The vegetables you can grow are only ever as good as the nutrients available in your soil. For nutrients to be available they first have to be present, and secondly, the soil needs to be correct pH to allow the  plants to take up the nutrients.

Chemical fertilisers don't ever seem to produce the best vegetables for me. I have gone to making my own fertiliser based on what I have discovered Tasmanian soils lack. Without going into great detail ( which is available from Steve Solomon's book Growing vegetables South of Australia) the best fertiliser for vegetables down under seems to be one that approaches a Dynamic Lifter constituency. I don't use Dynamic Lifter. It is too expensive. I make my own fertiliser in bulk for half the price.

The recipe is given below.

All ingredients are obtainable from good Farm produce Stores. I use Roberts Pty Ltd as they will usually order in ingredients that are not in stock at the time. The quantities you can buy these ingredients agriculturally will repay you in the long term.

Home-made Complete Organic fertiliser (COF)


Steve Solomon Growing Vegetables South of Australia

 In a 40 litre plastic rubbish bin, mix by volume:

COF (Complete Organic Fertiliser) NPK 5-4-2

4 parts seed meal (Canola seed is good in Tas)


3 parts seed meal and 1 part blood-and-bone meal. This option gives a blend that is slightly better for fast-growing leafy crops in spring.


1/2 part ordinary agricultural lime

1/2 part dolomite lime

1/2 part phosphate rock or guano

1/2 to 1 part kelpmeal and /or Alroc


Apply at rate 4 litres per 10 square metres prior to initial planting. Side dress with amounts of approx  4 litres per 10 square metres during crop cycle.

You will find that the lime will counteract the natural build up of acids in the soil and keep the pH in the range 6.0-6.8.

The dolomite is necessary to provide calcium and magnesium to your plants. Lime also allows clay particles to release their nutrients. Clay soils can be quite a problem as they have a tendency to retain nutrients.

My soil has a clay bed about 1 metre down. Deep rooted plants sometimes approach this zone. The lime will gradually work through your soil and help to keep it more friable and suitable for the production of vegetables.

Again for a better explanation, read Steve's book. It couldn't be better explained .

Remember too that animal manures are not magic. They contain at best the nutrients in the soil of their origin.

I use animal manure sparingly; usually to supplement compost.

Compost is the secret ingredient. Whilst not a fertiliser in itself, it is full of micro-organisms that will assist in the release of the nutrients in your soil. Don't use to much.( Go to the Compost link to learn more about how I make compost.)

On a 3 metre x 1 metre bed I tip 2 barrow loads of compost and rake it in to the top 2 cm of soil.

Worms do not like superphosphate!

I rely on worms to spread the nutrients in my soil. They feed the plants so you need lots of worms to have a healthy garden.

The other wonderful fertiliser I rely on is Comfrey. Find out about this. It is very special for lots of applications.


Liquid Fertilisers

Liquid fertilisers have the advantage over solids, that they are instantly available to plants. They also have the disadvantage that they do not remain in the soil for very long.

They have to be used on a regular basis, either to supply nutrients to high demand plants such as Tomatoes or to quickly correct deficiencies in the soil.

They come in various formulations the same as solid fertilisers. A general one would be marked as N7, P7, K7 on the bottle, a specialist rose fertiliser would probably be marked as N5, P7, K10.


They are especially useful for applying directly to the plant's leaves as a foliar feed. The plant takes the nutrients in almost instantaneously when applied in this manner. The feed can be applied either with a watering can or with a sprayer. A word of warning though, never foliar feed in direct sunlight as this will cause severe scorching to the foliage.

****I have recently discovered a product called Charlie Carp that is marketed as a 9:2:6 (NPK) organic mix. It is brewed from European Carp (whole fish) from the Murray Darling Basin. It markets at approx $12 per litre ( I obtained 5 litres for $42.48 27/0705 from Horticultural Supplies , Brighton Tasmania  Phone 03 6263 4688. This amount included $8.80 transport from Hobart)    It is diluted 10:1 with water and is especially compatible with regular sprays used in vineyards and vegetable gardens for foliar application. Check it out.

 charlie carp

Home made Liquid fertilisers


Gardeners have for generations made their own liquid fertilisers. Any animal manure can be used but sheep manure is generally preferred. Comfrey is also very popular with gardeners. This is put into a hessian sack and suspended in a barrel of water. After a couple of weeks it is ready for use. For most applications it can be used neat but for should be diluted to half strength (mix with equal amounts of water) for foliar feeding or for use on seedlings. It contains about .8 % Nitrogen, .5 % Phosphorus and .4 % Potassium and a full range of trace elements. A tiny squirt of washing-up detergent in the spray reservoir will help the foliar feed to stay longer on the leaves for greater effectiveness.

