Organic Gardening Blog

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Heather And I Are Splitting Up After 10 Wonderful Years

Heather And Phil

I mention my wife Heather here from time to time, and she certainly mentions me regularly on her website because I’m so involved with it.

So I think it’s fitting to let you guys know we’re splitting up after 10 years together, nearly 3 of those in marriage.

The good news is that so far, about 10 days since the decision was made, we’re still hoping to continue as distant friends and virtual business partners from our respective cities (wherever those may be).


Soil Sample Testing - How To Take A Soil Sample And Get It Tested

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Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of

Today we are moving onto soil sample testing through a soil lab. This is a step that most people don’t do that is so important if you want to grow really healthy nutrient dense mineralized food or if you want to have all your plants be free of pests and ever have to spray anything ever again. This is a very important step to doing that and here is why it’s important. What most gardeners will do is they will get, they will use a lot of composed if they are specially, if they are organic gardeners, get a lot of composed on there. It certainly does have some nutrients and if it’s a good composed and then they will also use some fertilizers, especially NPK fertilizers, nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium or maybe some kind of more of a broad spectrum fertilizer but really when you are doing that you are guessing as to what your soil needs and the chances are extremely good that you are putting some minerals on there, your soil already has too much of and that maybe you are not adding certain minerals that your soil really needs.

So, it’s just like in the human body, we need to get a certain balance of all the minerals in the soil in order to have healthy food and in order that’s the two main things I always think of, healthy food pest free plants. So here is how I take a sample, first I clear off any organic debris any mulch and then I want to take a sample starting at the surface and going down 6 or 7 inches.

So, I do that with a very clean shovel, I don’t want to have a rusty shovel just like I don’t want to have a rusty pale that I put this in because that will influence the soil results. So I go down in there and you are sometimes what I do mix a little easier is I will pick that first shovel and kind of throw it aside, in that way it makes it much easier to take just a slice because I really want to get the full depth of soil down to 6 or so inches, then when I have that I put it into my very clean pale and that pale didn’t have any fertilizer or salt of anything in it because that would also affect the results.

One really important part of this year is to take samples from a few different spots in your garden. If you have a really weird spot in your garden you would I either leave that out or test it separately but for all your garden parts, parts of your garden that are the same, take a few samples and mix them together, that way you are going to get a more representative sample of your garden. Mix them together in here, they you just take a couple of cups put it into a zip lock bag, send that off to the lab.

When it comes to soil labs, you can go with your local lab and may even have some local knowledge but what I found is that there are almost always chemically minded, they are coming at soil from a very conventional way which is very different than organic.

So what I do is I ship soil sample to an organic lab, the two I often recommend are crop services international and international egg labs but there are a lot more. It’s a little harder you know in the US you can find a lot. It can be a little more difficult in other parts of the world including Canada to find a good lab but if you can find them where they are giving organic results that’s wonderful. I have a little bit written, more written in the article below about some other things I look forward in a lab so you can read that help you find a really good lab.

If you have any questions or doubt about soil testing, you can ask them down below and I will answer them. If you are on my website and you haven’t subscribed to my free online course here you can do that down below. If you are on Facebook, you can click the like button that is of course if you like and if you are on YouTube you can subscribe up above and I will see you next time.

If you’re not getting the results you’d hoped for from all areas of your organic garden, it may be time to do some soil sample testing.

I’ve talked about simple home soil tests before - there really is a lot you can see with your eyes or smell with your nose or feel with your fingers.

But sometimes the only way to get the real goods on your soil’s nutrient profile is to do some soil sample testing and send it to the experts.


How To Prepare Soil For A Garden - 2 Very Different Ways

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Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of

Today I am talking about how to prepare for a garden and specifically behind me here, I am gonna show you the two main methods I use when I am preparing a new garden bed to really create nice soil. Method 1, so the first method is tilling or digging or double digging, rototilling. There is a lot of debate about whether or not you should do this but I can tell you that sometimes it’s a great idea and in my opinion sometimes we shouldn’t be doing it. In the long run if you are always digging and tilling your soil it really hurt soil structure and it’s hard on the soil food web, your fungi, your earth worms, insects even the bacteria.

It throws them out where they want to be in the soil. So there are methods like bio-intensive methods wherever your are dull, put on more composed and double dig it deeply and it works okay but it’s a lot of work. It’s not all that sustainable and it’s you know it burns up organic matter, there is a lot of reasons I don’t like doing it long term. In the short term I really do like it because it helps to, if you have a compacted soil or a hardpan you can break that up and if you need to incorporate composed and fertilizers into your soil, this is a great way of doing it so, I don’t really use a tiller much anymore.

I really like using a fork, so here is how this goes, you can maybe tell that I have laid down some composed, not much point in doing this if you are not adding more things to the soil in my opinion, so I have my compose. I have my fertilizers in here based on the soil test I have done, now I want to dig them in. So I basically start and you want to use a fork for this, it’s not too wide. I like using one of my four or five comb and you dig it up and dig it, you go along in a trench now I am going to do this very quickly just to keep the video brief and, then the shovel is great for getting this stuff out.

