Geoff Lawton – Understanding Soil Building

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Great Big Ideas & Takeaways:

  • How chemical fertilizers destroy soil
  • Step-by-step directions for super-fast 18-day compost!
  • Everything you need to know about N-P-K
  • What are the 3 biggest elements in soil fertility?
  • The real lowdown on “greens and browns” in compost piles


About The Speaker:

Geoff Lawton is a world-renowned Permaculture consultant, designer, and teacher. Geoff has done thousands of permaculture designs on six continents and close to 50 countries around the world. His clients have included private individuals, groups, communities, governments, aid organizations, non-government organizations, and multinational companies.


In 1983, Geoff learned permaculture directly from its founder, the legendary Bill Mollison. When Bill Mollison retired, he chose Geoff to establish and direct a new Permaculture Research Institute in Australia. Geoff is still the Managing Director of the non-profit, which is expanding into the U.S., Jordan, Canada, Chile, Turkey, Greece, and Afghanistan.


Geoff has won numerous awards. In 1996, Geoff was accredited with the Permaculture Community Services Award by the Permaculture movement. PRI Australia won the Humanitarian Water & Food Award in 2010 for their initiative “Greening the Desert.” Geoff is a renowned teacher and has educated more than 15,000 students in Permaculture worldwide.


QUESTION: What did you learn from or like about this presentation?


  1. Geoff Lawton

    Hi Everyone I am here to answer any questions you may have after watching the video.

    Geoff Lawton

    1. Marjory Wildcraft

      whoot, whoot! Geoff it is an honor to have you answering questions online!

      1. John

        Geoff, I’d like to ask you to try to get a book into the agriculture departments of Universities-the kids never get an explanation of how the periodical chart applies to life in the soil. It would change the world! with much appreciation, John

        1. Geoff Lawton

          Hi John I will try.

    2. angela

      Hi thanks for the information. How do you add good healthy bacteria or probiotics to soil? Is chicken manure the only way? Thanks

      1. Geoff Lawton

        Hi Angela good diverse compost made with a large mixture of materials, can be any manure or a without manure and instead nitrogen rich plant material in the heap.

    3. Cheryl Ann Fulton

      THANK YOU!!! Your leadership is essential to all of us now. The way you combine science, common sense, caring, philosophy, holistic health, reverence and respect shows a path for the future.

      1. Geoff Lawton

        Hi Cheryl Ann thank you

    4. Ron Terry


      You had an earlier question about antibiotics and you
      answer was “dust to dust & ashes to ashes”, ie, they
      are decomposed in the compost process. I have the same question about weed seeds that pass through horses. My wife is still mad at me for putting horse manure on her flower beds and the garden. Can I assume that composting will destroy the seeds? Thanks so much for your seminar!!

      1. Lori

        This was an amazing presentation Geoff……the world needs a lot more people like you!!! I am a rookie, but I’m learning fast. My one question is when I start to compost do I just use fruits and veggies caps and egg shells, or do I use meat and breads as well?

        1. Julie

          David the Good composts everything. Did you see his presentation?

      2. Geoff Lawton

        Hi Ron weed seeds are killed by the heat in good compost.

    5. Steve Amar

      Hi Geoff. Thanks for a great video!. I have been wondering if you can have too much compost in your garden. Could one use only compost to grow?

      1. Julie

        NO – your roots will rot. Keep it under 10%. See Stacey Murphey’s presentation.

        1. Geoff Lawton

          Hi Julie no problem, I have grow vegetable in gardens make of 6 inches of compost as long as it is well finishes it is like perfect soil.

      2. Jennifer

        A lot of people recommend 1 to 2 inches of compost to the soil per year.

        1. Geoff Lawton

          Hi Jennifer that is no problem, I have grown vegetable in gardens make of 6 inches of compost as long as it is well finishes it is like perfect soil.

      3. Geoff Lawton

        Hi Steve I have grown vegetables in 6 inches of pure compost, if it is well finished compost there is no problem it is just like perfect fertile soil.

      4. Geoff Lawton

        Hi Steve no problem, I have grow vegetable in gardens make of 6 inches of compost as long as it is well finishes it is like perfect soil.

    6. mark

      hi geoff! one of the most concise and informative explanations i’ve ever seen. everybody (!) his online course is worth signing up for. i have access massive amounts of spent coffee grounds (scg). i’m composting with it but flying a bit blind. preparations? should/must i change the ph first? how? with woodash or even ashen scg? and lastly, pile proportions?

      1. Geoff Lawton

        Hi Mark mix it in with your normal compost using the 18 day technique no special requirement just the same mixture keep it one cubic meter or more.

  2. Sharon Porter

    Hey Geoff! LOVED your presentation….so inspiring and informative 🙂

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thanks Sharon

  3. colleen

    Outstanding, university level presentation! He knows his subject and presents it well.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Colleen nice thank you

  4. annette

    A fantastic presentation.I continue to learn so much from Geoff. I have transformed my Florida sand into an abundant highly productive food forest in less than 3 years. I use truck loads of mulch from the local tree trimmers. We dig giant canals and fill them with mulch and let it sit for 6-9mths.through the rainy season and then move it onto the property.Thank you again!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Great stuff Annette enjoy the food forest

  5. Albert Seifert

    Very educational. I have composted for many years and have not been able to get compost done in less then 45 days.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Albert most of my students are able to get compost in less than 30 days then refine it down to 18 days quite quickly, some get it in 18 days first go.

  6. Lourdes Mayen

    Amazing information and it’s put together in such a way that even a kindergartener will get. Thank you! Soil is indeed a beautiful universe that we can easily feed and it will feed us. A great synergy!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thanks Lourdes I try and specialise in getting the information across in an understandable way that can be practically applied.

  7. Jennifer Molino

    Thank you Geoff!! I can’t say enough about how big an inspiration you are to all of us. Your videos are what got me started down this Permaculture road and now as the principal at an Elementary school in the Bay Area of California, my students are benefiting from the information you put out. We MUST teach our children a better way. Not to destroy but to rebuild. Thank you again.

  8. Jody

    You mentioned white fungal threads. is this the soil profile that encourages grass? (If I recall Elaine Ingham correctly?)
    I have a veg garden that was a lawn and grass continues to grow and I’d like to tilt the balance so grass will be less likely to grow.
    Did you mention I’d need add more nitrogen, e.g. red clover cover crop, or other N cover crop?
    I welcome your thoughts, and thanks for your embodied relational abundance!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Jennifer

      Thank you for extending this to the kids they deserve it ; )

  9. Linea Payne

    So easy to understand. He is an excellent teacher

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thanks Linea I am so glad its working for you.

  10. Molly

    Fantastic presentation. You explain everything beautifully Mr. Lawton, and have given me an even greater appreciation for soil. Thank you so much for being part of the Home Grown Food Summit!

    And thank you Marjory for organizing this wonderful event! I’ve learned so much and can’t wait to apply these principles and share them with others, especially my children.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft

      YOu are most welcome Molly. I absolutlye love hosting these Summits! It’s such a fun event. Well, other than all the work that goes into them… LOL

    2. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Molly my pleasure

  11. Corazon

    WOW! Such a clear and concise explanation of how Mother Nature has designed everything to work together! We just need to get out of Her way.
    Thank you for spreading the truth.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Corazon

      I am so glad I can get it across nice and clear

  12. Dara

    The videos don’t get any better than this. I just learned so much!! ❤️👍🏻

    1. Marjory Wildcraft

      Wati until tomorrow!

  13. Birgitte

    Great video, very informative! Thank you for your wisdom!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Birgette

      We try and get better all the time which is our obligation to help change the world.

  14. Angel

    Very informative. My only wish is that it was geared more towards my climate, but I think it’s easy to convert. Thanks!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Angel

      If you are really wet keep it well covered, if you are really cold go into a shed, a barn or a plastic tunnel house in Winter if your area is dry and hot got in the shade and if extremely hot and dry go in the shade and inside a deep steep sided pit. I hope this helps you keep composting and growing : )

  15. Marjory Wildcraft

    If you love this presentation please put it out via your social networks!


  16. Anita Johnson

    Excellent teaching as always. I am inspired and hopeful for the potential of trees and livestock to restore health to the soils of our SD farm as well as my yard in Illinois. Thanks!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thank you Anita glad to make you hopefully productive.

  17. Carol

    Awesome presentation! First time I really understood how industrial farming was hurting the soil and how this is actually costing more.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Carol

      Its my pleasure to help.

  18. Sandra

    Thanks for simplifying soil biology. I have been having problems in my garden and I now understand why thanks to you.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Sandra its great for me to know that I have helped.

  19. Fred Murray

    Very good!!!! I grew up on a farm. We did not use chickens in this manner, nor did my family look at the soil this way. Thank you for a very sensible informative presentation!!

  20. Heather

    This is very educational for me! I truly appreciate the effort you have put into this. my question is, will antibiotics, hormones, steroids and other things in the systems of animals whose manure I may buy from local farmers ruin the compost?

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Heather

      all of those will be bonded to the carbon molecules in the decomposition process drive by the life cycles in the composting process. They will become part of long chain complex molecules and through this process completely inert, insoluble and safe. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

  21. tsholofelo

    am trying to watch but the video keeps cutting

  22. Barbara

    Wow! What a great presentation! For the first time I feel that I understand why the chemical fertilizers, industrial agriculture, monoculture, etc. are so bad. Thank you so much for making soil biology so understandable!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Heather

      all of those will be bonded to the carbon molecules in the decomposition process drive by the life cycles in the composting process. They will become part of long chain complex molecules and through this process completely inert, insoluble and safe. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

  23. Valerie

    If animal manure is not available, what could substitute for it in the quick compost making guide?

    Thanks for such a beautiful presentation!!!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Valerie

      Fresh green grass clippings, clover, bean plants or any leguminous species pruning chopped up.

