Maximising potential in living soils

The following article is a guide to help growers achieve the highest quality harvests in living soils. I’ve compiled this method from many years of trial and error and generous sharing of knowledge with amazing and like minded organic gardeners. My company, Easy As Organics was built on the joy that I got from experiencing the richest flavours ever and growing the healthiest plants I’d ever seen. The guide obviously works for any quality living soil or similar tea that you make yourself. If you don’t feel like making your own, you can purchase most of the organic products listed in the guide at my website, easyasorganics.com.au

Below are some basic tea and topdressing recipes for maximising genetic and yield potential in your living soil. These teas will improve microbial activity and nutrient cycling, pest resistance and terpene/flavonoid production while reducing maturation time.

Neem Kelp Tea. For botanical nutrition and IPM.

  • 1/2 cup neem meal
  • 1/4 cup kelp meal per 19L water. 
  • Brew for 18 to 24 hours by stirring occasionally. Water your soil with this solution.

Malted Barley Powder topdress and tea

Top dress 1/4 cup freshly ground malted barley per 50L of soil or about 1 cup per m2. Alternatively, add about 56 grams of ground, freshly sprouted seeds to 19L of water and add the following:

  • 2.5 ml/L Fulvic Acid
  • Freshly blended aloe fillet or 1 tsp of Southern No Till Aloe Powder to 19L water

Coconut Water enzyme tea

  • 1.25 cups organic coconut water per 19L water.
  • 1 tsp Southern No Till Aloe Powder or a freshly blended aloe fillet

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) 

Weekly Foliar Spray:

  • 1/2 tsp Aloe Powder or a cup of aloe fillets blended in 4L of water. Ensure you dissolve the aloe powder in solution before adding emulsified oils. For triggering systemic acquired resistance: SAR. A natural plant immune response.
  • 1 – 3 ml/L of cold pressed neem oil, emulsified in shot glass with a few drops of Doctor Bronners Liquid Soap (baby soap, unscented) or a tsp of liquid potassium silicate. 
  • Alternatively, emulsify a couple drops of organic rosemary, lavender and/or peppermint oil (.5 ml/L total essential oils) with a few drops of Dr. Bronners’ liquid soap and mix into water with the pre-blended Aloe Powder or fresh aloe.
  • Stir solution vigorously in the 4L tepid water and apply with a quality v-pattern pump sprayer to top and bottom of leaves at sun down or when lights turn off. Repeat this once per week for about 5 to 6 weeks total.
  • For excellent long term pest resistance, introduce predatory insects once the foliar program is complete. Predatory mites and other beneficial predatory insects will feed on any pest eggs or adults that may have been left behind after your foliar sprays. With proper care they can also become part of the soil food web ecology and help keep your plants safe from pest attack for more than a single growing cycle. See bugsforbugs.com.au for more info.

The above schedule is a guide only. Botanical inputs such as neem meal and kelp meal can be swapped with or mixed with other inputs to make your own nutrient and phytochemical rich teas. However, this simple, sustainable and economical cultivation schedule has proven to work very well for me and many others so it’s a great foundation to start with. After a few weeks you should notice unparalleled peak plant health displayed by incredible leaf turgor, vigour, intoxicating aromas and dark green, shiny leaves, virtually resistant to pests and disease. Please keep in mind that this schedule should not begin until the seedling or cutting has established itself in the container or raised bed and is developing at a healthy rate. Only then, begin “Week 1”. In between teas water lightly as needed to make sure soil stays evenly moist but not so wet that water runs out the bottom of the container. Water as little or as much as required to maintain the perfect soil moisture. This will vary depending on plant life stage, pot size, temperature, humidity and other factors. 

A performing soil must contain a balance of air and water for roots and soil microbes to access oxygen and expel CO2. When the moisture content of your soil is dialled in, you will notice amazing plant health and general vigour. If the soil is watered too much, the soil porosity will be completely taken up by water, not allowing for any air to enter the rootzone which will not only slow plant growth to a halt but also set the stage for pests and other unfavourable soil conditions. Only supply enough water to keep soil just moist. Once watering is mastered, the rest is a breeze.

When preparing soil for growing, plan for the length of time that your plant will be in the container, as well as the general size and vigour of your chosen cultivar. We’ve found that a fast growing annual grown indoors for a 4 week vegetative period and an 8 week flowering period will have all it’s nutrient requirements met from a 50L pot of Easy As Organics Living Soil with just water. Use this as a basic guide to figure out how much soil you will need for each plant in your garden. For example, a large, vigorous cultivar that you plan to grow outdoors in a container for an entire hot summer season from November to May, the total number of weeks the plant will be growing in that container will be roughly 25, give or take. This is double the amount of time as the above example of an indoor plant life cycle so not only will we want to double the soil volume but also consider the harsh outdoor Australian summer climate and increase soil volume by 2.5 to 3 times the indoor garden. In this outdoor garden you would need about 150L for uninhibited plant growth for a luxury plant buffet of nutrients and water.

Now that you’ve figured out what size container to grow in, water thoroughly until all soil is evenly hydrated and equalised throughout soil, but not so much that you see runoff. You should be able to squeeze the soil in your hand and only a drop should barely come out. If you know the particular plant variety is an extra hungry and vigorous cultivar, a handful of Regenerate blend scratched into the top layer of soil and covered with a thin layer of worm castings will add to the nutrient bank and further boost beneficial microbes for your plant’s future growth cycle. The microbes in the worm castings will start mineralising organic nutrients from the Regenerate blend while also immediately supplying plant available nutrients. Apply MycoBiome mycorrhizal fungi powder directly to the roots of your transplant, clone or seed and place into the soil, covering roots with more soil. The MycoBiome powder will inoculate your soil with an incredibly important part of the soil food web, mycorrhizal fungus. Mycorrhizal fungi extracts nutrients and water contained in your soil’s cation exchange sites and wraps itself around soil particles, holding them together, improving soil structure. The plant can then take up more nutrients at an efficient rate by forming an association with the fungus at its roots, in exchange for sugars infused with carbon. This will greatly increase the nutrient cycling ability of the soil ecology and the plant’s ability to take up nutrients as well as protecting itself from pest and disease attack.

Watering technique is key to success in living soils. When you first plant into properly prepared, hydrated living soil, you may find you don’t need to water again for some time as the seedling establishes itself. This is the most common time for growers to over water. Avoid the temptation and wait until your seedling begins to take off! After using these methods for 1 to 2 growing cycles you will notice a visible level of microbial life underneath the mulch layer and no pest pressure. This diverse microbiome will increase in beneficial predatory mites and other insects, fungi, predatory nematodes and much more, as they all help the plant grow to its ultimate potential. Plant health should remain constant and unnecessary stress factors should be avoided such as transplanting or changing light spectrum. Input requirements will be reduced to a simple fortnightly botanical tea or amendment topdressing to deter pests, maximise terpenoid expression and keep your soil nutrient bank (total cation exchange capacity) full for a constant luxury plant buffet. Using these methods and the above amending and tea schedule, the greatest quality harvests can be achieved.   

Written by Matt Barnes, Easy As Organics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *