Advantages of a Raised Bed Garden

Aside from avoiding the issue of gardening in poor soil, raised bed gardens offer several advantages:

 Raised beds warm more quickly in spring, allowing you to work the soil and plant earlier.

 Raised beds drain better.

 The soil in raised beds doesn’t get compacted, because they are constructed with accessibility in mind.

 It’s easy to tailor the soil for your raised bed to the plants you plan to grow there.

 After the initial construction process, raised beds require less maintenance than conventional

 Reduce frost damage in cold climates

No Dig Gardens

At the risk of being obvious – a no-dig garden is one you don’t have to dig. It sits above the ground and doesn’t have soil. But it contains plenty of other good stuff – such as layers of organic material – which form the perfect growing environment for vegtables and herbs as they break down.

Esther Deans pioneered the no-dig-gardening concept in Sydney in the 70s because her heavy clay soil was terrible for growing vegetables. Since then Esther’s idea has become popular with new gardeners, old folk who have a hard time bending over, and with the “lazies” amongst us.

It also makes perfect sense for a garden like the one we are filming in Perth, which has gutless, water repellent sandy soil and lawn that the tenants don’t want.

No-dig gardens are easy to make.
• Pick the spot – look for somewhere that gets plenty of sunlight and that’s flat. You can construct it over lawn, existing garden beds, or even concrete.
• The plan for the one we are making is round with a keyhole access path through the middle and a perimeter path around the outside to make picking vegies and herbs easy. But you can make any style you want.
• For the bedding you will need: straw, compost, blood and bon and sawdust or mulch for the paths.

A no-dig garden consists of eight 10cm layers – apart from compost and manure which should be 5cm. Remember to water each layer thoroughly as you go.

The layers:
• First layer is wood chips, followed by a dressing of blood and bone.
• Next, a layer of green weeds or grass clippings with no seeds or runners and apply lime.
• Number three is dry deciduous leaves or straw, followed by more blood and bone.
• The fourth layer is sheep manure, but you could use cow. Lay it on 5cm thick followed by some lime.
• Layer five is lucerne and blood and bone.
• Layer six is more manure – laid 5cm thick and lime.
• Layer seven – more lucerne and blood and bone.
• And layer number eight is compost –just like icing on the cake.

After making these layers the no-dig garden bed should be sitting about 60cm above ground. But it will settle to half this size over a week or two. It’s a good idea to wait for this to happen because the decomposing materials are better to plant into.

But if you’re itching to plant, use potting mix to get seeds and seedlings started. Just create little planting pockets, fill these with potting mix and sprinkle with a little blood and bone and rock minerals, and plant and water immediately. Most vegetables and herbs can be grown in no-dig gardens. Just look for what’s in season at your local nursery. But you will need to occasionally keep the bed topped up with compost, lucerne and manure just to ensure it stays at about 30 to 40 cm high. Try a drip line for watering – it works well. Just wrap it around in loops about 30cm apart. Alternatively hand water first thing in the morning – either way, no-dig beds have excellent moisture retention.

Improve The Soil – It is almost a certainty that you soil will need a boost. Trying to grow a garden without improving the soil is a difficult proposition at best.

Add organic matter to your soil. Putting in layers of compost, decayed leaves, grass clippings, or old manure on your garden should give your soil the boost it needs.

Amending Your Garden Soil – Making Good Soil out of Bad. First it should be pointed out that dirt is always called soil in gardening. Soil is arguably the most important component in a successful garden, so not calling it dirt is a show of respect. However, it is still dirt when it gets on your clothes.

What is Good Garden Soil?

Soil is generally evaluated on fertility and texture. Fertility is a combination of essential nutrients and a pH that makes these nutrients available to the plants. Texture refers to the size of the soil particles and their cohesiveness.

The three primary nutrients used by plants are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Nitrogen is largely responsible for healthy leaf and stem growth. In the soil, nitrogen is made available to plants by nitrogen fixing bacteria which convert nitrogen into nitrates, a form plants can use. Nitrogen does not remain in the soil for long. It gets used up by your plants and by decaying matter in the soil. It is also water soluble and can wash out of the soil rather quickly. Even so, an excess of nitrogen will cause a lot of foliage growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.

Phosphorus is very important for root growth. Flowering bulbs and root crops can always use some phosphorous. That’s why bone meal is often recommended for fall bulb planting. It also is crucial for producing flowers and you will sometimes see fertilizers with a high phosphorus content advertised as flower boosters.

Potassium is needed for overall plant health. It keeps the plants growing and aids their immune systems. Like nitrogen, potassium is also water soluble and needs to be replenished from time to time.

Besides the three primary nutrients, there are several trace elements that are necessary for good plant health like: calcium, magnesium, zinc, molybdenum, etc.