  24. Sara

    This video was wonderful and so informative! My question is what do I do if the land around my land is being farmed with biocides? How do I prevent those from getting into my property? If the land I am on has been farmed this way for many years is there concern for the groundwater being contaminated too which my plants and especially trees may be coming into contact with? Thank you so much for all that you do!!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Sara

      Plant dense tree buffers around your land using nitrogen fixing legume species if possible. All the residual chemicals will be bonded to the carbon molecules in the decomposition process driven by the life cycles in the composting process and organic mulching. They will become part of long chain complex molecules and through this process completely inert, insoluble and safe. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

      1. Sara

        Thank you so much Geoff for your help!!! I am new to permaculture (learned about it from my church who is in the beginning stage of implementing these techniques on a new property) but I hope to learn as much as I can from wonderful experts such as yourself. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge and wisdom!

  25. Shantay

    I just pulled up the roots of a thriving crop of morning glories I had mistaken as volunteer bean plants that grew in my strawberry patch. I am letting them die in place so my strawberry plants won’t be shocked. Being morning glories are invasive, is it still okay to add them to a compost pile? In LA – I love clarifying those initials – Lower Alabama – we have a myriad of invasive vines, including ivy, and invasive plants that left alone become trees in just one season. If these can be used as carbon material, I will never run out of soil. I have been reluctant fearing I would be multiplying a problem instead of solving a need. In conjunction to the above, feeding these invasive vines, ivies and plants to chickens is a win-win?

    I learned so much from this video! What a privilege to be the recipient of these free gifts of knowledge. Thank you Geoff, Majory and all the presenters.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Shantay

      Some of the very best materials to use in your compost cycles are the problem weeds of your land as they are often mineral accumulators and by putting them through the compost and then back onto the land you homoeopathically start to fix the problems the weeds are indicating. Weeds seeds will also be killed if you get up to the correct hot temperatures. You not only will not run out of soils, but you will increase the volume and fertility of your soil if you keep thinking and acting this way. “The problem is the solution” is a permaculture saying.

    2. Elizabeth

      If you are concerned about seed viability, place chopped up branches of weed trees, invasive species, and problem weeds like morning glories with their seeds in a cleared area with a burn pit after these weeds have dried in the sun for several weeks. Place these weeds inside open metal garbage cans to dry in the full sun. These dried and cut up plants can be covered up to protect them from the elements until they can be burned in the winter months when it is safe to do so. Douse the fire with water after the material has been reduced to biochar. When cool, this biochar can be added to the compost pile for a rich source of minerals. First check with your fire department as some areas do not allow burn pits.

  26. Christianne

    Thank you for this great presentation Geoff, it was easy to understand and I learned a lot!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Christianne I am pleased it worked for you.

  27. Pamela

    Great presentation. I just switched last fall to using only my own wood chips, worm castings, grass clipping and shredded leaves for fertilizer. I know that it make take some time before my garden is very productive, but I was surprised that this year I have had NO BUGS! Now I know why. Thank you for solving that mystery.

    1. Pamela

      Or rather I don’t have any bugs eating my plants. Please tell us the names of some nitrogen fixing trees. Thanks

    2. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Pamela you supported the soil life ecosystem and you gained a more balanced system quickly.

  28. Donna

    Very informative presentation! Thank you! We did not have a garden when I was growing up. So, I have learned as an adult.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Donna

      We are all on a learning journey that never ends : )

  29. D. Lanette Atkins

    Excellent presentation as always for you. I was really touched emotionally when you were talking about the devastation of the tropics. Unfortunately, it looks a lot like South Carolina. I know we have at least one developer who buys the big pieces of land and then clear cuts them raping the land. The timber pays for the land and then he sells the land that has been destroyed at low prices per acre but it is all profit. I wish you had the answers as to how to stop it. I greatly appreciate the link to your many presentations. Thank you for what you do and sharing with us.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Lanette

      We teach sustainable village development and food forest for all climates but here is one for the tropics

    2. Julie

      The answer is to start a permaculture co-op: buy the land from that developer (and people like him) and then rehabilitate the land! It’s not limited to South Carolina; it’s happening everywhere. People are money hungry and don’t consider the consequences of their actions.

  30. Rachel

    Thank you Marjory and Geoff! I miss my permaculture days as I am now in the health field. Although, I completely want to marry the knowledge of soil science to the human microbiome. Do either of you know who is doing this? Somebody has to have had this insight of how they are so similar and how mother nature has repeated herself. Looking forward to your reply. Thanks again!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Rachel check this out

      Also do search for “human microbiome and permaculture soil science” some great sites come up worth reading.

    2. Julie

      Rachel, I am ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE they are thoroughly intertwined, as is ALL life on Earth.

      If you can’t find someone else who’s doing the work, why don’t YOU? That’d make a GREAT thesis, if you wanted to go for a doctorate…

      I’m good at research & I have time, if you decide to go for it I would LOVE to help! You can PM my son (ANTHONY SCULLY) on Facebook; his profile picture is a purple/blue poster with a guy meditating that says “People don’t need to be saved or rescued. People need knowledge of their own power and how to access it”.

  31. CaptTurbo

    Wonderful video. Thank you!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thanks CaptoTurbo

  32. Samiha

    Hi Geoff.
    Great presentation, thanks so much for your efforts.

