Permaculture Design/Soil

Soil is made up ofEdit

  • Water and Air 50%
  • Minerals 40%
  • Biology 5%

Things to consider above the soilEdit

  • Sun
  • Water
  • Temperature (Right plant for conditions or build micro climates)
  • Shelter design (you should be able to see through your shelter belt)
  • Soil compaction
  • Breakages (human and animal movement, incorrect pruning, wind fall)
  • Competition and companion plants
  • Diversity
  • Pests and predators

Things to consider below the soilEdit

  • Balance the mineral content (Physical, clay, sand, salt and all elements)
  • Ensure correct soil biology organisms
  • Feed soil biology

Observing soilEdit


  • Colourless/white: high silica content
  • Light/white: lack of oxygen; leached; high calcium; alkaline ph
  • Yellow: lack of oxygen; high clay content; aluminium & iron
  • Red: iron oxide
  • Red/brown: volcanic basalt origin; iron & magnesium
  • Black: rich in organic matter & nutrients; holds moisture


  • Azalea, dandelion: acid soils; usually leached; often compacted.
  • Berries, conifers, dock: Poor drainage
  • Saltbush, spinifex: alkaline; saline; dry soils
  • clovers, vetch, nettles: excess nitrogen; low humus content; low micr-organism content
  • blackberries: open disturbed soil, possibly acid
  • bracken: recent fire; general decline in soil fertility.
  • buttercup: poor drainage, acid.
  • thistles: low calcium & iron content; hard soils.
  • chicory, chickweed: good fertility

Parent MaterialEdit

Eg soils derived from:

  • Sandstone: sandy, high silica.
  • Shale: clay; high silica & iron.
  • Basalt: high iron & magnesium.


  • Sour: Lacks oxygen, acidic, sulphur dioxide
  • Sweet & earthy: high oxygen, good soil life & OM
  • Garlic: arsenic in soil (or maybe theres some onion weed nearby!)


  • Smooth & slippery: acidic, soil water lathers easily
  • Weak soda: alkaline/mineral; won’t lather easily


  • Worms: good moisture, OM, low pesticide residues
  • Ants: drier, sandy
  • Slugs & snails: damp, decomposing plant & animal material.
  • Skinks & lizards: warm sunny, dry spots, good insect populations


  • Run –off: is increased by bare ground, compaction, steep slopes
  • Repels water: compacted, eroded, excessive use of dolomite, very little OM, sandy & allowed to dry out & has formed a moisture resistant barrier
  • Shrinks & swells: high clay, holds water, cracks.
  • Fast draining ( hole filled with water, drains within 10mins: erodes easily, collapses easily, few fungal diseases, good movement of water & soil life. Not good for dams.


  • Bare ground: agricultural or industrial contamination.
  • Growth in poor soils: previous structures, compaction, old poultry or animal pen site
  • No topsoil: quarry or fill site, erosion.
  • Bad cracks & rubbish: old tip or landfill site

Plants and soil mineralsEdit

Often plants which grow in deficient soils have the ability to concentrate those missing elements in their structure.

  • Potassium present: marshmallow, knapweed, wormwood, opium poppy, fumitory, tansy & borage.
  • Deficient: red clover. Celery & leek like potassium. Chicory is pot. rich.
  • Calcium: buckwheat grown as a green manure or composted adds. Melon leaves are a source of it & oak bark is especially rich all thistles & willow. Dandelion “mines” it . Peas, beans, brassicas & turnips need it.
  • Phosphorous: bracken indicates a lack of & accumulates it. Burn it & spread the ashes. Valerian & comfrey are rich sources. Whitefly indicates a deficiency along with magnesium. Brassicas need it to head well.
  • Iron: blackberry is a rich source.
  • Magnesium & sulphur: broom, salad burnett, plantain, & sheep sorrel (for magnesium)
  • Ragwort: copper
  • Thistles: nitrogen, copper & silicon.

How do we balance the minerals of soil?Edit

  • Look for indicator plants which will tell things about Nitrogen Phosphorus and Potasium
  • Look at leaves for signs of deficiencies or excesses (Permaculture Designers Manual has a simple key to follow)
  • Get a soil test done
  • Book - The Soul of Soil
  • DCC Website has soil analysis maps
  • Talk to people
  • Don't rely on simple 'acid' or 'alkaline' measures. The treatment for these can be too simplistic and might not balance the soil.

Dynamic Accumulators of Nutrients for CompostingEdit

Name Botanical Name Na I Fl B Si S N Mg Ca K P Mn Fe Cu Co
Alfalfa Medicago sativa       x           x    
Arrowroot                   x            
Bladder wrack     x           x         x    
Borage Borago officinalis         x         x          
Bracken, eastern Pteridium aquifolium                   x x x x x x
Bridal bower                       x        
Buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentums                   x          
Burdock Arctium minus                       x      
Calamus               x     x x        
Carageen   x           x   x            
Caraway Carum carvi                     x        
Carrot leaves Daucus carota               x   x          
Cattail Typha latifolia             x                
Chamomile, corn Anthemis arvensis                 x x          
Chamomile, German Chamomilla recutita                 x x x        
Chickweed Stellaria media                   x x x      