So that’s kind of like a single dig right there, a very quick one, a double dig is to you go down further and so if you are doing a good job on this, the first dig might go down a foot, the second dig might go down as much as another foot, maybe 18 inches in total and you are just loosening the soil and your trench. I come along and do it here basically throw this soil from this new trench into the old trench, break it up a little bit, so that’s like my single did. I am thrown it in and then I go deeper and have loosened the soil up in the new trench.

So this way I can get down as much as two feet, really loosing that soil up. Get the composed and fertilizers incorporated down in there. The soil from the first trench is going to end up in my last trench or often just spread over top of everything and it’s a great way to loosen the soil. So that’s double digging. Method 2, method 3 no method; now we are on to method 2 which is another favorite way of mine to build a new garden and it’s called sheet mulching or lasagna gardening. It’s definitely less work physically, it’s not really as hard. It is a lot of work to get the materials but it’s not as much physical work.

Another thing I really love about as you can put it on, you can do it right on top of the grass, without having to take the grass off and taking the grass off is quite a pain. You either have to rent a side cutter or do with a spade and it’s a lot of work especially on a big area.

Another nice thing about leaving the grass is you get to the organic matter right there. It will become nice organic matter in your soil and you are not hurting soil structure with this method and I guess, the down side of it is it takes first of all you are not incorporating organic matter and fertilizers into the soil which is the nice thing about the double digging and also it takes probably a year for it to become productive.

You can’t seed into it right away. You can kind of plant into it but it takes a year for it to really work well. First thing we often do is wet the area a little bit and then you want to get some newspaper or card board and now what this is gonna do is stop the grass. It’s gonna kill the grass basically, so you lay it down, now how many sheets of newspaper, kind of depends on how much newspaper you have, how big of an area you do but more than one sheet. I kind of do it like this and I overlap them a little bit, so that the grass can be true.

You want to do this on a calm dig because the newspaper will blow away and even then you want to water it, there is a help start to break down process by the microbes and then we were basically building a composed pile right on the soil but it’s called a sheet mulch and we build it anywhere from 6, 12, 18 inches tall and we are using the same kind of materials, we might use in a composed pile. One of the first things I would like to put on is either maneuver or composed, now of course I am just doing a tiny area here to show but you would do this through the whole garden.

So I would lay a little later at that time, I would like to using leaves as kind of more of a carbon source whereas maneuver is more of my nitrogen source. A thicker layer of leaves than that but this is just an example. It doesn’t have to be complicate, it can be as simple as maneuver and some leaves straw but if you have other things like grass clippings, there are nice incorporated in there. I have some weeks and I am gonna put in there but you don’t want to use weeks like bind the weed or anything that’s gonna travel because you will travel right through your whole sheet mulch. You don’t want to use probably you don’t to use weeks that have a seed, have gotten the seed but if you have other weeks which is grass clippings from mowing the lawn, if you incorporate hay in there as well but for the top layer, it’s nice to have straw because it doesn’t have as many weed seed and so it keeps all the weeds from the maneuver and from the grass clippings and from the foods perhaps.

It keeps them from germinating, so I often mix a lot of stuff together. I will even mix the straw of kind of together with the other things but I make sure I end of top which is a nice layer of straw and so that’s kind of a mini sheet mulch right there. Now if you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on my home page of, you can also come hitting out on Facebook at If you want to know which one you should do the tilling or the double digging, where the sheet mulching side of things, you can read about that down at the bottom of my blog post. I wrote about it there.

There are a couple of different methods of preparing soil for a garden bed, both of which have their uses.

Once you’ve dug a hole, played around with your soil a bit, and learned about your soil texture, it’s now time to start making your garden.

The first thing I want to briefly mention about how to prepare soil for a garden is what to do if you have a very extreme soil texture, i.e. very sandy or clayey.


Home Soil Testing - No Need For A Soil Test Kit To Do This

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Phil: Hey guys this is Phil from, if you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course, you can do that right on the home page of Today I am talking about soils again, what I am going to do is get into a little bit of a home soil testing process, you can easily do and don’t worry I know you guys want to learn about how to control pests and get rid of weeds and how to grow really delicious tomatoes and how to get you know into fertilizing and which fertilizers to use and I am really excited to teach all that stuff I love talking about that stuff but the thing is here is the thing; hey, are you filming this out of order, when we start with the soil we are actually working on all of that stuff already.

So I am already teaching you that when we have really good healthy soil, we have healthy plants. We don’t have pest problems, we have delicious tomatoes and other plants and nutritious plants. So starting with the soil really takes care of any kind of problems you might encounter and it really addresses to love the goals you may have such as growing food. So that’s why start there and the cool thing is within a few years you are going to be growing this really healthy food, it is really beautiful flowers and I say a few years because it actually does take time to get the soil to a level of nutrition that you can really sure, you going to have hardly any pest problems, you can be more sure, you are going to have higher nutrition in your food.

It doesn’t mean this year wouldn’t be good. You can still have a great success in your first and second season, maybe second season but as you get further and further that’s when it really starts to click and it starts with this hole I have dug right here. Now this is a simple process, we are going to get into more detailed soil testing through a lab eventually but this is a simple thing that you can do in less than half an hour and I even do it every year to just to see how I am doing so what you do is you dig a hole, you dig a hole that’s about a foot wide and long and deep and you start to look into that hole and you figure a few things out about your soil.

