A Crash Course in a Witch's Garden

When considering our health, we cannot separate it from our environment. The Earth's health influences and reflects our own. As Pagans, we are particularly responsible for caring for our environment because we understand this interconnectedness. The garden is an excellent place to begin a ripple effect of healing by tending it in a sustainable manner. This healing can be seen by the increase of vitamins in the foods we've grown organically. Subtle healing effects will gradually become evident as gaps in life cycles are filled. All forms of wildlife and insects will return to the garden and renew the essential balance, eliminating the need for pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. The garden will also renew your balance and life force. Tending the garden will tone your body, clarify your mind, and energize you Spirit. Other side effects of your healthy garden will become apparent in all aspects of your life. Healing formulas, spell components, and any other creations that incorporate plants grown in this magical manner will all have enormously magnified energy.

To understand this method, go to an undisturbed area like a woodland plot, secluded area of a park, or under a large, healthy shrub. Notice that when you're under a canopy of foliage the atmosphere is different. It smells fresh, moist, and soothing. Touch the soil. Generally, it will be soft and spongy, with layers of newly accumulated debris, and below that, humus rich soil in many stages of decomposition. The soil here contains microorganisms whose sacred names include fungi, protozoa, yeast, worms, and insects. These life forms are known collectively as edaphon. Life flows through everything here and you may begin to feel more balanced. This feeling is the essence of a Witch's method of gardening.

Good soil consists of 93% mineral and 7% bio-organic substances. The bio-organic parts include: 85% humus, 10% roots, and 5% edaphon. The edaphon consists of: 40% fungi/algae, 40% bacteria/actinomycete, 12% earthworms, 5% macro fauna, and 3% micro/mesofauna.1

After a year of organic treatment, earthworms, or "tiny tillers", should flourish. Chemical fertilizers kill earthworms and other soil life that release carbonic acid (plant roots do too). This acid converts minerals in the soil to a form that plants can assimilate.

Soil nutrients are to plants what proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are to people. Air, (all gasses, including carbon dioxide or CO2) Water, Earth and Fire (sun) are essential to the plant world. Synthetic forms of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N, P, and K respectively) in chemical fertilizers are stated on packages like 15-30-15 or 10-5-5. These salt based fertilizers will readily wash out of the soil and into our water systems. Undines look out!

We must regularly replace non-organic forms of these nutrients because of this constant leeching. Salts accumulate in the upper soil surfaces and "burn" tender roots and soil life. Potted plants will show evidence of this build up with powdery white deposits on the soil surface or a ring on the pot. Most plants cannot tolerate this much salt in any form. This is a good reason to try not to use salt in outdoor rituals for circle casting or purification. Instead, use a truly sacred replacement such as compost or soil for the Earth element. (I've used soil from my birthplace, as well as soil from fellow Witch's gardens to help link with them when being together in person isn't possible)

Synthetic fertilizers cause plant cells to grow too quickly, developing thin cell walls. The spaces between each cell are larger too, causing the entire plant to be more susceptible to insects and disease. These plant predators hunt for the easiest path to lunch, and the thin cell walls and gaps between them are an open invitation. By invading your crops, these pesky predators are fulfilling an essential duty, that of restoring balance and eliminating problems.

So, you ask, how can I nourish my garden, self and planet? The following represents a basic outline of techniques to get you started.


Composting will unlock the nutrients from the components you put in the compost pile. Begin by making a four foot diameter place in your garden in part sun. Next, layer 4-6 inches of carbon materials, "browns," with 1-2 inches of nitrogen material, "greens." Mystical formulas of carbon to nitrogen ratios can be found in many superb garden Grimoires. Like all of Nature's magic, however, you will find that intuition, observation, and experimentation provide the best results. The following describes the basic compost cauldron components and guidelines for their use:
Do Use: "Greens" are sources of nitrogen, a plant nutrient that helps heat up a compost pile by activating the micro life in it. Sources include: fresh green weeds, kitchen scraps, manure, cottonseed meal, and blood meal. "Browns" are carbon materials like straw, hay, last year's garden debris, crop residue, chopped leaves, and sticks under a half inch in diameter.

