Using Soil Tinctures to = “Feed The Soil, Not The Plant”.

Using Soil Tinctures to = “Feed The Soil, Not The Plant”.

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Healthy plants look great, produce high quality produce, repel pests (via volatile organic compounds) & more.  To sustain health, they require a wide range of nutrients, much more than NPK – nitrogen, phosphorus & potassium.  The basic nutrients (biochemical sequence) are used in the order…

  1. Boron, which activates:
  2. Silicon, which carries all other nutrients, starting with…
  3. Calcium, which binds =
  4. Nitrogen to form amino acids, DNA and cell division.  Amino acids form proteins such as chlorophyll and tag trace elements, especially =
  5. Magnesium, which transfers energy via…
  6. Phosphorus to:
  7. Carbon to form sugars, which go where –
  8. Potassium carries them to build plant cells.

Thus, the nutrient with the lowest concentration limits growth – much like the shortest plank in a barrel limits the amount of water held. 



Nutritional requirements change from…
– plant to plant – 
– species to species –
– season to season –
– location to location –

Thankfully, planet Earth is a living lab which has been working on plant health for billions of years!  So we don’t need to work it all out – we just need to work with (or mimic) nature. 

Activated Soil…

Plant nutrients are produced by soil organisms who decompose large particles into small particles – so small, that they dissolve in water & are taken up by plant roots (via capillary action). 

Healthy soil = living soil!

We can identify the presence of healthy, living soil – because the soil stays attached to a root system when it is lifted.  The plant has a ‘fluffy’ rhizosphere (or root zone) as roots, living beings & soil become one.

This is (bio) activated soil – it is living soil.


 …the living organisms within activated soil are:


Key players:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Algae
  • Protozoa
  • Nematodes
  • Earthworms & small animals


…proliferate when fed = simple carbon sources:

  • Green materials (leaf)
  • Molasses
  • Sugar
  • Fruit juice
  • Milk
  • Fish emulsion


…proliferate when fed = complex carbon sources:

  • Brown materials (bark, wood, roots)
  • Cellulose (i.e.. Lucerne)
  • Cutin
  • Lignin
  • Wood chip
  • Fish oils


…proliferate when:

  • Moisture exists.
  • Hard-hooved animals are absent.
  • Synthetic pesticides & pollutants are absent.

Inoculate with:

  • Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) grown in buckets from pond water which has been allowed to sit for a few weeks (until it goes green).



  • Bacteria

Inoculate soil with:

  • Lucerne
  • Protozoa tea



  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Each other

Inoculate soil with:

  • Compost
  • Vermicast

Earthworms & small animals:


  • Decomposing organic matter.
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Other soil life.

Inoculate soil with:

  • Compost
  • Vermicast
  • Livestock manure
  • Mulch

Soil Tinctures…

Soil tinctures keep soil healthy by feeding the soil organisms.

Dominant soil biota:

  • Bacteria-dominant soils (agriculture) = groundcovers, salads, grains, root-crops, herbs, leafy vegetables, flowers, shrubs.
  • Fungi-dominant soils (horticulture) = larger shrubs, bulbs, mushrooms, fruit trees, nut trees, sap trees, vines, small & medium trees, large canopy trees…


  1. One cup of boiled rice.
  2. Add selected nutrient based on what organism you wish to be dominant:
    1. Bacteria eat (simple carbon) – brown sugar.
    2. Fungi eat (complex carbon) – carbohydrates.
  3. Place in a bucket with holes drilled into the bottom & sides.
  4. Place into worm farm (on top of castings) for 1-2 weeks.
  5. One cup additional nutrient:
    1. Extra food for bacteria/fungi
    2. Whatever your soil lacks (i.e. if it is low in calcium, add fish).
    3. Plant nutrient (see ‘The biochemical basis of plant nutrition’ above).
  6. Optional step: Aerate (with a bubbler or pour between containers/vigorously mix twice daily).

Compost Tea – farming aerobic microorganisms & producing plant nutrients:

  1. One part compost (as diverse a mix as possible).
  2. Ten parts water.
  3. Aerate (with a bubbler/vigorously mix twice a day).
  4. Brew for one week (minimum).
  5. Dilute to the colour of weak tea.
  6. Apply to the soil (target the plant roots).

Protozoa tea:

  • Make a ‘Compost Tea’ – but use lucerne (in place of compost).

Super simple compost tea:

Add water to a few handfuls of leaf litter & soil – if possible, add manure. 

Aerate daily by pouring from one bucket into another.

It’s ready when it turns the colour of tea – around one week!

Synergistic cover crop mix – inputs 50% sugar into soil (feeds soil biota):

Apply as seed or living plant:

  • Legumes (beans, seed pods) 40%
  • Grasses 25%
  • Cereals (grains) 25%
  • Chenopods (quinoa, amaranth, fat hen etc) 5%
  • Brassicas (radish, cabbage, broccoli, kale, canola, mustard etc) 5%


Bonus tinctures…

Root-growth hormone:

If a plant species is known to shoot roots when placed in water or directly in the ground, it is high in root-growth hormone (usually indole acetic acid or a derivative of).  This is the same store-bought hormone used in propagation as a dipping powder or gel. 

To collect & use = macerate the plant in a minimal amount of water, pour liquid off & use fresh.  (This will not keep, use immediately.)


  • dip a cutting (clone) into the liquid & plant into growth medium (ie. soil, perlite etc).
  • pour around the stem (to target the roots).  


Pest repellent + :

The above tincture can be used for any desired plant product, for example – to repel pests, macerate a plant which contains a repellent & spray liquid onto leaves. 

[Related article:  Natural Broad-Spectrum Herbicide Recipe (Wild-Foraged).]




  1. Main image:  The New York Times. 2013. The Hidden World Under Our Feet. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 21 September 2019].
  2. Eco Farming Daily. 2019. Building the Microbial Bridge for Soil Health. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 21 September 2019].
  3. BioAg. 2020. Top 5 tips for spring pasture. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 January 2020].


Special thanks to Noosa & District Landcare presentation “Tonics For Your Soil” with Nina Saxton & Dave Clark (20th June, 2019).

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About The Author

Chrissy-Tiina Laurikainen

In person + online permaculture teacher. Online permaculture consultant. Upkeep of a 30 acre rural property (using permaculture & other agroecological techniques). A communal research laboratory focusing on free innovation in the works. Doing what I can to support LIFE on planet Earth!!

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