The first thing I look at is how easy was it to dig and you want to keep notes on all of these stuff because one of the main reasons we do is just to see how we progress year to year. Last year when I dug in here, it was reasonably difficult to dig. It’s a pretty heavy clay soil, it came out in big clumps but last year I double dug this which I am going to show you eventually and I 2:21 melted it which I am going to show you eventually as well and so digging this year took about one minute to dig this hole. I put it in here into a wheelbarrow, you can put onto a trapper garbage bag, you want to look at it and see how dark the soil is, here this has pretty nice organic matter because I have mended quite a lot last year but when I started it was a much lighter color, now it’s pretty dark.

I guess you can see because I am kind of stranded in the shadows and you know what, it’s going to a get a lot darker over the years, if it will really light page color, if I knew I had sand; then I can kind of keep track as am mending it with organic matter, if I am improving that. You know if were like a grey color I may just be a little concerned about if it’s maybe a really heavy clay again I am going to be mending it, so I am just trying to pay attention. I also put it in here and I look at the soil in the wheelbarrow. One thing I do is I kind of drop it in there and clumps and I see how some of those clumps break a part, look at how beautifully this has broken apart.

It still has nice kind of aggregates, it’s not like sand but it also has a nice kind of looseness to it. So it kind of clumps a little but those clumps fall apart very easily that’s just because I have working on for a year but you know your year is the hardest because that’s when you got to start doing some heavy work but eventually it becomes like this and mine is doing really nice. Also I can do the ribbon test I showed you last time which is taken a third of a cup and trying to squeeze it into a ball and into a ribbon to see if I have clay or sand, that tells me a lot as talked about last time, oh and there is another thing to look for, earthworms.

So if you go through your square foot of soil and you find ten earthworms and you are doing pretty good. I am happy to have ten earthworms. I am really happy if I can find more like 30 earthworms which I am sure I could find in there because of all the work I have been doing, another I like to look for and this is especially if I do in a lawn which I did today but if you in a place where there is roots. If you see how far down the roots go, you can keep track of that, if you see the roots, kind of stop at a certain point and start going sideways, that probably means you have a hard pan layers there and you might wanted the first year double dig through that with a fork with a garden fork and also do some of mending when we get into the soil testing stuff because we want the roots to be able to go much deeper than that, also you can look to see if there are fine root here is on your roofs that indicate there is plenty of oxygen in the soil or maybe if there is not a lot of fine root here, that’s a pointing though lack of oxygen.

There are a few things you can do right now. If you have a question for me about how to improve your soil you can ask it down below and I will get back to you. If you haven’t signed up on my free online organic gardening course, you can do that at If you are on Facebook, you can like my page there and we hang out there and my sister posts stuff there everyday too, she posts a lot of cool stuff. On YouTube you can subscribe and I will see next time.

Today I have a very simple home soil testing process for you.

You may be more interested in learning about topics such as:

  • How to get rid of insect and disease pests, and
  • How to grow the best-tasting tomatoes ever, and
  • Which fertilizers to apply to improve your soil

And I'm looking forward to teaching you these topics.


What Is Soil Made Of And How Does Soil Form?

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Phil: Hey guys it’s Phil from If you haven’t checked out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of and this is the first lesson of this new series. There is not a whole lot of plants going on behind me because it’s still early spring but that’s okay because the first lesson always has to be about soil anyway and the thing I really like to always start talking about is what is soil made of, how does it form, just a quick look at this because isn’t given the respect it deserves in a lot of circles, certainly in organic gardening we think a lot differently let’s have a look at our soil here.

It’s gotta drink my tea before it gets too cold. So how does soil form. Soil forms from rock. It starts as rock and then over thousands of years you have wind coming in, you have rain coming down, you have chemical reactions that occur and you have a temperature changes, freezing and staying in hot temperatures and gradually it gets broken down, a lot of this is very physical and mechanical a little bit of chemical too but the thing it doesn’t get talked about is much is the biology, so the biology is when plants start to come in, there is just enough soil that little plants can come and little microorganisms to come in and they work together often to start to produce even better soil and soil that has a little bit of organic matter in there and so that part is really important and that’s what we talk about inorganic garden, now what I want to talk about today is I just want to get inside all our heads that we are talking about soil as a vibrant community.

It’s chemical, it’s physical, it’s also very biological. So that’s what we look at, now today I kind of wanted to just look briefly at the soil texture and what that really means is the proportion of sand silt and clay in your soil because mostly that’s what the soil is, the rock it’s broken into sand which is pretty big, silt which is smaller and clay which is really, really tiny, so what you do is you try to get a little bit of soil maybe like a third of a cup into your hand, take out the organic debris, try to squeeze it into a bowl and then roll it down to cylinder and the more you can do that, the more silt and clay you have. If it doesn’t hardly squeeze into anything you have a really sandy soil.

My mike just fell off, check, check, check okay we are still going so, the texture influences the structure and what the structure is it’s how the soil kind of crumbles how it stays together are rally sandy soil texture, doesn’t stay together very well, kind of falls apart. It allows a lot of air in there but doesn’t hold water very well. So that influences how you water, a heavy clay soil hold plenty of water which is great but doesn’t hold that much area so you have to think about that also influences how you water. Both of them influence how you fertilize or what we are gonna be talking about a lot of fertilizer, the cruel thing is even if you have a very sandy soil or a very high clay soil, there is something that can moderate that and that is organic matter, so here we have leaves that make the best melt ever, we have stray that makes a pretty good melt too.

