Category Archives: Compost

Our Soil Blocking Recipe

Soil blocks ready to seed

Just a quick post on our soil blocking recipe. I always get asked about this and usually point people to the All Sun farm recipe, but I have refined this recipe over the last few years.

Here’s my mix:

  • 2.5 part coco peat (aka coir)

I don’t like the small bricks that you can get in Bunnies etc. as you need to soak them. It is very hard to mix all the other ingredients together well after that. I would say that the bricks are detrimental to the mix unless you soak them and then dry them again and that takes a long time (like a week). I buy it by the bale from Elders in Windsor in a dry form. It is compressed but not like the bricks.

Worm castings also work great but unfortunately nothing you can buy  (like potting mix) seems to work

  • 0.5 part fine basalt dust

That can be hard to find for some people so you can use river sand or horticultural sand. DO NOT USE ANY OTHER SAND. Other types of sand (like sand pit or Sydney sand do not work. It’s not that they don’t work as well but they actually make the seedlings fail catastrophically. Sandpit sand, Sydney sand, brickies sand etc. hold too much water. Your seedlings will turn in to a fungal mess. Try it at your peril.

And some nutrients…

I don’t have a specific measure for these but I use a double hand scoop of each for a full wheel barrow as a guide.

  • Kelp meal

You can get this from rural supplies and horse type places. It should cost about $100 for a 25kg bag.

Be aware of what you are getting. The “meal” part is important. If you try and get the finely ground water soluble kelp, it will cost around $800 per bag.

  • Soft rock phosphate

It is a really vital part of the recipe while your soil is poor.Unfortunately this is hard to get in the ‘burbs by the bag (as opposed to the tonne- you can get it from YLAD in  Young by the tonne). If you find somewhere please let me know.

I get it from a rural supplier in Queensland when I visit relatives. I bought 100kg 3 years ago and still have 20kg left.

  • Blood and bone

I only use this is the recipe during the warmer months, ie. Sept – March. Plants don’t feed as much during the winter and I find using it then promotes fungal growth. I would say it’s essential for summer.

*Note: the phosphate and blood and bone should be provided by your compost mix through the use of dynamic accumulators

Easter Special: 20% off all garden consultation and design services

We’re celebrating the Easter holiday with a special saving for our internet followers!

Take a huge 20% off any garden consultation or design package!

Home visit +1 hr of personalised professional advice

was $60 now $48

Home visit +  1 hr consultation +  written report

was $300 now  $240

Want your own kitchen garden? Get the right advice and solutions for your new food garden or bring an old one back to life.

Sloping, rocky, small or problem block? Yes, you CAN have a fantastic food garden!

Your personal kitchen garden consultation by a qualified Permaculture designer

A plan that’s unique, and maximises your aspect and features in the best way for a gorgeous and productive garden.

First, you’ll have a home consultation to discuss your situation, wants, and ideas.

Then, you can choose to add a personalised program of care and advice specifically for your location and needs, and even a 2D design for your future garden.

Whatever you choose, you’ll get reliable, professional advice that’s right for your situation.

Sample design: intensive fruit garden

Which option is right for you?

Option A: $60 now $48

Perfect for when you have a basic concept for what you would like from your kitchen garden and want some help getting started.

Home consultation

I’ll visit you to discuss your space and ideas, as well as potential challenges. I’ll also give you effective, environmentally sound ideas and tips for how to best turn your ideas into reality.

Option B: $300 now $240

Turn your dream into reality with a home visit, great practical ideas, plus a report filled with creation and management advice and details to make it happen!

Home consultation

PLUS

Written report including links to relevant websites and suppliers

Want more? You can also order a 2D design of your future garden for as little as $180 (average design $200-$250)

All the expertise and help you need to start growing and enjoying fresh fruit and veggies from your own kitchen garden!

1 hr home visit consultations are available within greater Sydney area only. We also offer phone/Skype consultations for clients who live outside the greater Sydney area. You just need to provide us with photos and an overhead map (such as in a contract of sale) of the site.

