Soil husbandry in the city - You can do it too!

December 14 ,2016 BY Nova Nelson

Soil husbandry in the city - You can do it too!

Finding good soil from garden centres can be a challenge. If you are living in Singapore you'll find both extremes, expensive, high carbon footprint peat based soil flown in from Europe and America as well as cheaper local or regional sourced potting mix. Over the past year I've noticed large quantities of cheap dry, light and inert potting mixes from China.

In Malaysia, you will find plenty of local soil mixes. In both markets you'll notice the words premium, organic, potting, bio, natural plastered on packaging. But not always substantiated with details about what exactly this means and what has gone into the bag of soil. Similar to processed food we don't always get a complete picture of what goes into these premixes or where exactly the materials are from. I've found this challenging so I've started to rely less on store bought soil for my edible garden at home.

If you believe in the benefits of growing food in healthy soil why not cultivate some at home? A simple routine of trench composting behind my apartment block has been my way of rebuilding and making healthy soil.

Trench composting is only one way to compost. We've written about trench composting before. I wanted to talk about it again because I've been composting for more than 7 years now, and I've found this method to be really fuss free. As simple as digging a hole and forgetting about it. It truly is a simple form of composting. Suitable for your hectic life in the city. And absolutely engaging for children. My toddler brings fruit scraps to the trench and makes me dig up wriggly worms for him to wonder at.

Bring your soil to life.

Make your own soil by trench composting. Here are some reasons trench composting is doable and so easy:

  • You don't have to worry about getting the carbon and nitrogen balance right.
  • You just dig, drop your kitchen waste, cover and let the magnificent microbes and worms do the work for you.
  • No anaerobic smell. No heat too.
  • No need to flip and turn too often. You can get away with doing this once a fortnight.
  • Speed, even if you do not chop your organic waste to small pieces, your waste can be composted considerably well in two weeks.
  • You can plant food around the trench if you have space.

In permaculture, as a design principle every garden element must perform multiple functions. Trench composting is marvellous because it is designed to give you several outcomes. It will help you:

  • Compost garden waste, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags as well as cardboard and newspaper.
  • Build and create healthy soil for your plants.
  • Create an ecosystem for worms, which means the compost will be filled with worm poo! A great source of fertiliser.
  • The area around the trench can double up as a planting area.

Above and beyond all the lovely benefits for your garden, my personal experience with trench composting has demonstrated how it can become a community composting initiative. A few months back during a community gardening session I walked my neighbours through my trench compost and my routine for it. Now, it's become a shared trench. I have neighbours voluntarily dropping and burying their organic kitchen waste in the trench. Which means more households separating waste and more kitchen waste being recycled.

Here are a couple of tips for your garden:

  1. Get the soil texture you want by adding some sand, red earth and coco peat into your trench compost. While you will have to source these from your garden centre, it will not cost as much as buying premixed soil and can be treated as garden ingredients to help you build healthy soil. You can also do this just before planting.

  2. Try avoiding throwing in large quantities of longan, rambutan, papaya seeds (and other such seeds) unless you don't mind them sprouting about in your garden. If you do end up throwing loads of seeds flip and turn the heap more often to bury the germinated seeds deep into the trench or add a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard to avoid the seeds germinating. Otherwise be prepared for some plants growing serendipitously from your trench compost.

So there you have it. Try trench composting as a form of soil husbandry. Feed a small hole in the earth with your kitchen and paper waste. Trench compost so you don't have to rely on garden centres. So you know what went into your soil. So you can plant some food organically at home.

Build soil that is alive. The worms will love you for it!

Nova Nelson

Nova Nelson started Cultivate Central in 2013 after transitioning from a career in Corporate Communications, content creation and community engagement. As a Permaculture Designer she believes a city filled with vibrant, ecological and compact urban gardens will create socially and environmentally connected communities. As a mother she is passionate about exploring Permaculture with children and their communities. She serves clients and communities in Malaysia, where she was born and Singapore where she currently resides.

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