    I’m in the UAE. With my vegetable garden coming to an end due to the heat, I decided to let my chickens free all over the garden, (they did a nice job cleaning it all up!), And I also started a nice big compost pile…

    My question is… most of the leaves are large leaves from an almond tree… will they still work or will the composting take too long. I might not be able to get hold of a good shredder for some time!

    Also, what are the best legume trees to plant in the desert ?

    Thanks again for the brilliant presentation!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Salaam Samiha

      Check out our project in Jordan you will notice we grow our vegetable garden under shade to extend the season. We also use wicking beds see these are the worlds most efficient water use gardens and if you also grow them in the shade during the UAE Summer you will be able to grow some crops all year. Soil fertility will need to be topped up with compost or compost worm farm castings. Your large almond is probably Terminalia catappa the Indian Almond the leaves have many properties see In the temperatures you get in the UAE you will not have any problem composting the large leaves as long as you have enough nitrogen and particularly moisture, so find a very shady spot even a deep and steep sided pit would make it cooler and require less water, as long as the pile can be still turned, and you will produce great compost. We have work quite a bit in the UAE see

      1. Geoff Lawton

        Salaam again Samiha

        I go so into answering your question with references I forgot the legumes trees. If you have water you can grow which is a great legume tree that grows from cuttings, is a great nitrogen fixing legume is a great large legume tree a great shade tree is a great super fast pioneer legume tree that is short lived but can be planted by seed and makes great mulch has the largest legume flower in the world and is eaten. is a great mulch and very beautiful.
        All these can be cut for mulch as pollards and will re-grow well.

  33. Antje

    Thanks a lot for this amazing and inspiring video! I tried an 18 day compost in march here in germany and I didnt get the temperature and decomposition quite right (used it as mulch). I think I might give it another try soon, with more clear ideas about problemsolving, if there should be any!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Antje

      just follow the formula exactly and you will not have any problems

  34. stacy

    Great video. I was taking notes all the way through. Best step by step compost video. Also great demonstration as to why commercial Ag is so bad for the earth. Thank you sooo much!!!!

  35. stacy

    Oh I did have a question. What are Hazurina trees species? I am not sure I spelled correctly, but that’s what it sounded like you said. I tried yo google it but no luck. I have a sweet gum tree in my yard , does it fall into that category?

    1. stacy

      The place Geoff talks about the “Hazurina” trees is at point 29.15 in the talk. He says plam trees and this tree produce phosphorus.

      1. Sheri q

        I figured it out. Casuarina trees. Google them.

    2. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Stacy this is which fix nitrogen with a bacterial root associates and phosphate with a fungi root associate.

  36. Tricia Clayton

    Wow Geoff! I am an absolute beginner with all of this and you taught me SO MUCH . It took a lot of the fear I associate with personal sustainability away . Thank you for explaining why it is so necessary to keep the natural micro organisms in play. You explained all this on a level I could understand and I really appreciate it. I am appalled at what the crops of corn oil are doing with our planet, especially knowing that our rainforests are being pulverized for this use. Best regards.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Tricia it is great that I can help you to remove your fear of sustainability away, that is exactly what I want to achieve.

  37. Laura

    Amazing!!! Thank you Geoff! So many “ah-ha” moments!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Laura “ah-ha” moments are great.

  38. Lyda

    I was only 6 min. into this video and I new this only was worth the cost of the summit. Thanks for all the valuable information. Now if we could only get the agricultural industry to listen. What a world it would be

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Lyda

      we are going to make industrial agriculture redundant and eventually illegal.

      1. Elizabeth

        Stopping Bayer-Monsanto, Dole, Dow, and the entire Industrial-Chemical-Agricultural-Military-Pharmaceutical Complex will take a miracle. Let us all pray for this miracle so that our wonderful world can be recreated.

  39. krishna

    hello Geoff,
    Wonderful presentation.

    Here is my question, let’s say i am buying a land, may be few acres to start my homestead life. What i can do to reverse the effects of, all the biocides used thus far on the land by the previous owners, and also the heavy metals like lead and arsenic if at all present.

    I have been watching videos and listening to podcast and reading articles, but this is something never answered anywhere. I heard a process called phytoremediation to remove the lead, but didn’t get much info on how to do it and if it can remove other things etc.

    Please let me know your thoughts.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Krishna

      all these elements get locked up in the carbon decomposition cycle and become bonded to the carbon molecules forming long chain molecules and they are then inert and insoluble. Compost is a super charged version of this process but over a large area you have to grow mulch crops that you grow and cut to mulch onto the ground to speed up the process. Tree species that fix nitrogen have associate bacterial colonies on their roots (legumes), these trees recover quickly after being cut increasing nitrogen release in the soil and increasing the decomposition process of the wood, all of this locks up the toxins. This process also greatly increases the humus and carbon content of the soils and it is how nature regenerates damaged ecosystems, and we are just speeding it up by using design. The p.H. is also buffered in this process and becomes more neutral which means heavy metals are not longer soluble as they are in low p.H. acid soils. This means heavy metals can be locked up more easily.

      1. krishna

        Thanks Geoff. Can you please name few mulch crops for this process?

