Maintaining Ecobed Productivity.


Latest Update 3rd August 2017



Most organic gardeners seem to spend a lot of time refining their soil conditions using (organically approved) amendments.  I have formed the view, influenced by Dr Elaine Ingham of Soil Foodweb fame, that most soils in the world do not need amending, they contain all the minerals plants will ever need.  These minerals are locked up in the soil's rock particles and don't appear in soil tests which measure only soluble mineral content.

I also have the view that a soil full of beneficial microorganisms and other larger creatures are capable of extracting these minerals as and when the plants need them in return for photosynthesised sugars and other energy foods produced by the plants.  Check out my blogpage explaining the Soil Foodweb for more details.
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This article is linked to my Growing Organic Vegetables blog, and provides support for those readers who wish to grow vegetables in Ecobeds.  It is set in a warm temperate climate, and will need to be adapted for other climatic conditions.

Soil Preparation.
To maintain a well structured healthy soil, beneficial soil microorganisms need to be fed regularly.  Although plants provide this food in their root zone, control of soil structure, of soil pests and of soil fertility outside the plants' root zones depend on a high organic material content in the soil.  So I take the following measures to ensure this is always the case .
  • Every time vegetables are harvested in my Ecobeds the plant debris and old mulch is removed from the soil's surface.  (This valuable organic waste is stored for use in the next compost making process). 
  • A 60mm layer of fresh homemade compost is then applied as a dressing on top of the soil, and to ensure it stays moist, it's covered with a 50mm layer of fresh straw mulch.
  • Soil microbes feeding on the compost flourish in these conditions and are ready when required to set up mutually beneficial relationships with the next crop.
Spraying Plant Foliage
  • Plant foliage is strengthened by a coating of beneficial microbes, which bond themselves to the plant's leaves and form a glossy barrier to pests and diseases.
  • These microbes also fix nitrogen which is used by the plants in return for energy food exudates.
  • All the plants in my garden get a regular 3 monthly foliar spray of aerated compost tea.  It's full of beneficial microbes and covers new and old growth with these useful creatures.
Managing Sunshine
  • Growing crops too close together limits their access to sunlight for photosynthesis and reduces their potential size and vigour.  It's important to keep in mind the fully grown size of the plant before allocating space in which to grow it.
  • You can of course plant some crops more densely than usual.  These crops can be thinned as they grow and the thinnings are used for food (baby carrots are delicious).  The remaining plants find themselves free to grow to full size expanding into the freed up space left by the thinnings.
  • You can also use fast growing "catch crops" in tight spaces between larger slow growing crops.  By the time the main crop begins to shade the catch crop, it is ready to be harvested, and the main crop then fills the vacated space.
  • Some plants like cabbage and lettuce, are best grown in winter because fierce summer sun wilts them and causes them to "bolt" to seed.  However, when I grow them in summer I use exclusion netting with a 20% shade factor to take the edge off the sun and protect them against Cabbage White Butterfly larva.  When temperatures exceed 35C, I add a temporary layer of 75% shadecloth.
  • In the same way as gardeners set out their herbaceous borders with tall plants at the back and small ones at the front, so should vegetables be arranged in an Ecobed.
Managing Water resources.
  • Water consumption in plants depends on their size and rate of growth, but in conventional gardens a lot of water is lost due to evaporation and drainage to the subsoil.
  • Ecobeds are designed to dramatically reduce this loss.  
  • When it rains on an Ecobed, most of it is absorbed and held in the well structured organic soil, but if the soil becomes saturated, surplus water drains into the water tank.
  • So there is no loss to the subsoil in an Ecobed, and the combined effect of a very absorbent soil and a generous layer of mulch virtually eliminates evaporation even in summer.
  • I use only rainwater in my Ecobeds because treated tap water tends to accumulate unwanted chemical residues in the soil.
  • My combined rainwater storage capacity (including Ecobed water tanks) is about 9500 litres, and even in a very dry summers this is usually enough to get me through.
  • To get the best out of my water storage capacity, I always fill all my Ecobeds to leave space in my rainwater tanks, which capture rain off my roof, so they can capture as much rain as possible and not let it overflow into stormwater drains.
  • I used 2000 litres of filtered mains water to get me out of trouble in 2016/2017.  Its a damage limitation strategy to be used in a limited way.  The worst of the nasty chemicals are removed using a domestic water filtration system, but it is not ideal, and I would be less than pleased to have to use it in a prolonged drought.