Name Botanical Name Na I Fl B Si S N Mg Ca K P Mn Fe Cu Co
Chicory Cichorium intybus                 x x          
Chives Allium sp. x               x            
Cleavers Galium aparine x               x            
Clovers Trifolium sp.             x       x        
Clover, hop Medicago lupulina             x       x        
Clover, rabbit foot               x       x        
Clover, red Trifolium protense             x       x        
Clover, white Trifolium repens             x       x        
Coltsfoot             x   x x x     x x  
Comfrey Symphytum officinale         x   x x x x     x    
Dandelion Taraxacum vulgare x       x     x x x x   x x  
Dock, broad leaved Rumex obtusifolias                 x x x   x    
Dulse   x x           x x       x    
Fat hen Atriplex hastata                   x     x    
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare x           x       x        
Flax, seed Linum usitatissimum                   x          

Name Botanical Name Na I Fl B Si S N Mg Ca K P Mn Fe Cu Co
Garlic Allium sativum     x     x           x      
Groundsel Senecio vulgaris                         x    
Horsetails Equisetum sp.         x     x x       x   x
Kelp   x x         x x x       x    
Lamb’s quarters Chenopodsum album             x   x x x x      
Lemon Balm Melissa offcinalis                     x        
Lupine Lupinus sp.             x       x        
Marigold, flowers Tagetes sp.                     x        
Meadow sweet Astilbe sp. x         x   x x   x   x    
Mistletoe                 x              
Mullein, common Verbascum sp.           x   x   x     x    
Mustards Brassica sp.           x         x        
Nettles, stinging Urtica urens x         x x   x x     x x  
Oak, bark Quercus sp. x
Oat Straw x
Parsley x x x x
Peppermint Mentha piperita x x

Name Botanical Name Na I Fl B Si S N Mg Ca K P Mn Fe Cu Co
Pigweed, red root Amaranthus retroflexus . x x x x
Plantains Plantago sp. x x x x x x
Primrose Oenothera biennis x
Purslane Portulaca oleracea x x x
Salad burnet Poterium sanguisorba x x x x x
Savory Satureja sp. x
Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis x
Shepherd’s purse Capsella bursa-pastoris x x x
Skunk cabbage Navarretia squanosa x
Sorrel, sheep Rumex acetosella x x x
Sow thistle Sonchus arvensis x x x
Spurges Euphorbia sp. x
Strawberry, leaves Fragaria sp. x
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare x
Thistle, Canada Cirsium arvense x
Thistle, creeping Sonchus arvensis x x x

Name Botanical Name Na I Fl B Si S N Mg Ca K P Mn Fe Cu Co
Thistle, nodding Carduus nutans x
Thistle, Russian Salsola pestifer x
Toadflax Linaria vulgaris x x x
Tobacco, stems/stalk Nicotiana sp. x
Valerian Valeriana ofjicinalis x
Vetches Vicia sp. x x x x x
Watercress Nasturtium ofpcinale x x x x x x x x
Willow, bark Salix sp. x
Yarrow Achilea millefolium x x x x

Some Ways to Improve Your SoilsEdit

  • Plant mulch making plants ~ comfrey, tree lucerne, grasses for hay, weeds such as dandelion, plantain, nettles, borage, deciduous trees.
  • Use small prunings as part of the mulch around your trees. Place them over soil that you need to add organic matter to & put grass clippings, weeds, & manure on top & let nature do the rest. Once its reasonably broken down sow seeds/plant. Good way to establish an orchard/food forest.
  • Harvest local resources ~ bracken & chicory are high in potassium, add it to your compost, burn it & use the ashes around plants such as, celery & leeks. The brassicas (cabbage, cauli, brocoli) need phosphorous to head up well, comfrey & bracken supply it. Ragwort concentrates copper. Broom is high in magnesium & sulphur, lupins in nitrogen & calcium. Seaweed has many of the essential trace elements that plants need. Food scraps from cafes & super markets.
  • Plant wind breaks to filter air-born pollution
  • Plant trees & shrubs to take up ground water pollution e.g alongside a road, runoff from your neighbour who uses chemicals.
  • Create wet lands planted with macrophytes ( reeds & rushes) to take up the above pollution.
  • Use raised beds for growing in.
  • Seaweed, compost & dolomite help to clean soils of pollutants such as heavy metals.
  • Allow weeds to grow ~ add OM, take up pollutants.
  • Spread rock dust to supply minerals ~ basalt, granite, dolomite.
  • Remember that the more conditions you create for soil life to thrive the better your soils will be. Create diversity.

Notes on soilEdit

  • Feed the soil and land base and you will indirectly feed your plants
  • Arden Anderson = Soil sciences writer and speaker
  • Why is it that plants that are healthy tend not to be attacked by pests and diseases? Their defense system is intact. A plant that is unhealthy or stressed will be full of simple carbohydrates - which attract pests and diseases. Healthy plants have complex carbohydrates which humans require. Therefore, nature has a way to clean up weak systems.
  • Arden Anderson started to observe a relationship between human disease and crop diseases, because of our industrial productions methods that prevent natures way of cleaning out weak species - and so we are interrupting our access to complex carbohydrates.
  • How then do we ensure healthy plants?

Things to doEdit

  • Compost and spread or inoculate areas during planting 30g per m2
  • Site specific compost made of the materials of the plants being nurtured
  • Biodynamics
  • Apply seaweed and fish 300g per m2
  • 3 comfry plants per fruit tree
  • For some pests consider using micro organisms from [Bokashi] to out compete pests