We offer  home visits to Central Coast, Bathurst and Wollongong (approx. 2 hours of Springwood, Blue Mountains) clients who book a consult plus written report or design services.

Call me on ph:0431 383 516 or fill in the form below to book your time and I’ll get back to you.

*Bookings must be made by Tuesday 2/4/13 to claim this discount.

New series of short workshops

We would like to announce that we are now running a whole heap of short workshops focussing on the essential skills of food gardening. Topics include making compost, caring for chooks and a whole heap of other fun things!

Dates and details are in the link below. We hope to see more of you here soon!
https://healthyharvestnsw.wordpress.com/permaculturecourses/food-garden-favourites/

No bones about it: a smart tip for zero food waste

Just a quick tip today about how to recycle all your household food waste. I was at a friend’s house on the weekend and I asked her what she did with her bones from cooking. She said that she put them in the bin. Since she composted everything else, I had just assumed she would compost the bones too. Then it occurred to me that maybe people don’t know how to deal with them!

Here is what we do. Put all the bones in a plastic bag in the freezer. Add to the same bag whenever you have bones. When it’s full or inconveniently large, use the bones in a hot compost or just simply dig a hole 30cm deep and bury them. That should be deep enough to keep rodents etc. away. Make sure your doggy doesn’t see you though! As long as you don’t let the bag defrost, you can keep using it.
Why should you bother with the bones? Although uncooked bones are a hundred times better than cooked bones, they still contain small amounts of nitrogen,  quite a lot of phosphorus and many other trace elements. Our land needs every bit of help we can give it to grow food. Otherwise it ends up at land fill and becomes a methane issue. Unfortunately 59% of landfill in Australia is organic matter. It’s easy to make a positive difference just by changing a few simple habits in the kitchen.

NEW WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED: Organic Gardening for the Backyard Farmer

Saturday & Sunday 8th & 9th December

Springwood, Blue Mountains

9am-5pm

Workshop structure

Morning: Theory The morning will consist of a 1.5 hour theory lesson which will include time for questions and answers.

Rest of the day: Practical experience. The rest of the day focuses on practical implementation of some of the things discussed.

Morning Tea: We will break at 10.30am for half an hour. We will provide tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

Lunch: We will break for lunch at 12.30pm for 1 hour to share a meal and lively conversation together. Please bring a plate of food to share for lunch.

Afternoon Tea: We will break at 3pm for half an hour. We will provide teas, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

What you’ll learn

Learn how to make real compost

I will show you how to make a compost superior to ANYTHING you can purchase from a shop. You’ll also learn how to make it on a small or large scale. Far too many weeds end up in land fill but are full of minerals that need to be returned to your soil. I will show you how to kill the weed seeds and make great compost from garden waste. You will also learn about the nutritional requirements of your plants and how to keep your soil (and your plants) in good shape.

Use chickens as part of your vegetable growing system

Chickens are a valuable part of an organic gardener’s tool kit. Chickens eat all your bugs and weeds, scratch and till the soil and give you free fertiliser. Learn how to use chickens efficiently and constructively (not destructively) as part of your garden system. We will be moving my chickens from their current home into another area. You can find out more about a similar growing system in this article. Bring along your best chicken-rustling boots!

Learn to sow seeds and propagate plants

Learning to sow seeds and propagate plants can be one of the largest cost savers in your self sufficient food gardening system. Learn the basic techniques and tools to sow seeds and take cuttings. We will also reveal the recipe for potting mix which is often the difference between success and failure.

Build a raised bed garden on contour

This will be the main part of the workshop and lots of fun. This type of garden can be built almost ANYWHERE irrespective of slope or the quality of your soil (it can even be built on a concrete slab). In some areas where we will be building, we don’t even have soil. It’s bedrock.

Contour gardens also catch virtually all  run off water and store it for later use. The bed is constructed using a similar technique to “No dig” or “Lasagne” gardens. We will be building the garden on contour almost from scratch. You will learn how to survey your land using simple, easy to make tools (from scrap wood or tree branches).

