Making soil 101


I wrote this article just to show how easy it is to make a Gbiota bed to to make healthy soil to grow gut food.

I know how , it is easy – any one can do it from soil biology, organic waste, rock dust and worms.

Here I focus on a simple box, but the system can be scaled up to large commercial beds using exactly the same principles. See more articles under ‘Growing’.

Gbiota beds are not simply a watering system to grow cabbages – they are to breed the biology to grow plants as natural pre and pro biotics.

If you are going to breed beneficial soil biology (the good bugs) you need to feed them.  The good bugs will grow happily in organic waste, manure and minerals. We need a broad spectrum of biology, but mycorrhizal fungi to break down the minerals and worms are critical.

The growing box, pipes and leaky dams

storage box

storage box

We start with a simple storage box you can buy at any hardware store.

filler pipe

filler pipe

We put a hole and fix a connection to make the exit for the drain, cut a length of Ag pipe to lay along the bottom of the box and up the far side to act as a fill point.

soil dam

soil dam

Just raise the pipe before the drain to make the soil dam as shown. A dam height of 25mm is fine in a small box.

Now fill the box about half full of organic waste and manure, (which will help decomposition). This is the breeding ground for the soil biology.

Fill to near the top with a mix of local soil and well rotted compost. This is where the bulk of the roots will grow.

You will also need a thin layer of fine soil on top for germination with fine soil layer of soil where the seeds can germinate and maybe some rock dust (to deter the snails and slugs).

And that is all there is to the growing box.

The water reservoir

We could have a totally manual system just pouring water into the fill tube and collecting the overflow – but if you are anything like me you will sooner of later forget or just get busy so let us automate the system.

water reservoir

water reservoir

For that we need another box, fitted with a float valve and a little pump. If it is just a single box you can use a pond pump, cheap from any hardware store.

multi box

multi box

But you can string a row of growing boxes together as shown but you will need a bigger pump, like a sump pump, again sold in most hardware stores.

In my garden I have eight boxes and seven larger in ground bed all fed from one sump pump in an in ground sump.

I already had a sump for my in ground beds so I just used that for the row of boxes shown.

Decisions decisions?

2 boxes

2 boxes

The top of the water reservoir must be just lower than the base of the growing box so the water can drain back into the water reservoir (unless you are in zero gravity space).

You can raise the growing box on a stand so the water reservoir (sump) can sit on the ground or, if you really like digging and bending over, you can dig a hole for the water reservoir and have the growing boxes just sitting on the ground.

Connect a pipe from the pump to fit into the filler end of the Ag pipe. When you turn on the pump the water flows along the pipe until it meets the bump or soil dam and cannot flow any further.

Then it will flood the base of the box but with no water will come out for the drain until the base is flooded.

As soon as the water level reaches the top of the dam water will flow out of the drain at almost the same flow as the pump is delivering.

Now here is where you need to be a bit careful. You don’t want to connect the inlet to the local fire hydrant – the flow will be too high for the drain to handle and you will fill the box with water, which will kill off a lot of the valuable biology you are trying to breed.



When you commission your bed, you can run the pump for some time to make sure that the drainage flow is greater than the input flow.

A pond pump should not give you any problems but if you are using multiple boxes with a more powerful sump pump, you will need to install an irrigation fitting ( 2 mm fitting shown) to restrict and balance the flows.

Partial flood and drain



Partial flood and drain – this is what the Gbiota beds are really all about. You actually don’t want to apply any more water than really needed, the soil should be moist without being wet. What I call Goldilocks moisture, not too wet, not too dry – just right.

You can use one of those cheap moisture sensors which are generally pretty useless, but do tell you when the water arrives.

view hole

view hole

Or you can just dig a hole and watch the water rise and fall. It is important to check that you are getting this nice rise and fall of the water level. It should be a short sharp pulse without flooding the bed or allowing water to stagnate and putrefy in the bed.