A lot is made of soil pH. In laymen terms, pH is a measure of the soil acidity or alkalinity. The scale goes from 1.0 to 14.0, with 7.0 being neutral. The lower the numbers go from 7.0, the more acidic the soil. The higher they go above 7.0, the more alkaline. The reason soil pH matters is that nutrients in the soil are only available to plants if the soil pH is within a certain range. Many plants like a pH in the low acid to neutral range (6.2 – 6.8), but that’s not true for all plants. Rhododendrons, heathers and blueberries favor very acid soils and lilacs and clematis will thrive in alkaline or even chalky soil. The only sure fire way to know where your soil’s pH falls is to have it tested. Keep in mind that it takes time to alter soil pH and your soil will tend to revert to its old pH over time, necessitating repeated treatment.


pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the soil using a scale from 1 to 14; where 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acid and greater than 7 is alkaline. Fresh, clean water is neutral with a pH of 7, lemon juice is very acid with a pH of 2.6 and baking soda is very alkaline with a pH of 8.5. It is important to remember that pH is a logarithmic scale, so the difference between a pH of 7 and a pH of 6 is ten times the acidity, between 7 and 5 is a 100 times the acidity and between 7 and 4 is a 1000 times the acidity so it is obvious that this will have a major impact on the ability of plants to grow. pH is used as an indicator of the availability of other nutrients in the soil but only hydrogen ions are actually measured.

Acid soils with a pH of less than 6 commonly have deficiencies in:

 Calcium

 Magnesium

 Phosphorus

 Potassium

 Molybdenum

Acid soils with a pH of less than 4 commonly have toxic amounts of:

 Aluminium

 Manganese

alkaline soils with a pH of more than 7 the following nutrients may be unavailable:

 Iron

 Manganese

 Zinc

 Copper

 Boron

The addition of agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) or dolomite (magnesium carbonate & calcium carbonate) will increase pH (decrease acidity) of the soil. Agricultural lime is cheaper to buy than dolomite. Dolomite is only a good idea if your soil is deficient in magnesium. Many of the acid soils in SE QLD are already too high in magnesium, adding more is a waste of money and can cause the ratio of calcium to magnesium to be out of balance.

Sulfates of iron and ammonium, elemental sulfur and organic matter are used to lower the pH (increase acidity) of the soil.

Gypsum (calcium sulphate) does not alter the pH of the soil but can improve aeration and reduce compaction in a clay soil.

The texture of the soil eg clay or sand and the amount of organic matter present will affect the quantity of material needed to alter the pH. Clay soils need a much greater amount of lime to shift the pH than sandy soils.

The addition of organic matter is always beneficial to the soil whether added as manure, compost or by green manuring. Organic matter will generally ‘buffer’ plants against the impact of acidity so that a soil with a lower pH range will still successfully grow plants.

Plants vary in their desired pH range and this is to with the pH of the soil type they evolved in. For example lavenders are native to the limestone soils of the Mediterranean and so prefer an alkaline soil.

Soil texture is a little trickier to amend than soil fertility. Texture refers to the size of the soil particles. Sandy soils have very large particles. Water, air and plant roots can move freely in sandy soils, sometimes too much so. At the other end of the spectrum is clay. Clay particles are so small they pack together tightly and leave little room for water, air or roots. If you’ve ever tried to garden in baked clay you know it also leaves little room for a shovel blade.

An easy test for soil texture is to make a ball of damp garden soil. If it breaks apart when you tap it, it’s sandy. If you can press it between your thumb and finger and make a ribbon, it’s clay.

Most soils are somewhere in-between. What you are ideally going for is called a sandy loam. It should be light and allow for air and water movement, but have some tilth, a kind of fine bread crumb like texture, which usually occurs when there is plenty of organic matter in the soil.

Don’t try to change your soil texture by adding sand to clay or vice versa. That is a recipe for cement. Some amendment recommendations for clay do include a portion of very fine sand, but there are better ways to change your soil texture.

Organic Matter
Like soil pH, organic matter gets a great deal of press. Organic matter is dead plant or animal material. There is always some organic matter in your soil, but usually not enough for a plant’s needs. Decaying organic matter, or humus, will help give your soil tilth. It helps sandy soil by retaining water that would otherwise wash away and it corrects clay soil by making it looser, so that air, water and roots can penetrate. In all soils, it encourages beneficial microbial activity and it provides some nutritional benefits. Humus is natures way of feeding the circle of life. Animal Manures Basics

This is the best information I could find, on using animal manures. The more I looked into it the more it started to burn out my mind. Yourd think putting shit onto a garden would be easy. Afraid that’s a yes and no answer. No, in that the type of manure affects the PH levels, NPK levels and acidity which I never new, down to ecoli infections etc.

Basically Cow and Horse manure are usually the easiest to find just by driving around horse studs and farming properties. Its just sitting there by the front gates for a few dollars a bag. What I liked to do is place it into a 44 gal drum and apply water, then use the resulting water or tea as some refer to it and left over sludge after its broken down as a liquid fertilizer. As a solid base fertilizer I prefer Aged Sheep manure, being closest to neutral PH as possible.