What to bring

Please bring:

Note pad, pen and something stable to write on (clipboard etc)

gardening gloves

a hat

sturdy boots/ (gum boots if it’s wet)

Secateurs (if you own them)

a Spade (if you own one)

A wheelbarrow (again if you own one and only if you have a ute or van. Please don’t try getting one in a Barina or on the train!)

sunscreen

water-bottle

a plate of healthy food to share at lunch

About the teacher

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What others have said about our workshops:

Great fun and a good way to learn

good, very resourceful, learned a lot, true permie style – just thrown together and used what you have, got everyone involved

awesome stuff!! so inspired and knowledge hungry for more!! THANKYOU

it was informative and fun – you explained it all in a language to newbies could understand easily. Look forward to more workshops!

Absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having us at your home. I hope you benefit greatly as much as we have attending. I am inspired!  🙂 good job!

we loved the workshop and learnt alot

Length was perfect. Split between theory and practical was great. The lunch was brilliant.

Thanks Daniel. It is always great to see how people manage their own blocks. The reinforcement of good planning before execution of a (great) idea is always appreciated.

Excellent – more, more!

Cost

The 2 day practical workshop costs $75 per person (Early bird) and $100 after Friday 30th November. The price includes morning and afternoon tea.

Safety Note: Although your skill level is not important, my block is steep in areas and you will need to be able to walk easily on grassy slopes which may be slippery. These workshops are unfortunately unsuitable for people with any walking related issues or disabilities.

Please fill in the form below to reserve your place.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form  to register your interest.

Payment is available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516


NEW WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED: Organic Gardening for the Backyard Farmer

Saturday & Sunday 13th & 14th October,

Springwood, Blue Mountains

9am-5pm

Workshop structure

Morning: Theory The morning will consist of a 1.5 hour theory lesson which will include time for questions and answers.

Rest of the day: Practical experience. The rest of the day focuses on practical implementation of some of the things discussed.

Morning Tea: We will break at 10.30am for half an hour. We will provide tea, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

Lunch: We will break for lunch at 12.30pm for 1 hour to share a meal and lively conversation together. Please bring a plate of food to share for lunch.

Afternoon Tea: We will break at 3pm for half an hour. We will provide teas, coffee, biscuits and fruit.

What you’ll learn

Learn how to make real compost

I will show you how to make a compost superior to ANYTHING you can purchase from a shop. You’ll also learn how to make it on a small or large scale. Far too many weeds end up in land fill but are full of minerals that need to be returned to your soil. I will show you how to kill the weed seeds and make great compost from garden waste. You will also learn about the nutritional requirements of your plants and how to keep your soil (and your plants) in good shape.

Use chickens as part of your vegetable growing system

Chickens are a valuable part of an organic gardener’s tool kit. Chickens eat all your bugs and weeds, scratch and till the soil and give you free fertiliser. Learn how to use chickens efficiently and constructively (not destructively) as part of your garden system. We will be moving my chickens from their current home into another area. You can find out more about a similar growing system in this article. Bring along your best chicken-rustling boots!

Learn to sow seeds and propagate plants

Learning to sow seeds and propagate plants can be one of the largest cost savers in your self sufficient food gardening system. Learn the basic techniques and tools to sow seeds and take cuttings. We will also reveal the recipe for potting mix which is often the difference between success and failure.

Build a raised bed garden on contour

This will be the main part of the workshop and lots of fun. This type of garden can be built almost ANYWHERE irrespective of slope or the quality of your soil (it can even be built on a concrete slab). In some areas where we will be building, we don’t even have soil. It’s bedrock.

Contour gardens also catch virtually all  run off water and store it for later use. The bed is constructed using a similar technique to “No dig” or “Lasagne” gardens. We will be building the garden on contour almost from scratch. You will learn how to survey your land using simple, easy to make tools (from scrap wood or tree branches).