  40. Ionut Barbu

    Hello Geoff
    Thank you for sharing again your amazing experience with us .
    You give us lots of hope .
    I’ll try again the composting , maybe I need to pay more attention to ratio of brown and green .
    So far , my compost is either full of ants (fascinating) or full of worms but not ready .
    From Essex ,UK .
    Kind regards

    1. Geoff Lawton

      HI Ionut

      Follow the recipe exactly, first it must be big enough in a gravity fall free standing pile that means 1.2m high minimum. Not too wet and not too dry. If all that is right but you don’t get the right heat you either do not have enough nitrogen or the high carbon material is not chopped up or shredded up enough, which increases its surface area. If it gets very hot and very stinky with lots of white powdery stuff all through it and is reducing in size very quickly, you probably have too much nitrogen and too much moisture. : )

      1. Ionut Barbu

        Thank you very much for taking the time to answer me and everyone .
        At the moment we have about 3 plastic compost bins and a big reclaimed wood compost bin that we got along with the allotments .
        Soon I’ll try to built a better compost bin and fallow your great advice .
        Very grateful to learn from you .
        Good luck with all your many projects .
        All the best

  41. Nan

    Sorry, was just overwhelmed with all the ratios etc have just a tiny garden but want it to thrive without the use of chemicals. I see bug activity already.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Nan

      if you have a very small space you can use a worm farm and we even build worm towers inside gardens check out

  42. Molly

    Jeff! Thank you for the wonderful talk about soil abundance. I noticed straw 3-4 inches deep in your garden. How do you grow straw and harvest it for your mulch? Thank you again for sharing your knowledge.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Molly

      We cut it from our own property, which can be done in a small way with a lawn mower.

  43. melissa

    Loved it. In the USA we have breed food for quantity not quality. I have had the chance to travel some over the world and what a difference in favor and nutrients. I have a garden and free range heritage chickens and compost. it is all a lovely cycle of balance.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Melissa it is great for your health and vitality

  44. Ted

    I learned more in his brief presentation on soil than I could have imagined. He really appreciates and understands the relationship of the various cycles that nature takes us through to create balance and diversity.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Ted it is all about positive inter-active diversity, balance and flow.

  45. Donna

    Of all the presentations, this one is the one I took the most notes on. Your teaching style and drawings helped me tremendously! Thank you for including the box to join your online community and have access to other educational opportunities. I’ve just signed up and cannot wait to learn from you. Thank you so much!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Donna my pleasure it is great to have you on board.

  46. Ismail

    Hi Geoff,
    You refer to fertiliser as Cadnium salt based. I tried googling this term and not getting any results. Please clarify.

    And thank you for sharing – I really appreciate it.

    1. Geoff Lawton
      1. Ismail

        Okay got it. Its Cadmium and not Cadnium.

        Salaams and thanks Geoff

  47. Rocío

    Amazing info in a short time. I understand I can benefit my garden, its apple, orange, pomegranate trees give acid fruits, the lemon tree has blossomed but lemons are taking longer than last year. I have finally began to understand the compost procedure and mainly, the soil´s health. Thank you Geoff!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Rocio

      Yes is we feed the life in the soil the life in the soil will feed our plants and tress.


    Wonderful presentation with very helpful and revealing insights. Maybe I can finally get some good results from my composting efforts which at the moment just seem to hang around for ever. I live in the tropics and somehow expected it to happen more spontaneously.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Frank

      In the tropics it can be too fast and too easy to loose volume so the skill is to get a good quality compost without loosing very little volume, it can be done.

  49. Linda Rivers

    This is presented in a most understandable and visual way. Thank you.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Linda

      I pleased it work for you.

  50. Holly

    We have followed you for years and based our food forest in your instruction.
    My issue is with nitrogen fixing pioneer trees we have in abundance here in semi arid Mexico on the west coast 300 yards from the ocean. The Wisatche tree grows fast, has pods & horrible thorns. We chopped & dropped last week in advance of the rains and then allowed out goats to forage. 2 goats died quickly from bloat, very sad. It is also difficult to have the branches and twigs of the tree as the thorns are very painful.
    I will never be rid of them, but I cannot use them for mulch. I know I shouldn’t burn these trees we have cut. What to do?
    Thank you!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Holly

      you need to cut the trees down to ground level and keep them cut and they will die within a year, just cut any regrowth monthly or at least 3 monthly. Their root net will root into compost corridors in the soil. The thorny branches can be cut short and put into deep pits 1.5m across and 1.5m deep at least, wearing thick soled boots just up and down on the branches as you fill the pit and add some manure layer by layer. When the pit is full dig some diversion drains just off contour leading to the pit so rainwater will saturate it and decompose it into rich soil. Plant hardy fruit trees around the pit and enjoy the harvest.

  51. Charlene Dryman

    You are so knowledgeable. Do we fertilize or not? I always do and add compost. And yes, I have to add pesticide and all the rest. What do I do? I only have 500 sq ft to grow plants in my backyard, but I do have chickens and rabbits for fertilizer. The leaf-footed bugs damage most everything. I can deal with aphids and other bugs, but when leaf-footed bugs hit, they destroy the tomatoes, then move onto my pomegranates. Any help with that bug?

