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.

You’re unsure what you’re doing. That’s all.

And its totally understandable – most of us didn’t grow up with our hands in the soil, and when we look for answers, we find way too much conflicting information.

Today I hope to bring you clarity and ease, as I explain why you feed + how much to feed (you’ll be surprised!).

Why + how

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

Soil, is, by design, self sustaining – nourished via the cycling of all beings that live in it and on it: plants, animals, fungi, bacteria et all.

Hmmm, if soil’s self sufficient, Why then am I feeding?

  • To redress the small deficit created when you take the food part of your crop, home for dinner. A gap appears because the plant isn’t recycled in its entirety.

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

  • Good news is you don’t bridge it, biology in the soil does – trillions of microscopic life forms that team up with plants and together, sort everything from nourishment to immunity. Your role is to create a garden environment in which they enjoy to live.

How helpful are they! I want them on board! How do I create an environment such as this?

From this simple, but potent regime, humus is created. A spongy reservoir of nutrients + water that makes a stable baseline from which your soil and plants grow ever stronger. Now you’re in the money, my friends, from here, your best garden rises: less pests, less disease, good vigor and steady cropping.

Here are the nuts and bolts.

Homemade compost

Compost doesn’t directly feed the plants, compost supports the biology which in turn feeds plants.

Homemade compost, friends, is chalk and cheese from bought compost. Making your own is well worth it and it isn’t as arduous as you think because you don’t need near as much as you think you do, and because I can set you up for ease and speed.

Bump it up your priority list, higher than vacuuming if you please. Make some. If only to mix into your bought compost in order to improve it.

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 isn’t in good heart (check with this DIY mini soil test), spread a layer of compost twice in your rotation, before the heavy and the light feeder. A temporary measure until your soil comes good. Which it will.

If you don’t have enough compost, vermicasting’s are an excellent addition to extend your supply.


leaves collected in a fadge

Mulch is essential. The grand design is to keep soil covered as protection from the elements (there’s an entire ecosystem down there remember!), soil health goes backwards fast when left bare.

Mulch is also a smorgasbord of future food – grow a diverse biology with diverse mulch.

Keep soil covered with either:

  1. A mixture of homegrown/ foraged plant matter spread on top the compost. Homemade is safest/ best. Mulch is dragged into the soil by worms and beetles, chewed up + pooped out to feed yet more soil life and eventually become humus. So much nourishment from this simplest of practises!
  2. A living mulch, my very favourite.

Using plants to build soil


Plants are powerful soil builders. Which makes complete sense, right – there they are, cloaking the earth. All those roots! Imagine! Of course they have purpose – many purposes. Nature is way too cunning to let an opportunity like that sneak by.

Living plants build soil:

  • Roots and the area around roots (the rhizosphere) are busy places. A diverse range of biology come for the sugars that are exuded there, trading them with the plants for minerals, immunity, information – whatever the plant requested. Cos yes, that’s exactly how it works.

Dead plants build soil:

  • Plants are easily broken down into humus when recycled as mulch or homemade compost. No other organic matter incorporates as seamlessly.

Incorporate greencrops into your rotation, as many ways as you can:

Use plants to strengthen your soil/ garden as a whole:

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, huge – one I am still on. 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

  7. Hi Kath, your books and website are my go to – thanks for sharing your knowledge! I was wondering what you would do when you need to build up soil by a retaining wall. My greenhouse needed a retaining wall to create level space and I am not sure how to build awesome soil relatively quickly. I wondered if I need to build height all in one go or slowly over time with breaking down plant material. All ideas appreciated, Thx x

    • Hi Suze, I cant quite visualise what you mean but two things: quickly isn’t how nature rolls 🙂 Much depends on the soil you begin with. Infact my answer entire does – a conversation more suited to a garden coach session. The good news is all your answers are in this blog post – read carefully through the nuts and bolts bit, follow along and minus the haste. Good things, take time. Enjoy! Love K