What to bring

Please bring:

Note pad, pen and something stable to write on (clipboard etc)

gardening gloves

a hat

sturdy boots/ (gum boots if it’s wet)

Secateurs (if you own them)

a Spade (if you own one)

A wheelbarrow (again if you own one and only if you have a ute or van. Please don’t try getting one in a Barina or on the train!)

sunscreen

water-bottle

a plate of healthy food to share at lunch

About the teacher

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What others have said about our workshops:

Great fun and a good way to learn

good, very resourceful, learned a lot, true permie style – just thrown together and used what you have, got everyone involved

awesome stuff!! so inspired and knowledge hungry for more!! THANKYOU

it was informative and fun – you explained it all in a language to newbies could understand easily. Look forward to more workshops!

Absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having us at your home. I hope you benefit greatly as much as we have attending. I am inspired!  🙂 good job!

we loved the workshop and learnt alot

Length was perfect. Split between theory and practical was great. The lunch was brilliant.

Thanks Daniel. It is always great to see how people manage their own blocks. The reinforcement of good planning before execution of a (great) idea is always appreciated.

Excellent – more, more!

Cost

The 2 day practical workshop costs $75 per person and includes morning and afternoon tea, and a shared lunch

Safety Note: Although your skill level is not important, my block is steep in areas and you will need to be able to walk easily on grassy slopes which may be slippery. These workshops are unfortunately unsuitable for people with any walking related issues or disabilities.

Please fill in the form below to reserve your place.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form  to register your interest.

Payment is available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516


Compost is hot, but chook mulch is hotter!

Compost vs mulch

Last post, I wrote about some of the finer points of successful composting. Compost is a great addition to your soil and is vital for making good seedlings. Still, making enough compost to regularly apply to your soil (as many books suggest) is often difficult, requiring excessive amounts of time and materials. If you have added lots of organic matter into your soil and you are happy with the state of it,  I do not think compost is regularly required (though it’s still a good idea to use a decent handful in the planting hole before planting out seedlings). However, for kick-starting a new garden with poor soil (or no soil as is the case for my new garden), you might initially bring in large amounts of compost or manures. Avoid “garden mixes” unless you are on clay as they have too much sand in them. If any readers have an entrepreneurial bent, a specially-made soil full of clay (rather than sand) would be a hit in the Blue Mountains!

Assuming your soil is good, here’s what I recommend, and what I do in my zone 1 garden. Make compost exclusively for seedlings and compost tea. For the rest of your garden, make chook mulch!

How to make chook mulch

1. If you have any spare land or lawn that just never gets used on your property, let the grass grow tall (rather than mowing it) and sow it with a “forage seed mix” that you can buy from rural supply shops. If you don’t have one of these places nearby, the grain in a poultry seed mix works just as well. If you don’t have spare space to grow grass and weeds you  might try a few other things:

    • Ask your neighbours for their grass clipping and weeds.
    • Find a nearby vacant block and ask if you can maintain it.
    • Look around. I recently found a place locally that the council mower men stash grass clippings which could be used for this same purpose.

Why grow your own mulch crops? A few words about plant diversity and plant health:

Unless you’re growing your own grasses and weeds to use in chook mulch, you’ll probably be buying it in the form of straw. Most straw is baled from fields of single crops like wheat, lucerne etc. All of those things are good but the real magic comes from having a diversity of plants in your mulch. Why? Different plants contain different essential elements that other plants require. Let’s use comfrey for an example. Comfrey contains: silica (to build cell walls); nitrogen (to promote leaf growth); magnesium (many uses including making other elements accessible to the plant); calcium (cell wall development and general growth); potassium (to help promote flowering and fruiting; and iron (which allows the plant to photosynthesise and transpire).

comfrey

The goal is to get as many of the essential elements plants need from the soil, into your mulch, and back into your garden. Here is a link to a list of plants you can grow that will help you create great mulch. These types of plants are called “dynamic accumulators”. As well as comfrey, some other common accumulators include carrot, parsley, and borage. These guys are great for bringing in beneficial insects too. Get to know them. They’re some of your best friends in the garden!