Beneficial biology are really fussy about their moisture level so it pays to spoil them. If the water goes putrid you will end up with a bed full of the bad bugs. It is all about ecological balance.

When you turn on the pump the water should fill the bottom of the box to the level of the dam. Then it will flow out of the drain pipe and the water level will not rise any further but will flow back into the sump – it will just circulate round and round without flooding the growing bed or wasting water.

It is really pretty simple but like many simple things very effective in creating the healthy soil we all need for y health plants and our health.

If that does not happen ,then you need to fix it yourself or email me for a chat. Getting the moisture level right is important in keeping the bugs happy – eating and breeding.

You can time how long it takes for the water to come out of the drain pipe for when you set the timer. It is usually only a few minutes. When the pump is turned of fthe drain will continue to drip – that should take a lot longer.


While you can run the system manually it really is lot easier to use a timer to make the system automatic. When you first set up the box you will have measured how long it takes for the water to come out of the drain, just add a few extra minutes on your timer.

I live in a hot dry climate so I may set the pump to run several times a day in the hot dry season but only once in the cool season. I aim for short sharp pulses avoiding saturating the soil so my bugs don’t get grumpy.

If you don’t have power you can always use a solar pump. It is more difficult to set the time but you can always be primitive and put a dust bin in front of the solar panel so it runs once in the morning and once in the after noon.

Feeding the bugs (and you)

I can be an extremely boring person talking for hours on end about ecological balance. It is just a fact of life that there are good bugs and bad bugs, good insects and bad insects and good plants (for food) and bad plants (weeds) and for that matter good people and bad people.

Generally it is not possible to kill of all the bad bugs without killing the good bugs (although people do try with toxic chemicals which is why our food is inert and not healthy).

The trick is to create the conditions where the good ones can out compete and out breed the bad ones.

I use this trick with bad people – I just talk and talk and talk about ecological balance so they get completely bored and just nick of and leave me alone.

That’s the way to run Gbiota beds – create the conditions which favour the good bugs aso they will out breed the bad bugs.

Now bugs don’t have social media to waste their lives on – they are just interested in sex and food – just like adolescent humans.

organic food

organic food

So the trick is to feed them food they really like and that – fortunately for us is our waste – food, organic waste (grass clipping prunings etc). Some councils are far sighted and geared up to collect and distribute green waste.

We also need manure, but both our friendly bugs and us also need a whole range of minerals which we add as rock dust. Read about trace minerals here.

My local gardening supplier calls this crusher dust – just a finely ground rock mix which is great for giving the soil a bit of body and spreading over the surface to deter slugs and snails.

But this is just a waste product from the quarries and although it may contain some useful minerals it probably wont provide the trace minerals we need.

biomin rock dust

biomin rock dust

For this I recommend Biomin. This is a carefully prepared rock dust with the trace minerals with micro biology. I sprinkle this on the surface when seeding.

I don’t make or sell anything, I am not trying to set up a business but create a food system for my grand kids. SoI have come to an arrangement with a company to produce rock dust with biology to an agred specification.

worm eggs

worm eggs

I have a similar arrangement for worms eggs which are a critical part of the Gbiota technology.

Worms are actually very fragile creatures, but the eggs are much more robust for transport. They are also great for teaching kids about exponential growth, first there is nothing, then a few that have a bit of hanky panky then they are everywhere.

Bit of a problem for thinking of names for them all.

I set up a web site so growers could trade Gbiota gut food but that has not taken off as yet, we need to get the message out about the importance of gut food first, but I am using that web site for the on line supply of Biomin and worm eggs.


Labile and mature compost and Vermicast

Plants have been evolving for billions of years and are far more sophisticated than we may think. They may not have their head in the sand but they certainly have their roots in the ground, which makes running away from a dreaded foe a bit of a challenge, so they have evolved an array of defences – such as toxins and growth inhibitors to keep other plants and animals at bay.