In here I have composed but I put in last year and all of these things are gonna serve to really moderate to extreme. So if I get organic matter in there get humus building in the soil. If I have a sandy soil which I don’t have here, it’s gonna help that soil to hold a lot more water and hold a lot more nutrition because sand is not whole nutrients very well at all. If I have a clay soil getting that organic matter in there is gonna allow to get more air because the roots need air in the soil food bed needs air. It’s gonna allow it to resist compaction too and you know there is so many other things that organic matter does, resisting erosion providing nutrients all kinds of cool stuff.

So really we are gonna be talking about organic matter a lot during this course, so that is just a little introduction to soil. All I really want to get across when I am talking about soil early on is just important it is for the garden and how we can learn a lot about our soil by digging in it, we are gonna be focusing on increasing organic matter, increasing minerals and proving the soil food web, it’s gonna be physics and chemistry and biology and all of this is so important to have healthy flowers, healthy trees and especially for nutrient dense food which is what I have really invested in and I have done to a little more detail in the article if you want to read that, that’s all, that’s all. If you are watching this on YouTube subscribe because there is a lot more videos in this series coming up. If you are watching on my website, you can sign up for my email list and I am going to send this as we go, I will see you next time.

If you’ve ever wondered what is soil made of - GOOD!

You absolutely need to wonder about this kind of thing if you’re going to grow optimally healthy food.

Check out this video or read on below and you’ll see that many of our most important organic gardening tasks stem from this vital question.

And for more information on how to improve the nutrition and biological diversity of your soil, check out my organic fertilizing guide.


FREE Organic Gardening Course To Grow Nutrient-Dense Food

I've been involved with gardening since I was a kid, but I didn't get excited about it until I discovered organic gardening.

Organic Gardening

And so I’m really excited about a new series of organic home gardening lessons I've put together for you.

I was originally going to charge a small fee for the lessons, but I've decided to give them to you for free and leave the fees for my much more comprehensive Smiling Gardener Academy course.

The lessons will summarize some of the important concepts from the Academy.


Amazon Jungle Lesson 3 Of 3 - The Soil Food Web

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Phil: In the first two videos, I talked about how to balance our soil fertility, so that we can grow the kind of plants that we want to grow and then also how to learn from nature to bring organic matter in to our gardens. The third video is about the soil food web and that's really about the organisms living in the soil, whereas organic matter was more about that when they're dead, when plants and animals and organisms are dead.

This is more about when they're living. So it's bacteria and fungi and earth worms and insects and animals and even the plants are part of the soil food web too. If you had x-ray, microscopic vision and could look down in to the soil here, you would see a web of fungi that are going between all of these different trees and attaching the trees together, what the fungi do, is they effectively extend the root system of the trees and they go deep into the soil and far in to the soil. They bring water and nutrients to the trees. They also wrap right around the roots, that's where the connection occurs and they protect the roots from plant feeding organisms.

And then the trees in return, they manufacture carbohydrates during photosynthesis and they send that carbohydrate down to the fungi as food. So it's a real borrowing system. Even if you don't have microscopic visions, although I can't see any right now, you can sometimes see the fruits of these fungi, which are mushrooms. So the mushrooms come up and that's kind of the fruits and that's one way that the fungi spread themselves.

Even more interesting to me than that border, although that's really cool, is that the trees can actually share probably water, certainly nutrition, and probably even knowledge with each other through this fungal network, so they things through the fungi to each other to help each other out.

And then there are bacteria in the soil, there are proteas in the soil, they will have slightly different roles, but they're all… they all do important things for the community and they're very inter-dependent. They all consume each other and relate to each other and sometimes help each other. Some of the things they do are they… as I said, they feed plants, they protect plants, they breakdown organic matter, so they take that mulch that falls from the trees or the animals or everything that’s dead. They turn it into a kind of a mulch and then eventually in to a humus.

It takes some of them, taking nitrogen from the air and convert in to a form that plants can use. Some of them take toxins in the soil and make them non-toxic anymore.

Any kind of role that we need in our human communities happens in the plant communities. Taking up the cabbage and being the doctors and all things like that, all… -- there is all different roles, the organisms have to play in the soil. In the forest, the conditions are pretty nice for these microorganisms, for these fungi and bacteria and all these little guys is pretty good.

In our gardens, often not so much. We've had a lot of maybe construction work in our gardens, maybe we have a lot of compaction from equipment, lawn mores, kids running around and playing soccer. We have a monocultures that, the lack of diversity causes issues, may be we have… some one is used chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the past, which really decimates that soil food web. And so in our gardens, we may not has as abundant of a soil food web as healthy as diverse of the soil food web as naturally occurs here in the forest.

So in our gardens, we may to do something to introduce this, microbial diversity back in to our soil. The first way and arguably definitely one of the best ways to do it is compose, which I talked about in the organic matter section. A lot of people know composed is organic matter, which is good, its nutrients, which are good. But it's also just important… it's a way of growing and multiplying beneficial aerobic microorganisms, bacteria and fungi. If you have good composed that smells good, that was made properly and you have a good beneficial organisms you can bring in to your garden and immaculate your garden with those organisms.

