18th Aug 2023 -

With a variety of methods available, each with its unique characteristics and benefits, understanding soil enrichment can be both a science and an art. In this guide, we delve deep into the diverse techniques of soil enrichment, to equip you with the knowledge to enrich your soil efficiently, cost-effectively and sustainably.

Why Should I Enrich My Soil?

The foundation of every successful gardening project, whether it's a vibrant flower bed, a fruitful vegetable garden, or a lush green lawn, lies in the quality of its soil. Soil enrichment is therefore a critical process, enhancing the nutrient content, structure, and overall fertility of the soil, and providing an optimal environment for plants to thrive.

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Your Soil Enrichment Options


Best for: Small to medium-sized gardens, urban gardens, indoor plants, and schools

Difficulty: Moderate

Effort: Medium

Cost: Low 

What it is: Vermicomposting is a method of composting that utilises worms to break down organic matter and transform it into nutrient-rich compost.

The process involves setting up a worm bin or a large-scale worm farm filled with bedding material (like shredded newspaper or coconut coir). The worms are fed with organic kitchen scraps, garden waste, and paper, breaking these materials down into simpler, nutrient-rich forms. The end product is "worm castings" or "vermicompost," a dark, rich, soil-like material that is an excellent addition to any garden soil.

Benefits: Vermicomposting is a quicker method of composting, as worms can eat and digest large amounts of waste, producing compost in as little as 2 to 3 months. Moreover, it’s a method that can be used all year round, indoors or outdoors, making it a flexible option for many gardeners. It’s also a great way to recycle kitchen scraps and garden waste and can be a fun and educational activity to teach children about composting and the importance of recycling.

Drawbacks: Vermicomposting requires regular maintenance, including feeding the worms and keeping the compost moist but not waterlogged. It is not suitable for all types of waste: citrus, onions, and meat products should be avoided. If not managed properly, vermicomposting can also attract pests and produce odours. It is also a slower method compared to some industrial composting techniques, so it might not be the best option for large-scale applications.

Bokashi Composting

Best for: Urban gardens, apartment living, small gardens, indoor plants

Difficulty: Easy

Effort: Medium

Cost: Moderate

What it is: The term "Bokashi" is Japanese for "fermented organic matter." This method involves adding kitchen waste to the bin and sprinkling it with Bokashi bran, which contains a mix of microorganisms including yeasts, bacteria, and fungi. The sealed, oxygen-free environment facilitates an anaerobic fermentation process, effectively pickling the waste rather than decomposing it.

After a few weeks, the fermented waste can be dug into the garden soil or compost bin, which will quickly break down, enriching the soil with nutrients. Bokashi liquid can also be drained off and used as a plant fertiliser or to unblock drains.

Benefits: Bokashi composting is a fast method of composting that can process a wide range of kitchen waste including items that are usually difficult to compost like meat, dairy, and cooked food. It also produces nutrient-rich compost and liquid fertiliser, supports soil health, and contributes to waste reduction. This method is odourless and pest-free when managed correctly.

Drawbacks: Bokashi composting requires the purchase of Bokashi bran, adding to the cost. The process also requires two stages: the fermentation stage and then the breakdown in soil or a traditional compost bin. This could be a drawback for people who want instant compost. Also, it is not suitable for garden waste or larger quantities.

Traditional Composting

Best for: Homeowners with outdoor space and community gardens

Difficulty: Moderate

Effort: Medium

Cost: Low

What it is: Traditional composting, often referred to as backyard composting, is the process of managing the natural decay of organic material by creating optimal conditions for decomposition. The key to successful composting is maintaining a good balance of 'green' nitrogen-rich materials (such as vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, and fresh grass clippings) and 'brown' carbon-rich materials (such as dried leaves, straw, or shredded newspaper).

Composting piles require regular turning to ensure that materials decompose evenly and promote aeration, which aids in the breakdown of materials. It can take anywhere from a few months to over a year for materials to fully decompose, depending on the composition of the pile and environmental conditions.

Benefits: Traditional composting is a cost-effective way to recycle a large variety of organic waste materials into a rich soil amendment. The process diverts waste from landfills and enriches the soil with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients. Composting improves soil structure, aids in moisture retention, and supports plant health.

Drawbacks: Composting requires space and time, and the composting process can be slow. Compost piles may also attract pests if not managed correctly. They can be a bit odorous if not turned regularly or if inappropriate items are added. Traditional composting may not be suitable for certain types of waste such as meat or dairy products.

Organic garden fertilisation. Close up of pile of dung on the garden fork. Composted manure, traditional rural scene.

Green Manure & Cover Crops

Best for: Farmers, home gardeners with large gardens

Difficulty: Moderate

Effort: High

Cost: Varies depending on the type and volume of seeds or crops you use

What it is: Green manure and cover crops are plants that are specifically grown to be turned back into the soil in order to enrich it. Cover crops can be a mix of grasses, legumes, and other broadleaf plants, each selected for specific properties they bring to the soil.

For instance, legumes like clover or vetch are often used for their ability to fix nitrogen from the air into the soil. After a growing period, these crops are then turned under, adding organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.

