Soil Preps for Heavy Feeder Crops

choose the best soil in your garden

Heavy feeders are called heavy feeders because they are hungrier than light feeders. It’s not that they need piles of fertiliser, what they need, is just enough… steady, not boom and bust.

Overfeeding is, long term, perhaps worse than under feeding. Today is all about how much, is enough.

Check your soil first

Chard seedlings for winter greens planted in the flower garden
Chard planted with perennial companions, in a good soil find, beneath a pile of old pruning’s

Always start here. With your DIY mini soil test. It’s quick, and eliminates guessing.

If the soil in the vegie patch turns out below par, then step outside the vegie patch! Never mind if it means dotting vegies all over the place. The most important thing is to plant heavy feeders in the best soil, and to keep planting food.

If no good soil presents itself, grow in buckets/containers while you rebuild your garden beds by making a free range compost pile on them, or by greencropping them.

Aerate clay

Aerating soil with a forksta

If your soil is impenetrable heavy clay you’d do well to aerate it first. If you cant push your hand into it, your seedlings wont be able to spread their roots either. And besides, soil needs air – lots of air pockets throughout, in order to perform at her best.

Aerating literally breathes life into your soil – what a difference to plant vigor! With the air comes the life, and eventually, the life builds to a point that it takes over the job of aerating. Until then, you’re up.

  • Start at one edge, slide in your garden fork (or this super cool forksta), as far as it will go
  • Pull it back towards you, to crack and slightly lifting the soil.
  • Slide the fork out and continue along in a pattern that keeps your feet off the opened soil.

Spread compost

Ideally, spread a fine layer of compost over the whole bed

Homemade compost is what your soil needs, whether on clay or sand or somewhere in between. If you feel your soil needs extra because its pure sand or poorly drained clay, mix in vermicastings.

Spread a fine layer, ideally across the whole bed.

  • If you don’t have enough, mix it with vermicastings, cheats compost or a good bought compost.
  • Still not enough? Sow a living mulch of mixed greencrops (include a nitrogen fixer), in between your seedlings.
  • If your soil is heavy clay/ poorly drained make ridges or mounds of compost.

Pre soak seedlings, pre soak the soil + plant

Prep the seedlings by dipping the tray in water. You can, if you have it, add a weak amount of seaweed or comfrey or worm wees to the water.

Prep the soil by watering it until its properly moist. Then in the same way you zhushed up your seedling soak, you can zhush up your garden bed: use whatever biological or biology enhancing brew you have: seaweed, EM, raw milk, molasses, activated compost tea… to saturate the soil.

If your soil needs extra, because it’s heavy clay or sandy, work in a handful of vermicastings beside each seedling.


Buckwheat, meadowsweet, yarrow homemade mulch

Mulch seals the deal. 2 ways:

  • With a quick garden whip around. Chop up old crops, deadhead, trim herbs or fine twig shrubs + add in whatever other partially decomposed carbonaceous organic matter (hay, wood chip, leaves), you have to hand. Mix all these bits and pieces together and spread them on. You cannot buy this kind of goodness.
  • Or sow a living mulch of low growing companions + greencrops at the base of your seedlings.

One isn’t better than the other, a mixture of both is the best.

Boost your plants along

If cold is imminent, boost your plants along with a weekly biological brew or something similar. Biology slows right down as soils drift below 10°C, and comes to a stop in single digits. Once that happens, your hardy, little plants are on their own.


  1. Lisa Wilkie says

    Kia ora from down here in the South,

    This is probably a silly question, but do you rinse the seaweed before apply it directly around plantings? I was worried about too much salt burning them…

    Also, the main seaweed on my local beach down here in Dunedin is kelp , I assume this is okay to use if it’s chopped up a bit?

    Thank you for your time 🙂

    • Not silly at all. I dont rinse and I’ve never had a problem. I do often read advice to rinse though – sorry to give so many options! Try either and see what rolls out. Kelp is the very very best. Lucky you! Chop it up for sure. I’d be making liquid feed with it too. Enjoy!

  2. Alan Tappin says

    Hi Kath,

    Can you send some of that soil up here?
    Even with heavy mulching and a lot of soil prep through spring we would be struggling to get consistently moist soil like that up here in Auckland as we havent had meaningful rain for about 2 months at least and are on tank water so have to be careful.
    We pretty much shut the garden down until about late march/early april as the summer crops are finishing and it gets a little cooler. Nothing newly planted would survive on our north facing slopes over this period as they get really hot & dry (well over 40deg) and the evaporation rates are 3-4mm per day so roll on April! Its hard enough keeping established trees alive.

    • How I’d love to share! I realise how priveleged I am in the Horowhenua – pros and cons – fungal issues galore with all our spring rain but at least we dont dry out. Its a whole other skill gardening without rain…sounds like you are finding your way. Have you come across Geoff Lawtons greening the desert? AMAZING! All the best Kath

  3. Hi Kath

    Just letting you know that your final link “weekly biological brew” comes up as a 404 error. I’d love to read that info if you can fix the link. Thanks so much 🙂