So that's the one thing to do, but we don't usually have as much composed around, especially good composed as we would like. And so in that case, there are other things you can do, either to supplement the composed or even if you don't have composed to bring is like microbes in to your garden. I started off this post talking about micorize a fungi that are in the forest here.

You may very well not have them in all that… in abundance in your garden. And so there are ways that you can propagate them from healthy tree roots, but you have to know a lot of about how to do that properly, it takes some time. For me, the best thing to do is just to go and buy a small amount of them, you can buy them as an inoculants. And then every time you are seeding or planting anything, you put a little bit of fungi on the roots around the seeds and you're going to get them in to your soil that way. Otherwise, you can culture a lactic acid bacteria, which is something it's very, very useful bacteria for your soil.

But again, to me, and I like doing the homemade stuff, but sometimes it makes sense, there is a mosquito in front of the lens makes sense to buy a product. So there is a product called the effective microorganisms, you can buy from usually $15 to $30 depending on what kind you get. Bring that in to your soil, it's going to bring a bunch of different fermenting microbes, including, but not limited to lactic acid bacteria. And they're going to provide many benefits to your garden, to your soil, to your composed pile and to your plants.

Another one is composed tea. It's a little more work to make a good composed tea, but if you can do it, what you're doing there is your bringing in a huge ray of… tens and thousand of different species of microorganisms in to your soil, whereas the EM is just a few really important microbes, composed tea has many different microbes.

And the cool thing about the EM, which is effective microorganisms and the composed tea is, you can also spray them on to your plants and inoculate the leaves, where they can feed the leaves, the plant right through the leaves and protect the plants from diseases like that leafs seems to have. So there composed is the best, but there are other ways that we can bring in these inoculants in the garden.

Of course, we also need to stop the killing of our soil, which is hard on microorganisms the compacting, the chemical use, the pesticide use and we also have to make sure we provide them with a good home. So that means we need to water the whole soil, not just drip irrigation to the plants, we need to give water to all of these microorganisms.

We need to give them mulch, a nice leaf layer and organic matter in the soil, so we need to do what I talked about in the first video, which is balance out the nutrients just to make sure they have the proper nutrient ratios in the soil. So we need … all the things I've been talking about, we need to do, not just for the plants, but for all of these organisms in the soil.

Okay. We’ve made it back to our cabin, alive although we do have some lights on our legs. But I hope you've enjoyed these three videos in these Smiling Gardner Academy, I get in to a lot of these inoculants on how to activate your own EM, so that it really brings the cost down to like $1 to $2 per litter, how to make a special kind of compose called Bokashi with EM, how to brew your own composed tea, how to get your own indigenous lactic acid bacteria. So all kinds of cool inoculants to improve the soil food web and of course composed in too, the price as I said goes up Monday night.

So if you’re thinking about that, may be have a look at it, other than that I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

In the first two posts I covered how important it is to balance the mineralization in the soil in order to be able to grow the kinds of plants we want to grow, and then how to increase organic matter in soil the way nature does it.

Now I want to get into the third part of this soil health triangle, the soil food web.

This refers to the life in the soil, especially the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, and the insects and other small animals.

The plants are part of this too since they have a tremendous impact on the soil.


Amazon Jungle Lesson 2 Of 3 - Organic Matter In Soil

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Phil: In the last video, I was talking about soil mineralization. And in this video, what I want to get in to is, something else that’s very important for soil health and that is organic matter. An organic matter sometimes can refer to something that is living like roots are always growing and living in leaves and plants. But mostly in this context, what I mean is, something that used to be living.

And so that is leaves that are fall into the ground, that is snakes and beetles that are dead and lying on the ground and other animals, it's microorganisms, it is… all of these fresh things that have recently died and are lying on the ground. Then it's also the coarse mulch layer if you can kind of see here that is on the ground, which is when these things are starting to be broken down and they're becoming more like a mulch they’re being broken down by microorganisms.

And then eventually, when we get into the soil, we get in to the humus layer, which is when these things have been broken down and broken down by all these different kinds of microorganisms and it really resist being broken down anymore, it gets into the soil and is called humus. So that's what we're going to be talking about today as these forms of organic matter.

The forest excels at recycling organic matter. The leaves from both deciduous and coniferous trees, which is the needles are falling down, whether it would be all in a fall for deciduous or often throughout the year for something it's coniferous, they're falling to the ground and they're being recycled. There are plants and the cannabis underneath, if you get a shot of that, plants that just grow up every year and die back and so that's a lot of organic matter.

And then underground too, you have the roots that are … as you guys probably know just as big as the upper part of a tree, the roots spread all underground and… hey mosquito, don’t go in my ear. All underground and they actually grow and die back a lot. At microscopic kind of level, they're always growing and dying and contributing organic matter.

So forest really excels that recycling all these organic matter in to the soil. I should mention, although we don't have any prairies around us right now, that they create even more organic matter, you might not think so, but because the grasses, the grasses are very dense, they grow up and die every year. They have very dense root systems that grow and die a lot throughout the year.

They create a lot of organic matter and it stays down in the soil, whereas in a forest, a lot of that carbon ends up in the trunk of these trees. But either way, within any kind of natural ecosystem, organic matter is being recycled very efficiently and it’s doing a lot of good work in the soil. And that’s just the plants, so of course there are microorganisms, there are animals, earthworms, insects, all of these are growing and dying and it being recycled back in to the soil too. And but I want to talk about now is the few of the main things that organic matter does for us in the soil, in the forest and in our gardens.