Don't Use: Oil, wax, meat (small, clean bones are OK), colored newspaper, weeds that have set seed, diseased or pest infested plants, and pet wastes or litters (which can carry diseases, among other problems).

Invoke the powers of the microbial soil life with a half inch layer of garden soil sprinkled over each "green" layer. When the pile reaches about four feet high, water it well to the consistency of a wrung out sponge, and let it rot! It will slowly turn into fertilizer that feeds your plants and your soil without interrupting the symbiotic relationship between the two. When it is done, it will be brown and crumbly. This process can take from two weeks to six months. If you're in a hurry, you can speed things up by turning it every week. To turn a pile, remove the top and outside layers and put them on the ground beside the pile. Then continue with the next layers until you've tuned it upside down while fluffing it to let it breathe. If the pile smells bad, or if flies are taking an interest in it, then turn the pile, incorporate more "browns," make sure it's not soggy (cover it in the rain), and cover the top of the heap with an inch of soil or hay to eliminate the problem and disapproving looks from neighbors. Finished compost is used as a fertilizer and mulch around and under plants.

Diseased plants and weeds with seeds require hot compost, one that reaches 140-165 degrees. This technique is best left for more experienced practitioners who are more adept at its mysteries. Use these plant materials as erosion control far from the garden, burn them, or if necessary, dispose of them in the regular garbage. Meanwhile, train yourself in hot compost magic through the recommended reading2, intuition, and experience.

Nearly all organic forms of nitrogen, like those used in making compost, contain varying amounts of phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals. Composting ingredients that contain high percentages of these nutrients will improve your end fertilizer. Trace minerals can be derived from plants with literally rock breaking, carrot-like tap roots that explore 25 feet or more down into the Earth. These plants include dandelions, alfalfa, comfrey, and plantain. Harvest their leaves as a "green" and let the roots put forth new leaves for the next compost pile. The older the plant, the better the fertilizer, as the roots have probed even deeper into the Earth.

Phosphorus and potassium are present in most crop residues and manure, but you may need to supplement your soil or compost with additional sources. Your local extension service can provide information on soil tests that help determine what amendments will improve your soil's nutrient levels. These tests can be costly, but if problems arise they will guide you in restoring soil balance. Greens and rock phosphate (not super phosphate that damages earthworms and other soil life), crushed granite and glacier rock are all good sources. You can apply them directly to the garden bed according to package directions, or to the compost pile with a handful between each layer. The amendments come in various packages and if you can't find them locally, sources are listed at the end of the article.3

Compost has nitrogen in it, but additional sources may also be desired. the same manure used in compost can be applied directly to the soil. Do this several weeks before planting to give the manure time to mellow. Cover crops are grown exclusively to feed the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients. When mature, they are tilled under, and the soil life transforms them into fertilizer. Life is provided for by death. Every cover crop has different amounts and types of nutrients. Wheat, oats, calendula, buckwheat, and legumes are all common cover crops. Legumes are most often used because they are a group of plants such as clover, beans, and peas that "fix" nitrogen. They have a symbiotic relationship with a type of soil life known as nematodes. These beneficial nematodes take nitrogen from the air and "fix" it to the legume's roots. They look like tiny white potatoes clinging to the root system. They release nitrogen to the plant, helping it thrive. When the crop of legumes is tilled into the soil, it becomes a time release fertilizer as plants and nematodes break down again.

The following tips will also help to create your bewitching garden. These methods can be used in any garden, in sun or shade, and can be started any time of the year with Spring and Summer being ideal.