Cow manure… add to your soil if it is too alkaline (above 8)

Chook manure, add to your soil if it is too acid (below 6)

Sheep or goat manure is close to pH neutral add if your soil pH is close to were you want it

Animal manure road test

Manure is the solid waste from animals that feed on vegetable matter. Containing organic chemicals from the gut of the animal, it makes great compost. It also contains micro-organisms which are essential in helping plants break down and digest nutrients. The manure of animals which are not fed on hormones and other chemicals can be used safely – although you still need to wear gloves while handling it.

The benefits from using manure on your garden include adding water-holding capacity to sandy soils and opening up clays. Manures are mild sources of nutrients. Naturally pelleted manure such as that of rabbits and sheep resists breakdown and makes good mulch. Manures are good accelerators to aid in the breakdown of composting plant material. Use between 10-20% manure by volume. Once aged, manures encourage earthworm activity in soil. Fertilizer can be made from fresh manure added to a barrel of water and left to brew for four weeks. Break down the liquid to the strength of weak tea and use as a general-purpose fertilizer all around the garden.
On the downside, manures tend to be bulky in comparison to manufactured fertilizers, they can contain weed seeds and salts and they can burn plants, particularly if they are applied fresh in direct contact with roots. It’s always best to age fresh manure. Just pile it high and leave it to weather for 3-6 months, covering it to keep flies out.

N-P-K (Nitrogen/Phosphorous/Potassium) ratios are low in all manure. Even poultry manure, one of the richest, only has 1/8th the nitrogen content of blood and bone. Bird manures are a particularly good source of phosphate for organic gardeners who do not want to use chemical fertilizers. Caged birds like canaries and cockies produce a manure not unlike chicken manure which tends to contain uneaten seeds. This can lead to a weed infestation if the manure isn’t properly aged, as can free-range chicken manure. Pelleted poultry manures have been composted and sterilized so they are safe to use immediately.

Cow manure is relatively poor in nutrients but it will slightly improve soil fertility. Sheep and rabbit manure make superb mulch and are so mild-acting that they can be used without ageing. With nitrogen contents running at less than 1% they are unlikely to damage even fresh seedlings.
Most pig manure comes from high-tech farms. It’s been separated out in centrifuges so the resulting manure is highly concentrated and needs ageing before use. Horse manure tends to be very fibrous from the straw that’s found in stables, which means that once it’s been aged it makes an ideal mulch. Horse manure works well in vegetable gardens.
If you’re treating domestic dogs against worms, it’s important that you avoid feeding their droppings to a worm farm because it will bump those worms off as well. Instead, add them to the manure ageing pile or the vat of water.

Worm manure or castings are very easy to use and there’s no unpleasant smell. Just add them directly to the garden – there’s no need to age them. Bury them under the surface so that they don’t dry out.

Manure Nutrients

When it comes to adding body to the soil there’s nothing like natural manure as a soil conditioner. It’s a preferred option because, as the manure breaks down, it adds valuable humus to the soil and this helps to store nutrients and water.

Whether it’s cattle in the paddock or free-range chooks, any critter with a diet of grass or vegetable scraps, will produce manure that reflects the nutrient balance that plants need from the soil.

Manures are available in many guises. Ideally you can collect it yourself but there are also packaged products from the nursery and manure which can be bought from the farm gate. All are fantastic for building up organic matter in the soil. But it’s critical to realize that there can be great variation in nutrient content between different manures.

The three most commonly available manures for your garden are:
• Cow manure, which tends to have a low nutrient analysis because, like sheep manure, it comes from animals grazing on grass. This makes it great as a general purpose soil conditioner; and great for phosphorous-sensitive native plants when it’s well rotted.
• Horse manure tends to provide a step up in nutrient levels because these animals are often fed supplements. This makes it a great tonic for vegetable and flowerbeds.
• Chook manure usually has the highest nutrient content because of the intensive nature of the diet. Laying hens are often fed calcium supplements, to strengthen the eggshells, and that makes their manure particularly good as a clay-breaker. Remember that farm gate chook manure is often mixed with bedding materials, such as sawdust, which greatly dilutes nutrient levels. Chook manure always has a higher nitrogen level, making it great for fertilizing lawns and for use in the vegie garden. But it also has a higher phosphorous level, so using it long term on native plants, such as banksias, grevilleas and waratahs, can kill them.

Can you use dog poo or kitty litter in the garden? Unfortunately it’s not a good idea – particularly in the vegetable garden – because their droppings often contain pathogens harmful to humans.

If you’re lucky enough to have a source of fresh manure then you need to be careful because it can have salt levels high enough to burn plants. A tip to make it more manageable is to put the manure into a plant pot, run some water through it and this will dilute the nutrient levels. (It also allows any weed seeds in the manure to germinate, and they will quickly die before you’re ready to use it.) And what’s left is beautiful liquid manure. Dilute it so it looks like weak tea and you’ve got a wonderful tonic for your flower or vegetable garden.

When using manure, dig it into the garden as soon as possible. If it’s left sitting on the surface, much of the nitrogen, particularly from chicken manure, can be lost as ammonia gas. Just fork it into the topsoil, and the nitrogen will be available, in the short term, for any leafy vegetables, but the beautiful organic matter will break down and build up the nutrient and water-holding capacity in the soil. It’s good stuff.