Grow lots of dynamic accumulators so you can feed them to your chooks, along with your weeds and grasses. That will ensure that the finished product is a feast of essential minerals for your garden.

parsley

borage

carrot

OK, so now you’ve got your mulch crop sorted…back to making chook mulch!

2. Get chooks and make a straw yard (a chook pen that you can throw straw into and collect it again later).

3. Now cut an armful (I use a 60 litre bin) of grass/forage crops/weeds every other day and give it to the chooks.

weeds, glorious weeds!

Buying a hand sickle or a “Kama” knife from Green Harvest here, will make this job (and many others) ten times easier.

Kama knife

Throw all your weeds in there too. This reduces the amount of grain you need to give to the chooks (I have found about 20% less), and they’ll eat the bits they like (including all the weed seeds) and kick around the grasses/weeds they don’t want to eat so they never has a chance to re-root.

Girls getting excited about the new grass delivery!

4. Let the chooks do their thing for a couple of days. Try to keep any new material away from the older stuff, e.g. up the other end of the straw-yard.

getting stuck in

5. Now you have mulch for free, which is also covered in manure! While teaching my most recent permaculture course I was asked if the fresh chicken manure in the mulch would harm the plants. If the fresh manure was dug into the soil, yes it may burn the roots of the plants. Recall from last article that if fresh organic matter is added above the soil, it slowly breaks down over time. We are just adding the mulch on top of the soil so it is of absolutely no harm. In fact, you can’t regularly buy mulch as good as this anywhere!

6. Apply chook mulch to your garden in a layer of approximately 15cm. Don’t skimp- sprinkling it on isn’t enough to work its magic.

Chook mulch is a winner. It gives you free mulch, happy chooks, delicious golden eggs, fantastic soil, and great gardens!

De-seeded and manured mulch: chook mulch!

Clever composting: what you need to know

Here are what I’ve found to be the most important things to get right when composting.

1. Experiment with compost materials

If you are like me and gather your compost materials from various sources you may find that the compost changes from batch to batch. That’s ok. It’s a learning curve of finding out what works best for you. I started using as much garden waste as possible, but found I had too much of a mix of greens and browns all in one load and also far too much soil attached to the plants (see this article for a more basic explanation of composting). Due to this bad mixture, the pile was not getting hot enough and at the end there was far too much soil in the compost. It was good compost for seedling raising but too sandy for my garden (my garden is already too sandy). I then tried using food waste from a cafe but the food already smelt terrible before it even went in the pile. Although it got really hot it ended up as a sludgy stinking mess, not making me a very popular neighbour or husband.

aerobic compost bays

aerobic compost bays

Still, through all this experimentation I was able to monitor the results of the compost since I was using a lot of it for making seedlings to sell at market. Because seedlings are so small and the only soil they use is actually my compost I could monitor the success or lack of success from batch to batch. I found that the initial batches (from garden waste) were far better than the latter batches (of kitchen waste).

During my PDC we were taught how to make compost as well as how to make compost for compost tea. Our teacher, Paul Taylor, owns a company called “Trust Nature”. Paul advocated the use of weeds, grasses and thin woody material to make the heap. Importantly, he told us to add the roots of plants (for green things like grasses..maybe not tree stumps) as they contain a large amount of minerals and fungus.

Paul used a large amount of manure because it was fresh and available on the farm. I don’t like to buy manure from shops or landscape yards as most of it comes from factory farming operations. It’s also pasteurised/composted to such high temperatures that it kills most of the benefincial fungus and micro organisms. I just use manure from my chickens.

Here is my current recipe (I used a wheel barrow to measure but you can use anything handy):

3 parts brown (straw, paper, leaves, thin branches (like 2-5mm) etc.) and then 1 part green (grass, weeds, manure etc.).

Water every time you add the wheelbarrow load (or whatever you are using) until it is pretty wet.

Continue this procedure until you have approximately 1 cubic metre and make sure the last layer is a carbon (brown) layer. This helps keep off flies and vermin.

Read part 2 to find out how to look after your heap.