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Charlene

      The first thing I would do is put 10 cubic feet of good quality compost on top the 500 square feet every year and then cover that with thick mulch to plant through into the compost. This will stimulate so much beneficial soil life that they will be at maximum population they will come out of the soil and cover your plants with an invisible sheath of beneficial organisms leaving no room for diseases and making them just about invisible to bugs. While you are waiting for this to happen and come into balance and it will be quite quick within a month or two you need to stop using poisonous pesticides which are also killing your soil life you need to study this website giving you Integrated Pest Management techniques : )

  52. Maxine Ogles

    Thanks for all this information…I am still learning about composting…I have been gardening for years and enjoy the fruits of my labors very much..your video was helpful…

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Real glad to hear it Maxine

  53. calle

    Hi all,

    We have tons of Potato bugs this year. Made hot pepper, vinegar tea with dish soap my Neem oil had not arrived.
    I am traveling, the first two products have not worked.
    No poison chemicals for me, so hubs vacuumed them up.

    How long for this battle, as not hoppers have arrived.
    We live in a high Desert area and have to water every other day or we have no crops.
    Have mulched for almost 3.5 yrs. Sandy soil, low rainfall etc.

    Have to garden, every where else I have had such success, but in high Desert, cold winters, bugs and Sandy soil I am discouraged.
    Great for berries, tomatoes low yield etc.


    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Calle you need to put about 20 cubic feet of compost to 1000 square feet of garden to really kick it off every year for a while then mulch 6-8 inches deep. This will stimulate so much beneficial soil life that they will be at maximum population they will come out of the soil and cover your plants with an invisible sheath of beneficial organisms leaving no room for diseases and making them just about invisible to bugs. While you are waiting for this to happen and come into balance and it will be quite quick within a month or two. You also need a

  54. Sandra

    I loved your easy to understand presentation! It was very helpful in knowing what is wrong in our earth these days.
    I have a question for you. How would you take a hard clay soil and make it work? For it is hard and compacted and the water runs off, nothing much will grow here. Many things seem to get a fungus, such as the apple trees and cherry trees. Other things such as evergreen bushes, tend to simply die off over time. Weeds grow in abundance, but, that is about it. I have moved into a raised garden this year, for nothing I could do, seemed to make any difference in the production of food.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Sandra

      raised bed gardens are a good idea for an instant result so you can get gardening straight away, bring in sandy soil ie sandy loam and add compost at 1 cubic foot of compost to 50 square foot of garden. The main things that are best for clay soils are you need to put down,
      also garden lime, first get a p.H. tester and test your clay soil to see how much lime to add. It is always good to add sand to clay soils and it is best if it is coarse river sand so get some and always have some ready. If your soil cracks in hot dry weather fill up the cracks with the river sand and add some cover crops seeds, you will be amazed by the results. The best soils are made from converting clay.

      1. Chris

        Thanks for answering Fran’s question on clay soils, as this is my native soil. But we also have shelves of sandstone. I use to think I had the worst soil ever, until I discovered chop and drop mulching. I use a diverse array of plants, like lemon grass, old man saltbush, canna lilies (edidble and non), weeds, long grasses (seeds and all) pigeon pea, leucaena, and even stumbled upon the casurina tree.

        I have one question about the Casurina though, doesn’t it have an allelopathic effect on other plants? If so, how do you recommend inter-planting them (spacing, etc). I noticed in some of your farm footage, there was a lot of spacing between your casurina trees. Would you recommend they not be planted in groups, in case it increases the allelopathic effect?

  55. Fran Miller

    Hello, Geoff, I loved your presentation; it was very educational and very inspiring………I have never successfully made compost before, and after learning from you, I am very keen to try again.

    I live on the NSW mid-north coast of Australia. I have a problem with nut grass and would like to know if you have any ideas of eradicating it without using toxic chemicals, please? Thank you for your invaluable work, for us, the animals and the environment.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Fran

      you can solarise it with black plastic for a few weeks then put poultry over it to finish the job or if you don’t have poultry you have to carefully pick out what comes back but it will be a lot less.

  56. Valerie

    Hi Geoff, I can’t thank you enough for your time in putting this together.I am new to permaculture though have never used fertilizers or sprays. We recently purchased 40 acres, zone 9, clay soil with Live Oaks and Blue Oaks. We are starting the garden in a fenced off 80×60 to start(bear & deer). The soil has good minerals but I suspect a lack of nitrogen. I have been working on the slow composting but am excited to do your 18 day formula. I would like to incorporate a few small swells as it is on a slight slope. What is the minimum depth & width we should dig?
    Much thanks!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Valerie

      if you want to put swales into the 80X60 garden area I would set them up as the contour foot paths two feet wide and 6 inches deep and put soil onto the the low garden bed which will make it a raised bed.

  57. Gina Bria

    Geoff, Very valuable. Are you familiar with the water science work of Dr. Gerald Pollack, The Fourth Phase of Water Beyond Solid, Liquid, Vapor identifying electrical charge as the defining aspect of water. I thought of it during your presentation, and the important implication this book has for your own work designing and manipulating natures own capacities. For example, the fourth phase of water is water’s own self purifying stage which we interfere with through today’s industrial actions. Dr. Pollack identified plant cells as one place where fourth phase water is produced. Here is his TEDxtalk and one other I hope you will relish. I am happy to speak further to identify with you new amplifications of this fourth phase for irrigation and water decontamination. Sincere and joyful blessings on your work!

