• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Anne Miller
  • paul wheaton
  • Joseph Lofthouse
stewards:
  • Mike Jay
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Devaka Cooray
garden masters:
  • Steve Thorn
  • Dave Burton
  • Dan Boone
gardeners:
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
  • Mike Barkley

Soil health

 
Posts: 10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have two areas that I will be gardening in this year.  The first area is an old round ring for horse training that has had about 2 yards of manure placed on it several years ago.  It grows weeds really well, and is pretty soft.  This year, we will grow tomatoes there. We just placed about 6 yards of pine mulch on it 2-3 inches deep.  The rest of the garden has had manure/straw placed on it for 3 years but is still very hard (high concentration of clay).  This area has had chickens and fall leaves placed on it since last fall, but the leaves are not broken down yet.  I want to introduce fungi, and will be exclusively using compost tea.  I have access to forest litter from a property we own, but is in a high mountain region and we are in a low semi arid area.  The main garden did not produce well last year, and we hope to produce all of our produce this year from seed.  The main garden used to be a parking lot in the past, so we have a lot of round 2" rock in areas of the garden and is high % of clay.  I want to move toward low/no till.

Any suggestions as to ways to improve our soil health and productivity?

 
pollinator
Posts: 640
Location: Southern Illinois
119
transportation cat dog fungi trees building writing rocket stoves woodworking
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Michael,

I am surprised that it took so long for me, or anyone else to see this post and respond, so my apologies and I will take a shot at it now.  

First off, you have probably done the best thing you can with bringing in organic matter/mulch to try to soften the area.  I honestly don't know how hard a horse tramples the soil, but I can believe that it gets pretty solid with time.  

So you spread pine mulch.  Is that pine needles or pine wood chips or pine bark?  The reason I am asking is that I am thinking about the ph of your soil after the addition of acidic mulch.  If you are in an area with basic or sodic soil, then this will likely be very good for the soil.  Were it in my area, that much acid might not be healthy for my already slightly acidic soil.  You mentioned that you brought in 2"-3" of mulch.  Were it me I would add 6" at least.  I am presently gardening in an area where I laid down a little over 12" of wood chips in order to help soften up the dense hard clay underneath.  

Like you, I too am using fungi to break down my mulch, condition soil, and generally create a nice highly fertile garden bedding.  I am using wine caps as they seem like a fairly resilient fungi and are tolerant of some sunlight which is useful in a garden as you don't want your garden in total shade (for obvious reasons).  

Have you considered raised bed gardens?  The reason I ask is that it may be possible to get some healthy soil faster with raised beds than trying to convert the entire area to a nice fertile status all at once.  The beds do not even need to be permanent.   You might be able to bring in some extra wood chips or other organic mulch (straw, grass clippings, wood chips, etc.) and get some initial crops while the mulch is breaking down into some more material better suited for direct planting.

You might be able to get away with straw bale gardening which will allow you to get some immediate crops while the soil beneath conditions.  A word of warning though:  Straw bale gardens require scrupulous watering--probably every day if not twice a day--in my own fairly humid region (Southern Illinois).  In a more arid area, the watering requirements will only get more serious.  It can be done, you just have to keep up on it.  I tried it one year with only limited success, but the upshot was that even though I only got a small amount of crops, I did get some nice garden bedding as a result.

I could go on and on about what I did, but I will jump to the end.  I started a wood chip project two years ago.  The chips simply stood in a tall pile for one year conditioning (overkill as it turns out) and a second year inoculated with wine caps that were sown for their ability to break down wood more than for the mushrooms themselves.  This spring, my 12" of wood chips have been reduced by at least 4" as the wine caps have really done a good job at breaking down the wood and leaving a nice crumbly bedding material in its place.  I did grow tomatoes last year in the same bed, but in fertile holes I dug in the chips.  The tomatoes did double-duty as both crop and provided dappled shade for the mushrooms.  This year I am thinking about direct-seeding some crops right into the bed.  Also, I did a little digging recently in my bed and I can no longer find the original soil surface, as the chips have been worked into the ground, I assume via earthworms and fungi doing their jobs. My point is that the organic material on the surface of the ground is making a wonderful difference to the soil itself.

These are just a few observations and suggestions.  If you can provide a little more detail & information about your plans (such as where you live, what type of soil do you have, what type of resources can you get, etc.), we can probably help guide you a little better.

I hope this has been helpful, and by all means, please keep us informed.