First might be, fertility. Organic matter, especially when it's gets broken down into more humus in the soil is exceptionally good at holding on to nutrients. So it's stops nutrients from draining down out beneath where the roots can get them. It holds on to them and it makes them much easier for microorganisms and plants to use it. It chelates with them, makes the much more available to all the other organisms.

And further organic matter is usually composed a lot of nutrition itself. So of course, animals when they die, leaves when they fall, they have some nutrients in them, many different minerals, but especially carbon, which we may not think of as a nutrient, but it's really one of the most common nutrients that plants need, they made up of largely of carbon. So that's a very important nutrient for plants to take up, which they partially get from the air as carbon-dioxide, but if there is lots of organic matter in the soil, they’ll be happy to take it from there instead.

Number two is, water and air. Organic matter in the soil especially creates the different spore spaces that allow the soil to hold on to a lot of water, but also bigger spore spaces that allow to hold on to a lot of air. All our roots and our microorganisms need air, so we need that and of course they need water.

And so humus in the soil is good at that, plus the coarse organic leaf layer on the top of the soil is really good at holding on to moisture and air as well. Then there is soil structure, which is partly what I just talked about with the air spaces and the water spaces. But also just the organic matter in the soil is decreases compaction, really helps the soil bounce back from compaction, decreases erosion, it really helps the soil be held together, instead of blowing away.

Then there is providing for soil life and really it's all the things I've just talked about, but organic matter is habitat from microorganisms and earthworms and insects, it's food, it's water, it's air, I mean, it just provides everything that all of the soil food web needs to establish itself and be healthy. And it probably provides other things we don't know about on an energetic level, helping energy move through the soil. I mean, just really, yeah, creating a community or a soil life can thrive. We found the only sunny spot in this rain course here.

And now what I want to do is, start talking about how we can mimic nature, this rain forest to bring in organic matter into our gardens. And immediately, some of the things we do are fairly un-natural, but they do help us speed up the process of getting organic matter in to our soil and on to our soil. So the first would be composed, composting is not really a natural process, we're kind of forcing very fast decomposition by bringing organic materials into a certain sized pile or certain amount of water and air and things like that and certain combinations of materials in order to hasten the decomposition of that into organic matter and being on it's way into humus.

And we might use manure also in our garden, although it’s really best composed first as well. So we bring that composed in to our garden and pretty quickly we have some fairly well broken down organic matter. The next thing is, bringing in a mulch, which is so important for our garden. And the way we do it is way nature does it, which is leaves. Leaves are by far the best mulch. I know that most people aren't using leaves, but they really are natural their nutrients and they just provide many benefits.

A little bit grass clippings can work too, you don't want too thick of a layer grass clippings, because it can get anaerobic and promote the wrong kind of microorganisms and they can smell and all that. But a little bit grass clippings is fine and when we don't have leaves or grass clippings in the short-term, we can use straw, which works really well, doesn't look quite as natural, but it does fine.

But really, what we hope is that we can eventually get some leaves in to our garden. One thing that you really don't want to use too much off is bark mulch and wood chips. If you look at the fourth floor here, you don't see two inches of wood chips or bark mulch that just not … that's not how it happens. When you see here, mostly leaves, you see some sticks that fall. Hardly any bark, because the trees don't shed bark all that much.

You see, probably some seeds and some fresh material, but it's mostly leaves that of course on top, when you get underneath and then they are more broken down. So you can use a little bit of that stuff. Bark mulch tends to, it can cause a nitrogen deficiency in your soil. It’s so high in carbon that I won't explain that all here, but it can just cause nitrogen to be used up very quickly in your soil.

The same with wood chips and the thing about bark, especially is that how those toxins in it, that's the plants, first line of defense against insects and other plant feeding organisms. And so there is toxins in bark, especially in coniferous bark that we often use in the garden like fur and seeder, pretty toxic stuff. Now you can use a little bit in an ornamental garden or for example, if you have a seeder edge, sure you could use a little bit of seeder mulch underneath, but you don't need two inches of it.

If you have a free source of woody material, again in a deciduous like an ornamental garden, that's a woody garden like shrubs and trees, a little bit can be okay, you might need to supplement some nitrogen, some organic nitrogen, so that you don't cause soil problems. But really if you had a free source, I'd rather see you composed it for a few years and then bring it in to your garden.

So composts and mulches are great way to quickly bring in organic matters, sometimes we bring it in from offside if we have to, but in the long run, what we really want to do is, mimic nature even more by using for example plants.

If we can plant things that grow quickly and make a lot of leaves that falls and for most of us in autumn, they fall and that's the great way to create mulch and then naturally it's going to become more humus overtime. So planting things always making sure we have ground cover is a great way to mimic nature and increase organic matter. Along with that, we really want to have ground covers in our garden. And you can be there, it’s very popular, it's very popular to use ground covers that are evergreen like IVs, things like that, they can be helpful.

But more I’m thinking deciduous ground covers like clovers and perennials that get recycled into the soil every year and improve the soil when the recycled and also improve the soil, just by being there and covering it and protecting it. And speaking of clovers, if you're doing a lot of vegetable gardening, where the bed is empty during the early spring and fall, it's great to plan a cover cop of legumes like clovers and that is they bring nitrogen into the soil, provide a lot of benefits or sometimes grasses are good for or they bring in other benefits, but just always making sure your soil is covered in plants is a great way to make sure that's always going to get a lot of organic matter.