    Dr. Gerald Pollack: Water Cells Life:
    Anthropologist Gina Bria, How To Grow Water: It’s Not Only Blue, It’s Green

  58. Alison

    Exceptional THANKYOU!
    I’m an Aussie and it was great to hear what is arguably our greatest export – Permaculture- spread throughout the globe.
    I’ve been gardening for about 20 years, with the last 14 organically with various permaculture principles for most of that without even knowing it.
    Even so, I learnt so much and believe we are all blessed by Geoff’s willingness to share his skills and knowledge on the symbiotic relationship the soil and plants have.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thanks Alison it is a privilege to be able to help.

  59. Cressie

    This lecture of Understanding Soil Building is absolutely amazing! Thank you very much for your time, effort, and expertise to teach us out here about it.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Cressie I am please to help everyone get better healthy produce through better natural soil fertility.

  60. Betty Child

    Thank you great presentation I do a lot of this and have great tasting vegetables but you have encouraged me even further just love being out “playing” with the soil and seeing everything growing , it gives great satisfaction.
    I live in Victoria so the winters are cold but I still have celery, broccoli , silver beet, parley , broad beans are coming along fine too.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Betty glad to have encouraged you further.

  61. Karen

    Great presentation. I’ve learned so much from this one presentation! Thank you. I have a question I hope you can help me with. My families’ small 150 acre farm has Bermuda grass on it to feed cows but is so full of prickly pears it’s hard to walk around the fields. I’ve been told to put lime down. That didn’t work. What should we do to heal the soil yet keep enough grass growing to feed the cows?

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Karen there are different opinions out there one is to dig them out and if you were to do that I would use a prong

      Also people talk of using a crimple roller to crush it and kill and stop it re-shooting from segments.

      I would also see if you could run over it with a forage harvester shredding it up and picking it up capturing all its gel, then make fast compost out of it as the main ingredient then spread it back on the pasture to increase fertility.

      1. Karen

        Thank you!

  62. Nicole Issel

    I have no issue in turning materials into compost in less than a month (I also work my chickens). But what are your views on “curing” a pile for a further improved cold product?

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Nichole

      you can be a lot more precise especially using a compost thermometer to hold the temperature as long as possible between 55 and 65 centigrade.

      1. Nicole Issel

        I apologize for not being specific, but my question related to when a hot compost pile is finished. I’m always in a hurry to use my compost (and it IS finished compost – I even sieve it and throw larger pieces to a new pile) but I have been told it will be even better if I let it sit cold for a couple months to age like a fine wine. “Curing the compost”.

  63. Ellen

    Your presentation was just riveting, Geoff. Hope I can read all my notes “after they cool off”! This will inspire me to try your speedy compost method. One question: I’m assuming I keep covering up the pile after turning it? I’ve really got to make and use compost faster; our chickens are doing their part! Thanks so much; this is so empowering.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Ellen

      yes keep it cover and just damp and use it within a month if you can, or start feeding it, as it is a living inoculation of the soil a pro-biotic.

  64. Nancy

    I loved your presentation, but I wept. Good video!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Nancy

      tears of joy I hope : )

  65. Fayette

    I loved the presentation and had to watch it twice. Extremely informative and appreciated. I now have a deeper understanding of how the soil plays a part in the self sustaining character of the planet we live in. I have a greater understanding of the interaction of soil with plants. Soil grows and lives and shares, amazing. If only everyone would get out of its way and try to help instead of thinking of selfish gain. What a world that would be! Thank you for the compost lesson.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Fayette

      we are working towards that tipping point towards the abundant world the children of the world have a right to inherit.

  66. Gail

    I watched how to make compost over and over. I guess that you add the activater on Day 1 even though you already showed the pile covered up? Do you recover it for all 18 days?
    A surprising idea to end with the same volume that you started with!!
    Do you compost in a shady spot?

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Gail

      yes the activator goes in on the first day, we keep the pile covered from rain every day.
      We compost in a shady spot in a hot climate and a sunny spot in a cold climate and even in a barn, shed or inside a poly grow tunnel in very cold winters.

  67. Pamela Richards

    Just loved this presentation. Thanks Geoff and Marjory. Can hardly wait to get started on my 18 day pile !

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Pamela

      I glad to get you started on fast composting.

  68. Selma

    Hello Geoff,
    Thank you for this wonderful presentation and the work you do.
    I have a question. Just finished putting 6 inches of wood chips on our garden( a month ago) which is heavy very black soil here in MB,Canada. Planted tomatoes into it a couple of weeks ago and they look terrible and pest ridden and diseased. What can we do to improve it? Did we make a mistake by putting on chips without compost? Thank you. Selma

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Selma

      wood chips need to be broken down by fungi and fungal dominated soil is forest soil, “a forest grows on a fallen forest” and “the soil is an animal that is all mouth and the fungi are the teeth that eat the wood”. You are trying to grow non-woody plants herbaceous ie tomatoes these need a bacterial dominated soil. So I would scrap off the wood chips and use them as your footpath mulch and cover the garden at 1 cubic meter to 30 square meters and cover with 15 to 20cm of mulch, and this is going to be tricky but you can carefully compost and mulch around your plants. The compost can touch the stems of the plants but the mulch has to stay back by a 1-2 cm all round.