Benefits: Green manure and cover crops suppress weeds by outcompeting them for resources, prevent soil erosion by covering the soil surface, and improve soil structure and fertility by adding organic matter and nutrients. They can also attract beneficial insects, adding to the biodiversity.

Drawbacks: Implementing green manure and cover crops requires planning and labour. You need to know when to plant them and when to turn them under for maximum benefits. If not managed properly, some cover crops can become invasive. Additionally, waiting for the cover crop to decompose before planting the main crop may delay planting schedules. Cover crops also require space, so this method might not be feasible for those with smaller gardens or limited growing areas.

Inorganic Fertilisers

Best for: All types of gardens and landscapes

Difficulty: Easy

Effort: Low

Cost: Low

What it is: Inorganic fertilisers are mineral-based substances often derived from synthetic processes. These fertilisers contain essential plant nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (often referred to as NPK), which are readily available to plants upon application.

Unlike organic amendments, inorganic fertilisers do not improve the soil structure or add organic matter, but they do provide immediate nutrient supplementation. They come in many forms, including granular, liquid, slow-release pellets, and more, allowing for versatility in application depending on the specific needs of the plants and soil.

Benefits: Inorganic fertilisers are a quick and effective way to supplement nutrients in the soil, and they are easy to apply. Because they're often more concentrated than organic options, less product is usually required to meet plants' nutritional needs. This makes them a cost-effective option.

Drawbacks: While effective, inorganic fertilisers only address the nutrient content of the soil and do not contribute to its overall health and structure. They can also create dependency, as continual use can degrade organic matter in the soil over time and reduce its natural fertility. There are also environmental considerations, as excessive use of inorganic fertilisers can lead to nutrient runoff, contaminating local waterways. They can also potentially harm beneficial soil organisms. Always use inorganic fertilisers responsibly and as part of a balanced soil management strategy.

Organic Fertilisers

Best for: All types of gardens and landscapes

Difficulty: Moderate

Effort: High

Cost: Moderate to high

What it is: Organic fertilisers are derived from plant, animal, or mineral resources, and contain various essential nutrients required for plant growth. These nutrients are typically released into the soil slowly over time, as they need to be broken down by soil organisms.

Examples of organic fertilisers include compost, manure, bone meal, and alfalfa meal. These products not only provide a balanced and steady supply of nutrients to plants but also contribute organic matter to the soil, improving its structure, water-holding capacity, and the overall biodiversity of the soil ecosystem.

Benefits: Organic fertilisers enrich the soil with organic matter and encourage a healthy, biologically active soil ecosystem. They release nutrients slowly, reducing the risk of over-fertilisation and nutrient runoff into waterways. They also improve soil structure and water-holding capacity, resulting in overall improved soil health and plant resilience.

Drawbacks: Organic fertilisers often take longer to show results than inorganic ones as they rely on soil organisms to break down and release nutrients. They can also be more expensive and require larger quantities to achieve the same level of nutrient supplementation as inorganic fertilisers. They also tend to have a more complex application process and need to be applied more frequently.


Best for: All types of gardens and landscapes

Difficulty: Easy

Effort: Low

Cost: Moderate to high

What it is: Biochar is a type of charcoal that is used to improve soil fertility and carbon sequestration. It is produced through the process of pyrolysis, where organic matter (such as wood chips, agricultural waste, or manure) is heated to high temperatures in a low-oxygen environment.

This process results in a stable form of carbon that is resistant to decay, enabling it to remain in the soil for hundreds or even thousands of years. Biochar has a porous structure, providing a habitat for beneficial soil microbes and fungi, and can significantly improve soil's water-holding capacity.

Benefits: Biochar can enhance soil fertility by improving soil structure, increasing water retention, and providing a habitat for beneficial soil microbes. It can also help to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. Biochar is particularly beneficial in poor or degraded soils, where it can improve nutrient availability and pH balance.

Drawbacks: Commercially produced biochar can be expensive. Also, while the process of making biochar at home can be cost-effective, it requires careful management to ensure it is done safely and effectively. Not all types of biochar are equally beneficial for all soils, so it’s important to match the type of biochar to the specific needs of your soil.

The Environmental Impact of Soil Enrichment

Organic methods of soil enrichment, such as vermicomposting, traditional composting, and the use of green manures and cover crops, contribute to the sequestration of carbon in the soil, helping to mitigate climate change. Biochar stands out for its potential to store carbon for hundreds or even thousands of years. These methods also foster soil biodiversity and promote the recycling of nutrients, reducing dependence on synthetic fertilisers.

However, not all soil enrichment methods are equally eco-friendly. Inorganic fertilisers, while efficient in delivering nutrients to plants, often lead to environmental problems. Over-reliance on these fertilisers can result in nutrient runoff, leading to water pollution, eutrophication (an overabundance of nutrients within water), and harm to aquatic ecosystems. The production of some organic fertilisers can have significant environmental footprints due to the emissions produced during their manufacturing processes.


What is the best method of soil enrichment?

The 'best' method depends on various factors such as the type of soil, the plants you are growing, the local climate, and your available resources. It's crucial to assess your specific needs and conditions before choosing a soil enrichment method.

How can I tell if my soil needs enriching?

Can I use more than one method of soil enrichment?

Are organic methods of soil enrichment better than inorganic?