Gardeners take more from their soil than nature ever intended, so if your plot is to be successful, you must put something back.

It's important to understand the difference between manures and fertilisers.


MANURES are bulky materials such as garden compost or animal wastes, which usually contain straw type bedding. Manures do contain some nutrients, but, unless used in very large quantities not enough. They do play a very important part in soil fertility though and should be looked upon as soil conditioners. They are classed as being organic and are slow acting. This means that they provide plants with the nutrients (mostly nitrogen) over a long period of time.

FERTILISERS contain plant foods in concentrated form. These are classed as being organic or inorganic. Organic fertilisers are often of the slow release, whereas inorganic are usually faster acting. They come either as a 'compound' fertiliser which contains a mix of the three major nutrients in varying proportions, or as a 'straight' fertiliser which is only a major nutrient on it's own.

Organic fertilisers are safer to use than inorganic ones and they do not harm the soils natural organisms, in fact they positively help them. They can be spread freely around plants, as there is not as much need to precisely measure them, although it is best not to overdo it. They do depend on the micro-organisms in the soil to break them down though and these organisms are not active in cold, very acidic or waterlogged soils.


Inorganic or artificial fertilisers are minerals extracted from the earth or completely manufactured. Although plants cannot tell the difference in the minerals, it is known that they do damage to soil organisms and they repress the natural nitrogen making activities of bacteria. They need to be measured and applied fairly accurately to avoid damage.


Care should be taken when handling ANY fertiliser and the instructions on the packets should be followed strictly. Using too much can upset the balance of the soil and damage plants by burning them, besides which, it is an unnecessary waste of money.


 Both natural and man-made fertilisers are measured by the three MAJOR Nutrients that are in them. These are: -


Nitrogen (N), - assists plant in leaf and stem growth.


Phosphorus (P). (More commonly referred to as PHOSPHATE) - assists young plants and root crops to develop good root systems.


Potassium (K) (More commonly referred to as POTASH)- assists plants to produce flowers and fruit.


Fertilisers also contain SECONDARY NUTRIENTS, which are: -


Calcium (CA) - most fruit, flowers, and vegetables need some calcium.


Magnesium (Mg) - Roses and Tomatoes need these most.


Sulphur (S) - most plants.


Fertilisers also contain trace elements, which various plants need. These trace elements are usually in such minute quantities in everyday fertilisers that they are of little benefit. If soil is kept in good condition these Trace elements are usually present in sufficient quantity for most needs. If a plant needs more of a specific trace element, it is usually applied as a specialist fertiliser. For reference the trace elements are: -


Iron (Fe) - usually needed by acid loving plants like Azaleas and Rhododendrons.


Manganese (Mn) - as above.


Molybdenum (Mo) - needed by Brassicas.


Boron (B) - needed by root vegetables.


Zinc (Zn) - fruit and vegetables.


Copper (Cu) - Fruit and vegetables.


The following tables show organic and inorganic fertilisers and their respective uses, speed at which they work and the rate of application.

Organic Fertilisers                  % N             % P                       % K

                                                Nitrogen       Phosphate             Potash

Hoof & Horn          13                                  0                 0

Sesame Oil dregs                                7.                13.3            1.3

Cottonseed meal                                7                 2                 2

Rapeseed meal                                   5                  0                 0

Pelleted chicken manure                      6                 5                 3

Green Dream                                      6                 6                 6

Rock Potash                                       5                 8                 10

Fish Emulsion                                      5                 2                 2

Bone Meal                                          3.5              22               -

Blood, Fish & Bone                              3.5              8                 0.5

Sea Weed Meal                                   2.8              2                 2.5

Well rotted manure                                       0.6              0.1              0.5

Well rotted compost                           0.5              0.3              0.8

Mushroom compost                           0.7              0.7              0.3

Wood ash                                           0.1              0.3              1

Cocoa shells                                       3                 1                 3.2


Tomatoes like rich soil, compost, mulch, lots of sun - at least six hours a day, and of course, lots of water.

 They just love comfrey as a liquid fertiliser. They also like a good foliage spray such as seaweed, fish emulsion or liquid worm casting extracts. They also like Animal and Bird manures (preferably composted and dug into the soil). These manures can also be used as a liquid fertiliser, beginning with a weaker mix (around 25% brew [liquid fertiliser] and 75% water to start off with).