To try and grow plants in young compost is therefore not a good idea. Soil scientist call this young compost ‘labile’ which is not good for growing plants.

When you made your  Gbiota bed you would have loaded the bottom zone with labile compost, just young green stuff, and that was fine because this is below the second layer which is for the rhizosphere or root zone.

But after a while this labile compost would have provided food for the biology (that is why we put it there) and the surface of the bed will have dropped ,but leaving this beautiful soil. And if, as you should, have plenty of worms creating highly fertile Vermicast. This is really great for seeding.

You now have two options.

You can be lazy (and we could do with a bit more laziness in our frenetic world) and just make some more mature compost and preferably Vermicast – separately and apply this as a mulch to the surface next time you seed. This works – and the worms will spread the mix throughout the bed.

Option two is to dig a small trench down to the base of the bed and fill with this naughty labile compost or what my wife would call yukky rubbish.

food waste

food waste

There is simply no better way of recycling organic waste than to bury it and let the creature of the soil use it for their Sunday lunch, growing big and fat in the process.

To my mind this is the best way but there are a couple of things to watch.

Firstly is soil structure, which is a result of the biological activityand is prone to damage by working the soil. This is particularly true for mycorrhizal fungi. Soil is very resilient and will quickly recover if just a small area is dug but avoid digging the whole bed.

Secondly you do not want to be digging a fresh hole every time you have a bit of kitchen waste. I use a compost bin and when I feel fit and healthy with an over abundance of energy I will dig a hole in my beds, then raise the bin up to take semi mature compost from the base.

I usually do this when I am seeding or transplanting and use this really nice soil in my top layer.

Other people will use a holey compost bin with a lid which they can pop their waste in as they make it. This is practical but can take up a lot of space in a small bed.

Why bother

You may have your own reasons for being a bit of a soilophile (artificial intelligence could not come up with a word for a person who likes soil so I made one up) but let me tell you my reasons for my obsession with soil.

We live in an age with the greatest rate of change of technology in history. As I spent my working life in innovation and technology I welcome technology, but it should work for the benefit of the community – not to create a monopoly to make a few people excessively rich.

Food production is an area of major innovation – which is good – what is not so good is that the innovation is focused on improving the profits of industrial agriculture and not human health.

Don’t believe me – just count the number of wobbly bums at your local supermarket. There is no need to do a complex statistical regression analysis – the scientifically acceptable answer is lots.

I am ancient – more precisely 81 and in what is generally regarded as the ‘silly old bugger’ phase of my life. But I am still fit and healthy and the intellectual capacity I had when I was young does not appear to have entirely drained away. So I spend my life experimenting to find better ways of growing food that will make us healthy.

I don’t do this for money I do this so my grand kids and their grand kids can have healthy food to eat.

I know I am biased but I think the Gbiota bed technology is a significant advance.  Having been in the innovation business for years ,I recognise that clever innovation is no use unless people can actually use it, and benefit from it.

That cursed Covid

No here in lies the problem, the Internet is a great way of communicating but mention Covid and you are immediately seen as some anti vaxxer and your site is grey listed so no one sees it.

So my Plan B is in three step

First, persuade home gardeners to make their own Gbiota beds and show their friends to create an interest in growing gut food.

The aim is to create a ground swell for gut food.

Second, hope that enterprising and progressive regenerative growers see there is a demand for gut food and so offer gut food on a commercial basis.

Third, hope this spreads to main stream agriculture so  there is wide spread understanding of the need to create a circular society based on recycling.

So if you have read this far, how about making you own Gbiota bed and showing it off to your friends?

Just a little sting in the tail, I work on the principles of Creative Commons, which essentially means that I am happy to share my technology.

But I was a pioneer of the Wicking Bed Technology which went viral with no quality control. So the name Gbiota is a registered trade mark, free to use for non commercial use, but requires approval of quality control and standards for commercial use.

So join me in changing the worlds food system for out grand kids.

Next read feed your gut brain

I am a real person email me here.