  69. Leonor

    Geoff, blessings to you and your family. Great fan of yours here in Colombia. Have wanted to touch basewith you and maybe now is the opportunity for me to become your Rep here and divulge your immense knowledge to so many people to start new lives towards prosperity and abundance. Way to go and; gracias, gracias, gracias.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Leonor

      I am glad to be of service.

  70. Jennifer

    Best presentation ever

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Wow thanks Jennifer

  71. Sue Deacon

    Thank you so much for this presentation. It has been a series of light-bulb moments!

    With forty years gardening experience, I already knew a lot of what you were saying, but putting it all together as you did was a real eye-opener. Now it all makes sense – perfect sense!

    I’ve often heard gardener Monty Don banging on about mycorrhizal fungus and have started to use it when planting trees and shrubs to give them a good start. Now I know why.😁 BRILLIANT thank you!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Sue

      Its an absolute pleasure to be of value to gardeners like yourself.

  72. Ismail

    Hi Geoff,
    Once one has made the compost
    1. how long can it last in the pile before it has to be used.
    2. Do we need to keep it covered.
    3. Do we need to water it so that it does not dry out.
    4. Will any of the biology be lost through aging?
    5. If I have “old” compost say 4 months old; how do use it best.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Ismail

      1. The pile will still have some recognisable beneficial soil life in it 17 years later but it will have most beneficial soil life if used within a week or two.
      2. Yes you need to keep from getting too wet or too dry because this will reduce the beneficial soil life, it is best just damp.
      3. As above in 2.
      4. As above in 1.
      5. Use it as an organic fertiliser put it on the soil around your plants and trees then cover with mulch, you can also put it through a nursery sieve and add it to you potting mixes.
      This is a physical soil amendment as its minimum value, its highest value is adding a great diversity and number of beneficial soil organisms to the soil. These beneficial soil organisms feed your plants.

      1. Ismail

        Really appreciated. Thanks for sharing.

  73. Edwardo

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    1. Geoff Lawton

      Thanks Edwardo

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  75. Riesah Prock

    Thank you so much, Geoff, for the clarity of your explanations, starting with the basics and then to the more complex. I’ve learned so much from just this one presentation on the soil. It’s truly a spiritual experience for me. I now understand for the first time how to improve the quality of my veg production.
    I’d sure like to see how you can do what you do so well in Oz where I live, on the prairie where it just meets the Rockies in SW Alberta. Leaves are blown away by the winds; all I have are grass clippings & weeds, kitchen scraps (2 of us & some of that feeds our garden tower worms) & comfrey. Sure would appreciate some suggestions, Geoff.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Riesah it sounds like you need to plant wind breaks to create micro climate sun traps. To fertilise the situation so you can grow a diversity may mean bringing in compostable material to get you started, ie manure, food scraps, alfalfa hay, leaves, etc.

  76. Nando

    Geoff, Here in Europe, I did 2 large hot compost piles this spring. I didn’t have any way to shred the leaves, and perhaps my nitrogen level was a bit on the low side because the manure wasn’t all fresh, but the piles still heated to between 45° and 50° C. I turned them for nearly a month, some leaf structure was still visible in the final result, but not much. I put the compost in tightly closed plastic bag for 5 days to test if it was ready, and it smelled earthy and not at all putrid. Then I put a layer of 2 inches on all beds on top, without turning the soil, and most plants seem to be doing very well with it. However, I am having an issue with broccoli, and similar plants dying off from the roots. I haven’t mulched the beds (until yesterday). Perhaps the very loose layer of compost has been drying out too quickly, (I just mulched everything with dry tree leaves from the forest), or I should make sure to shred the leaves next year. Any advice for a grateful student of yours?

    1. Nando

      … I meant to say I put a small sample of the compost in a closed plastic bag to test it …

    2. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Nando

      if it is very hot and humid young seedlings get damp off and thin off at the roots, or the mulch may be too close to the stems and cause stem rot, keep the mulch 1cm back from all vegetables. All the cabbage family like broccoli like slightly alkaline soil so you might need some lime, try and do a pH test : )

  77. Deepti

    Thank you Geoff! You inspired me 7 years ago to return to India from US and start a soil restoration permaculture farm in a degraded 40 acre farm in dry Rajasthan. Now it has food forests, perennial pastures, veggies and 50 native zebu cows. And we run a small farmer’s market twice a week in the nearby city.
    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Deepti that is great can you send me any details to I would love to learn more I have students in Rajasthan

  78. Caryn Niedringhaus

    Loved this presentation. My question : What legume trees can we use in Upstate New York? We are aware of Black Locust – sends up shoots from shallow roots and takes over. Thank you.

    1. Geoff Lawton

      Hi Caryn honey locust, siberian pea tree, eleagnus and alder all fix nitrogen.


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