2. Treat your compost heap right!

Once you’ve built it, cover the pile with something like a tarp or plastic sheeting. This stops the pile from getting over-wet (from rain) but also keeps the heat and moisture in making it sweat.

I like to wait at least a week before turning the heap, but you could turn it as soon as the temperature starts to drop.Check it every day with a thermometer to see when the change happens. The cheapest option for a suitable thermometer is one used for testing milk (for making latte) and can be purchased from dollar shops relatively cheaply.

Providing you don’t you too much manure or food scraps in the mix the pile should only drop about 25% in size.

Turn the pile 6-12 times (the fewer turns, the longer you need to leave the pile between turns) watering it each turn to maintain a good moisture level. The way to check this is by squeezing a handful of compost. You should only just be able to squeeze a single drop of water from it. Any more and don’t water it.

Once the pile’s peak temperature stays below 40 degrees Celsius the thermophilic composting process (hot composting) has finished. The compost can be used at this time but there is still one more stage you can wait for if you choose.

After hot composting is over, compost moves into the mesophilic stage (cold composting) where the worms and other bugs move in. For me, the use of my compost bays is exclusively for hot composting. I make a lot of compost and I don’t have the room to mature the compost in the bays. I bag it up and store it under the house where it is cool. The worms and other bugs, surprisingly, have no problem finding their way it to the bags.

The pile has been ready for a few weeks now waiting for me to bag it up. When I was making the pile I threw in lots of sticks which I had not chopped up finely enough. I was aware at the time that these would not break down during the thermophilic composting process. It is something I do regularly and I don’t worry about it. I have to sieve the compost anyway to make it useable for my seedlings, so all the large pieces of wood get taken out. The wood is mostly broken down and brittle. I either use these twigs as fantastic mulch or I throw it back into a currently working (hot) compost pile where it will be totally consumed.

Sticks from sieved compost

Although this compost it now ready to be used around the garden, it is always better to bag it and store it. Some people advocate storing compost for 2 years before using it, but I don’t have the space to afford storing 2 years’ worth of compost at a time.

3. Make sure it’s ready to use!

I suppose the first question should be “what difference does it make?”. If the compost looks soil-ish then it is probably more than ok to use on the garden. If the compost is not ready then the soil will act as a buffer until such a time it is ready for the plants to take it up.

Using unfinished compost as potting mix does not work. I lost several hundred dollars worth of seedlings last year due to compost that was not ready. I had made a batch of compost using mostly food waste and the seedlings looked bad. I was running short of time and had to hastily use a compost mix that I was not really happy with.

A couple of weeks later I listened to a podcast by Paul Wheaton (from the Richsoil.com and permies.com websites) talking with a lady called Helen Atthowe . Helen is a master gardener, farmer and all round soil genius. She was talking compost and described one of her earlier failures. She’d set up a tomato greenhouse and made large pots for the tomatoes using sacks of compost. A few weeks later, she came back and found all the plants dead. This was a commercial crop and the financial results were devastating. Helen explained that the compost was not finished, but did not go into too much detail about the how’s or why’s.

I remember immediately going to the greenhouse and looking at my plants and realising I had done exactly the same thing.  Recently Helen gave another interview with Paul who asked for questions in advance. I wrote in and asked her to go into more detail about the issue. You can listen to the podcast here. My question starts at 12 minutes 15 seconds but the whole interview is great.

In simple terms this is how she explained how to see if compost is ready:

1. Do a PH test. If the test comes back with a high PH (like 9) it is not finished. If it somewhere near 6.5 it’s good to go.

2. Get a thermometer and check the temperature in the middle of the pile. Now check the temperature of ground soil next to the pile. They should be close in temperatures. If the pile is much warmer it is still composting and therefore not finished.

Finished compost

3. Know how to use your compost

I do not generally mix compost into the ground, but rather add it on the surface around new plantings and then re-cover with mulch. When I explain this technique to people they often find it quite strange and radical not to dig compost through your soil. That reaction doesn’t surprise me when virtually every gardening TV show and book tells you to “dig compost thoroughly  through your soil to a depth of  x cm”.