So you can see how nature gives us a lot of clues as to how to improve organic matter. In the long-term the sustainable way to do it, is to plant a lot of plants that are going to be loosing a lot of leaves and making a nice mulch for you, having cover crops on the ground all the time, just always under social cover is a good way to do it. And then in the short-term, we might bring in some composed and some leaf mulch, some straw mulch to get that organic matter happening much more quickly.

So that's really important. Step number two is organic matter. It does allow for our garden. In the next video, I'm going to get in to the third step to building a healthy garden ecosystem. As for all the things I talked about today, I do get in to them in much more detail in the academy in my on-line gardening course, so mulching and composting and cover cropping, all of that in a lot more detail. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the price is going to be going up on Monday night, so if you're interested in that you might want to have a look at that right now.

In the last post I talked about improving soil mineralization.

Now I want to discuss another aspect of organic soil health that is important for so many things: organic matter in soil.

Organic matter refers partially to living things like roots and fungi, but in this context it mostly means everything that used to be alive.

That means fresh fallen leaves and recently deceased snakes and beetles, to the coarse mulch layer when these things are partially decomposed, to the very stable humus when they’re fully broken down which stays around in the soil for years.


Amazon Jungle Lesson 1 Of 3 - Mineralization

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Phil: Despite the fact that you can hear, may be a chainsaw in the background. We are in fact in the jungle.

Welcome to the first three videos about how to improve the health of your garden, especially the health of your soil. What we're going to do is, we're in our cabin right now in the rain forest. But we're going to be going for some walks this week right into the jungle to learn about how we can learn from the jungle, from nature to improve the health of our garden. Admitively, this first video is actually a little more about how our garden differs from the rain forest. But it's still going to be interesting to compare the two.

And the first thing I want to talk about is mineralization of your soil or balancing your soil fertility. All of the three videos I'm going to shoot are of equal importance. But I usually start there, because when I go in to a new garden or when I install a new garden, I want to often get a soil test on it and send it off to a lab and it takes a couple of week, sometimes to get the results back and then I can think about mineralizing the soil, fertilizing the soil. But I want to do that right away, so I can send that off to the lab to get those results.

So first of all, what I'm going to be talking about today is soil fertility. So what can we learn from the forest about fertility? Well, we can learn a lot of things and some of them are going to come in latter videos. But if you think about a forest, nobody fertilizes the forest, there is nobody bringing in calcium or any kind of fertilizer.

And that's why a lot of people think, oh, I don't want to fertilize my garden. Nobody fertilize, is the forest or a prairie and if I just make composed is very popular in the organic world and that's going to be sufficient to fertilize my garden. And I kind of understand that. But what I want to just talk about today is, why our garden is different and why I think you do want to do a little bit of fertilizing in your garden and I'm going to give you a few tips today on how to do that.

The reason the forests doesn't need fertilizing is because something is always going to grow here, unless you have soil that's incredibly toxic or something like that. Even then, there are plants for every situation. And so what happens in a forest or anywhere that's natural is you have… when you hardly have any soil, you have plants that come in, they're called pioneering species, they're often nitrogen fixing plants, but there may be various kinds of plants and microorganisms, likings they come in, they spread up, of course, this takes decades and centuries, but eventually that the right plant for the soil here and for the climate… is that a monkey? Is going to come in. And most of the plants that spread are not going to grow, but that's okay, because some will grow and eventually you have this cool forest.

So that's really why you don't need for laser in forest, something is… there is always something that’s going to come in. You can do the same thing in your garden if you want to and I've actually known a couple of people who have done that, which is just to let the weeds grow up and we call them weeds, but they're really just plants. And what they're going to do is to kind of improve of your soil overtime, more species of plants will come in, may be eventually after decades or centuries, it becomes the forest like this or may be not. But it will be a garden kind of.

The reason we want to fertilize is because we want to dictate which plants come in, we want to plant them and we want to make sure, they would grow there and we want them all to live, not just 10% of them and we want to thrive. If you leave your garden alone, it's … is it going to produce tomatoes or strawberries or big, beautiful award winning roses, from most of us, the answer is no. It's a… most of those plants didn't evolve where we're trying to grow them, they came from often and another continent entirely and most of them aren’t and perfectly matched for our soil conditions. So it doesn't mean you can plant them and may be get some more key plants. But if you want really healthy plants and that's when a little bit of fertilizers can help. And you don't need a lot, it's actually amazing, just how little you need to tweak the system to make it work for plants like these.

The easiest way to know which fertilizers to use is to go and get a soil lab that is very organically minded, get them to analyze your soil. They’ll tell you which macronutrients and micronutrients are lacking or imbalanced in your soil and then they will tell you what to bring in and how much to bring in. It's really easy to do that way. The most gardeners skip this step, many of them still have fine gardens, but if you're trying to grow really healthy plants that are free of pests and especially what I'm interested in, it's food that is really full of nutrients, that's when I think this step is worthwhile just to get a soil test and do a little bit of fertilizing.