Raised Beds

Raised beds save water, compost and amendments that are only used where the plants grow and not in paths. Crops can be grown closer together which saves space. You do not need to use the "space between rows" recommendation from seed packets, since rows are not used. Only the "space between plants" recommendation is needed.4 This provides a canopy of foliage that traps CO2 and soil moisture like a suspended mulch. The leaves shade the soil to further reduce weeding and watering chores. Make beds wide enough to reach across comfortably (4 feet is standard) in order to save work from bending and straining. Raised beds drain well to allow plants to develop healthy root systems, and they solve rot problems in packed clay soil. They also warm faster in the spring for earlier planting and remain unpacked from foot traffic that would otherwise choke oxygen from roots and spread disease. If you use concrete blocks or railroad ties, your bed supports can provide a convenient resting spot. Make paths wide enough so that you can walk side by side with friend or partner without breaking off plants.


Weeding and water requirements are kept to a minimum by mulching. Use compost, straw, hay, wood chips, color-free newspaper, or special mulch papers. All of these sources will slowly decompose, conditioning the soil and slowly feeding plants. Mulch will also save your plants when you are low on compost.

Garden Sanitation

The garden is a sacred space and rain is its consecrated cleansing. It should have solitude during this purifying time. Mud on shoes or wet skin and tools, can spread diseases normally not as easily transported without moisture. If you wish to accompany the garden in this cleansing, do so quietly and meditatively. If you have urgent work to do, limit your areas of activity and avoid touching plants.

Your garden's first year of withdraw from chemical dependency may be severe, because the soil life is insufficient to transform its components into nutrients. However, after the first year, it will flourish and the trouble is worth it. While at first resisting the temptation to reach for a quick fix fertilizer is difficult, be persistent while the balance is being restored. Talk to and love your friends through it, touching them, especially the ones in the tobacco family. Members of this family have fuzzy feelers on their stems and leaves and touching them causes thickened cell structure and sturdier, disease resistant plants. Avoid this practice if you smoke tobacco. It is often poorly grown and may contain the tobacco mosaic virus that can spread to other family members including tomatoes, potatoes, flowering tobacco-nicotiana, and datura.

Plants grown with these methods will glow with a mystical aura and they will release their intoxicating fragrances to greet you on your daily visits. The garden will soothe and quiet people, perhaps because of an elusive awareness that something powerful and sacred is happening or because of its visual beauty.

Planting by the phases of the Moon, by Sabbat, or under specific planetary influences will also amplify the garden's energy. This kind of information can be found in most almanacs and I've recommended some at the end of this article5. Planting in special patterns of Celtic knots, circles, pentacles, or any imaginative and magickal design that you've created will also enhance and focus energy.

Are you still skeptical of the damaging effects of chemical fertilizers? Organic Gardening Magazine had a blurb in the January 1996 issue about Miracle Grow©. Apparently, it corroded a one inch hole through someone's aluminum shelf!6 Now that can't be right?!

Good luck and happy growing! If you have any questions about gardening or if you just want to talk plants, feel free to write to me. I can also offer some advice (but mostly resources) about growing plants indoors organically.

Reference Notes

  1. Petrik, Vactav Sr. Excerpts from his work Understanding the soil
  2. Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara W. Ellis (Eds.) (1992) Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale Press
  3. New Earth Indoor/Outdoor Garden Center, 3623 East Highway 44, Shepherdsville, KY 40165; 1-800-462-5953 or 1-502-543-5933. Worm's Way Garden Supply, 3151 S. Highway 446. Bloomington IN 47401; 1-800-274-9676 or FAX 1-812-331-0854.
  4. Jeavons, John (1991) How to Grow More Vegetable (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine) A Primer on the Life-Giving Biointensive Method of Organic Horticulture. Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula. Published by: Ten Speed Press, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707.
  5. Pepper, Elizabeth and Wilcock, John. The Witches' Almanac, P.O. Box 4067, Middletown, Rhode Island 02842. The Old Farmer's Almanac and The Farmer's Almanac are available at newsstands. Llewellyn's Magical Almanac, Moon Sign Book, and Organic Gardener's Almanac can be obtained by calling 1-800-THE-MOON or by checking at bookstores.
  6. Organic Gardening Magazine, January 1996 issue, page 19. Rodale Press
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