. Soil health goes backwards fast when left bare. Use a combination of these 2 ways:

  1. A mixture of recycled plant matter spread on top the compost/ soil. Mostly this happens in bits – a little chop + drop here, plus a few crunched up dry bits there. To cover a larger space, make an awesome homemade brew. Either way, this layer of raw organic is dragged into the soil by worms and beetles, chewed up, pooped out, feeds other critters and turns, eventually into humus. Such a simple, but important bit of your enduring fertility game plan. And exactly as nature planned it.
  2. Cover the soil in plants: also called a living mulch, my very favourite. As well as a protective soil covering, plants are powerful soil builders.

The power of plants


Plants improve soil no end.

  • They are easily broken down into humus when recycled back onto the soil as mulch, or through our homemade composts. No other organic matter incorporates as seamlessly.
  • Plant roots and the area around the roots (the rhizosphere) is humming with gazillions of life forms. They come for the sugars, exuded at the roots, and trade them with the plant, for ready to use minerals, immunity, information – whatever it is the plant has requested.

Because plants, believe it or not, grown in living, natural soils, ask for exactly what they need. Such an elegant arrangement, don’t you agree. Incorporate greencrops into your rotation as many ways as you can.

Give your soil a grace period as it adjusts. A lot must change below for above ground health to manifest.

Give yourself a grace period too. It’s a big mindshift to trade your faith for bought fert to natural processes. Ease your way into it.

The Edible Backyard book advert


  1. Cree Hatfield says

    Hey Kath, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your newsletter. Thank-you.
    ……….I now have a hankering for the Aerated compost tea brewer which looks like a great idea.

    Here’s to good old compost

    • Thanks Cree! Yes doesn’t that aerator look fab and love how Crafty Gatherer use recycled buckets et all. Even though giving up the plastic is bit sad for me at times with my fav products, I’m loving paring my garden back to the basics. love Kath

  2. Shannon Hunter says

    Hi Kath,
    I enjoy seeing your monthly ‘to do’ posts and I agree 100% with this one!
    Seems counter intuitive to be creating so much waste while gardening. I have been running a compost and worm farm program at work which has really inspired me at home. I have some big compost piles which I’m excited to add to the garden come spring.
    A good initiative in Auckland is the Sharewaste campaign. People who can’t have a compost bin can find people (like me) who have bins they can contribute to. More goodness for my garden and waste diverted from landfill.
    Happy composting 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your note Sharon! Love hearing about compost piles and worm bins – especially at work places. So many exciting initiatives regards recycling food waste, Sharewaste looks fab, lucky you to have that option.
      Compost on! Kath

  3. I’ve bought neem in glass before from kereru oils. I’m sure it’s probably more expensive than three plastic bottle but an option to consider?

  4. Roz Grant says

    yes we know about plastic & things are changing – but I have used my big plastic bags to protect my tree planting from hares & rabbits – just cut air holes on 4 sides & place 3 bamboo stakes inside each bag to stand up – great use Roz

  5. Barbara Foulkes says

    Hi Kath, By marigolds do you mean calendula or Tagetes? They aren’t the same thing. I’m sure both are useful, but probably not in the same ways?
    Thanks very much, Barbara

    • Both are awesome Barbara! though in this case I cant answer because I dont know what context you are questioning. Safe to say though, when I speak of marigolds I speak of tagetes family. When I speak of calendula I say calendula. Pot marigold is where your confusion comes in, the folk name for calendula, which I don’t use to avoid confusion. Both are epic plants though!

  6. Harriet Palmer says

    Hi Kath, I read your advice about not using sawdust in compost and am now wondering about whether it is OK to use wood chips as mulch? I have been using them for a couple of years on my veggie patch and have been disappointed with productivity this year.
    Thanks for any advice

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