The reason we need a soil test is because we want to add the right nutrients. That's not just N, P, K, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, it's not even things like dolomite, lime, which people often add just for good measure. Those can often cause problems. What we want is to know exactly which minerals we need to add in there. And that's why often, blended fertilizers that you buy from a garden centre or a fertilizer supply place are not right, because they may be bringing in some of the nutrients you need, but they may be bringing in some of the nutrients you already have enough or too much of and then you just further shifting things out of balance.

That being said, there is one kind of fertilizer you can bring in without a soil test and that is rock dust. Usually from a glacial source or volcanic source, you can get it from something more of a specialty fertilizer store or you can go right to a query and get it if you're willing to do some testing to make sure it's good and it doesn't have any problems with that. But you can bring that in and what it does is, it brings in a broad spectrum of nutrients. So it doesn't bring in a lot of any nutrient, which means it's not going to throw anything out of balance and that's why you can use it without a soil test. So you can bring it in, it's going to make sure you have just a base of lots of different nutrients and you're not going to cause any problems.

And although it may seem kind of weird to bring in rock dust, a lot of experimentation around the world is shown that it works. Even though, our soil is usually do have at least a little of every nutrients, they really do. Bring in the rock dust in has done a lot of good in gardens and even in forests. Another thing we can do is called foliar fertilizing, which means we're spraying things like ocean water, just straight ocean water from a clean source or cults that's been made in to a liquid. We spray that on to our plants and it's especially useful during the early growing stages of plants or when your soil may be isn't popping enough to make your garden really grow healthy.

Now paradoxically, you actually need to have a reasonably healthy soil, especially you need enough calcium in order for the plants to be able to take up these nutrients through their leaves. We get all those minerals down into the soil, they get in to the plants, the plants then have all the micronutrients to create the enzymes in order to be healthy, in order to maximize photosynthesis and do all of these plants processes. And then the really nice thing for us, if we're growing food, is that we get to eat the plants that have the micronutrients in them. And even if you're already eating a healthy diet, if you're trying to eat organic food, a lot of our organic food, especially the industrialized organic food is pretty low in nutrition.

So that's why I'm really in to growing my own food and trying to use these different methods to get fertility both in to the soil and directly in to the plants, so that I get to get that fertility in to me latter and then I can be healthier. So what I really wanted to share today is, more how as I said, a garden is different than a forest. It's different because we want to control which plants grow. We want them to be very healthy. We want everything we plant to live and thrive and produce all nutrient dense food for us or at least be for growing ornamentals, have beautiful flowers and we free of test and so that's really what I was talking about today.

In the next video, I'm going to talk about something different, but it relates very much to fertility and to water. It's much more about how we can emulate nature in our gardens. For those of you watching who are not in the Smiling Gardner Academy, which is my online, very comprehensive organic gardening course, where I teach soil testing and mineralization and soil fertility and all of these things I've been kind of talking about today are you… if you're interested in that, you might want to check it out this week, because the price is actually going to be going up on Monday night.

Welcome to the first of three steps on how we can learn from nature when it comes to improving garden health, especially organic soil health.

(You'll see me swatting at mosquitoes and these other biting bugs here and there - they sure were thick when we got deep into the jungle).

All three steps are equally important, but the first I tend to think about is balancing soil minerals, the main reason being that I want to get a soil test analyzed as soon as possible when I’m working on a new garden because it can take a couple of weeks to get results.

Admittedly, this first post is more about how our organic gardens differ from a forest with regards to fertility than how it is the same, but it’s a very useful comparison.


Organic Gardening Lessons From The Amazon Jungle

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Phil: Hey, guys, its Phil from and as you may be able to tell by the vegetation around me, I'm not where I usually I am. I am in the jungle in the Amazon. Heather and I are in Peru for about three months and we're basically kind of working away as usual. We always have plenty to do, but we're doing it from Peru for a little while. And while we’re here, I'm trying to learn a little bit more about growing food in the tropics. But as while we're in the Amazon here, I'm mostly just trying to pay attention to the jungle around me to the nature around me, you can learn a lot about gardening by paying attention to nature.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to be making three videos for you to show you how we can take some lessons from the jungle here and bring them into our organic gardens to grow healthy plants, plants that are pest free and especially if you're growing food, plants that are really nutrient, dense and full of nutrition for you. And well it happen to be in the Amazon jungle here, I could just as easily be in a temperate forest or even in a grassland and all the lessons that I'm going to be talking about here, really apply to every one.

I could certainly make a lot more than three lessons about looking in to nature for design tips that's very much for permaculture culture is interested in as learning from nature, talking about maintenance, there are all kinds of things I could talk about. But what I want to focus on for these three videos are how to create really healthy soil and what we can learn from nature about creating healthy soil in our gardens. So I'm going to be filming these over the next few days and sending them to you as I make them that you happen to be in the middle of my other lessons right now that means you're going to get a lot of e-mails from me this week. So I hope that's okay. But I just really want to film these this week and send them off to you. So I hope you enjoy them.

Hey guys, guess where I am?

Okay, I gave it away in the title. I’m in the Amazon jungle!

Heather and I are living in Peru for 3 months. While we’re here I’m learning a few things about growing food in the tropics.

But while we're in the jungle I’m mostly just trying to pay attention to the nature around me.

You can learn a lot about organic gardening if you take the time to observe nature.


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