Making Perfect Vegie Soil

Tino Carnevale

TINO CARNEVALE: Check that out. Absolutely gorgeous. Nigh on perfect vegie soil. The soil here in the 6 beds at The Patch at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hobart, is as good as it gets. It’s got it all. It’s rich in organic matter, it’s free draining, it’s friable and yet it holds onto moisture well. But soil like this is not natural. It takes a lot of intervention to get it this good – to grow big crops, quickly and today I’m going to show you how to do it.


Never give up. Even the worst soil can be redeemed. From sand that’s gutless and nutrient poor and doesn’t hold onto any water to clay, that’s hard for roots to penetrate and drains too slowly. Now if you’re lucky enough to have loam, that needs the least improvement, but you still need to do some work on it to keep it up to scratch. The process is essentially the same for all soil types. I’ve pulled back the mulch from the area and I’m going to turn over the soil to break it up. There’s no need to go deeper than 40 centimetres. I like to go about 30, which is about the depth of a spade, cause that’s the depth of most vegie roots.

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The ground’s quite firm, but I’m glad I don’t need a crowbar to break it up. I reckon some of these bricks that I’m pulling out haven’t seen daylight in over a century. It’s important to remove any rocks, twigs or old roots from your soil. Rocks make it harder to dig, but roots will actually break down and release phytotoxins or plant poisons. They can also release growth suppressants which can harm your plants.

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I’m just levelling the area with a rake to get any smaller bits of rubbish out. This furrow around the edge is only to define the bed. Now if this were heavy clay, I’d use gypsum – this – a clay breaker. But, after a bit of turning, the soil’s come up ok so, no gypsum required. Now to the next stage.

Starting from the edge, I’m digging a trench 30 centimetres deep and 30 centimetres wide. Now for the soil improvers. For a vegie bed about two metres by one and a half metres, I’ve got two barrow loads of fresh compost – home made. I’ve got 50 litres of cow manure and 50 litres of chicken manure. I’ve also got 75 litres of mushroom compost. Just mix them all together.

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One last soil improver. I’ve got here a third of a bucket of castings that I got from the worm farm. I’m going to half fill the trench using my mix and then scatter a couple of handfuls of these worm castings over. Then I’ll backfill with my soil and dig another trench right next to it.

Same thing with the second trench – half fill with your compost and manure mix, top dress with a couple of handfuls of worm castings, backfill with soil and dig the third trench right next to it and so on and so on.

Now this should be left for a couple of days at minimum or a couple of weeks if possible – just to let it settle in and then you come through with this spade and re-dig the soil over, yet again. But remember- no pain, no gain – and you’ll be well on your way to having great vegie soil.

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Well, have fun and I’ll see you next time.

STEPHEN RYAN: Clarence must have one of the greatest jobs – working right on the harbour in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens. Let’s go to him there now.