I have to quote Sepp Holzer here who, when asked questions on how solve various plant issues, regularly says, “You have to read from the book of nature”.  I ask the question more literally as,  “How would nature do it?”. When in nature, does freshly made compost (humus, leaf litter etc.) end up 30cm below the soil level? It doesn’t, does it? Leaves fall from the trees, grasses seed and die, animals poop and then die all-  on the soil surface. That all slowly decomposes and earth worms come from below to eat the newly decomposed organic matter. Not only do they take the organic matter deep below the soil surface and excrete it as vermicast (worm poop); in the process they create tunnels in the soil, de-compacting the soil and allowing air and water deep down.

I have probably mentioned in other articles that digging, tilling or ploughing soil (irrespective of whether it’s a planting hole for a tree or an 10 acre field) immediately kills 30% of life in the soil (createing almost instant plant food which is why we think it to be so beneficial). Except, now instead of perhaps adding 10 kg of compost to that area, you now should add 13kg to make up for the loss created by digging. More work and more money spent for the same result. Doesn’t really make much sense, does it? However, if you are regularly top dressing soil with either mulch or compost (ideally both) your soil will be fully functional and powering out produce without needing to accelerate it by killing life. Lime also works by killing life, also giving the impression of being beneficial to the soil. If you need to raise the PH in your soil simply add compost! If you need to lower the PH in your soil simply add compost!

Compost is a great addition to your soil and is vital for making good seedlings. 1 cubic metre of compost (after being sieved) generally makes up enough potting mix (including all the other ingredients, but there is another whole article there) to make  10,000 seedlings using my 1.5″ soil blocker. That is more than enough for most serious gardeners for a year, so putting lots of effort in to making one really good pile each year is really worth it.

Soil blocks ready to seed

Soil blocks ready to seed

You could also save some of the compost to make a compost tea. 1 litre of your compost can be used in a tea to inoculate 1 hectare of land (10,000 m2), which is also another article in itself.

Making enough compost to regularly apply to your soil (as the books suggest) is another matter. I have never been able to do that (rather, I can’t justify the time and material required to make so much compost) so I now build my soil with limited compost and lots of mulch. Next article, I’ll tell you all about that and how to do it!

Meanwhile, have fun and happy composting!

Open now: weekend intensive “Practical Permaculture” course Saturday 30th June – Sunday 1st July

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

Saturday 30th June & Sunday 1st July 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in Railway Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: $150 early bird (until 25th June) or $180 after 25th June

The number of participants is limited to 15 people to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

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Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What people are saying

The presenters, Daniel and Gordon, were knowledgeable and friendly. The course was a good mix of practical workshops and theory. The group size worked well and made for a cosy and enjoyable learning experience.

I had read a lot of books but discussing the theories, asking questions and hearing practical examples just helped cement it all. It seems to have stuck better..

Good interactions with the participants, lots of helpful diagrams, reference books and clear and lively delivery from both presenters.

The workshops were tailored really well. The right length, plenty of opportunity to get our hands dirty and a consistent but not overwhelming stream of information to accompany the practical skills.

Lots of fun and really informative. Great to get outside and practice some of the theory. AAA+++

Very good would recommend it to any one interested in growing food

Overall the course was fantastic. Daniel and Gordon were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and willing to share both knowledge and resources. I learnt so much more than I thought possible.

A BIG THANK YOU for the wonderful course, the beautiful venue(s) and the nourishing company. I would highly recommend the course.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776 by 25th June 2012 for early-bird discount ($150) or by 29th June 2012 for regular payment ($180).

Payment available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

Weekend Intensive Course: Practical Permaculture for Home and Garden

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

1st and 2nd of September 2012

ALSO

3rd and 4th of November 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in the lower Blue Mountains
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: September course $150 early bird by 18th of August or $180 thereafter.

November course $150 early bird by 19th of October or $180 thereafter.


The number of participants is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

Booking

The number of places is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee by May 3rd to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776.

Payment available via bank transfer (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until April 20th. After April 20th you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

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