Eric
 
pollinator
Posts: 2902
Location: Toronto, Ontario
325
hugelkultur dog forest garden fungi trees rabbit urban wofati cooking bee homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Michael,

Eric has covered it pretty well. I am just going to point to Dr. Redhawk's Epic wiki of Soil Wisdom. While all threads contain really great info, there's one specifically you might enjoy if you are pursuing biodynamics, where he talks about the biology behind the scenes, and how to make substitutions with things local to you.

But let us know how you proceed, and good luck!

-CK
 
pollinator
Posts: 356
56
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Since you posted it under biodynamic header I think that the biodynamic remedy would be to spray the whole thing with either BD 500 or with pfeiffer field conditioner. I think that right now is a good time to do either of those. You can get the preps fairly cheaply from the Josephine Porter Institute or from Hugh Courtney.
 
gardener
Posts: 5946
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
889
hugelkultur dog forest garden duck fish fungi hunting books chicken pig homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
hau Michael, where on the earth mother are you located? how much rain does your area receive per year and in what months does it come?

Others have given good suggestions, but it sounds like the first thing you have to deal with is compaction and to do that no till will require around two years or more.
compaction isn't always at the surface, it can show up as much as three feet below the surface (typical of horse arenas) or it can be thick and right at the surface (parking lots, road beds, foot paths, etc.)

Since you are posting in biodynamic I will approach this as if you prefer to use Steiner methods over all other methods.
First thing to do is make your preparations so you can inoculate the compost heaps you will use for compost tea sprays.
do understand that this means you will have at least 3 months wait and that is only if you purchase the preparations for the compost heaps.

I will second Eric's suggestion of using straw bale gardening, this method will get you growing and at the same time you will be conditioning the soil beneath the bales.
I'm also going to second Chris's and Stephen's suggestions.

If your soil is basic, then you did the right thing using pine mulch, if your soil is acidic you can always grow blueberries.
Acidic soil and fungi do not get along well together, Acidic soil and bacteria play fairly nice, and most areas of the planet that are acidic soiled have more bacteria dependent plant types than they do fungal plant types.

Wood chips are the best friend of anyone who has clay soil or clay based soil or even clay dominant subsoil, the other good friend is straw bales.
Mushroom slurries are a fast way to introduce fungi to any soil, compost heap or mulched bed. compost tea's are more for balancing the many different microorganisms that just introducing one specific type.

Some things to be aware of for general knowledge
1. Granite based soils are acidic soils, they also have a pretty good mineral count in their favor.
2. Limestone based soils will most likely be either basic (alkaline) (>7.0pH) or neutral (7.0pH)
3. Sandstone based soils are going to be pretty close to our sweet spot of 6.5 to 6.8 pH, these are also normally found with a Red to black clay subsoil horizon.
4. Clay needs to have a lot of organic matter that is not in big chunks so the microscopic clay particles have something to cling to other than another microscopic clay particle, the more organic matter there is the more open the clay can become.
5. Clay responds very well to additions of gypsum and lime, but you can overdo lime long before you can overdo gypsum.
6. Sand is the last thing you want to add if you are remediating a clay soil. Clay mixed with sand is what they make stoneware pottery and clay roofing tiles from.
7. If you don't have the results of a soil test in your hands, or are a soil scientist yourself, then you are in the world of the unknown and this is where the biggest mistakes can be made.
You need to know what you are starting with so you don't move in the wrong direction and then have to backup and start over.

Good luck on your gardening journey, please ask all the questions you come up with, we are all here to help each other out the best we can.

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
Posts: 2902
Location: Toronto, Ontario
325
hugelkultur dog forest garden fungi trees rabbit urban wofati cooking bee homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Potatoes also like it on the acidic side of things, and tend to do well as a first-year crop in less-than-favourable structural conditions (lots of clods, rough material, etc.).

Buckwheat also likes an acidic soil, and establishes quickly, making it a good choice in a soil-remediating green manure seed mix.

If your clay is calcium deficient, that could cause some impermeability issues. With near-neutral acidic soil, in the sweet spot, it is usually suggested that you add some gypsum grit, to add calcium without altering the pH, but in your case, if you did tests and found it to be necessary, you could just lime it a little.

I would suggest some soil testing. It will only give you what is immediately available (living bacterial soil makes locked-up minerals available, but that may take time, if not already happening), but that will give you an idea of what plants you can expect to survive in the soil in the mean time. Living plants are key to fostering soil life.

Looking forward to your success.

-CK
 
master pollinator
Posts: 668
Location: Ontario, Canada
129
homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Eric Hanson wrote:

You might be able to get away with straw bale gardening which will allow you to get some immediate crops while the soil beneath conditions.  A word of warning though:  Straw bale gardens require scrupulous watering--probably every day if not twice a day--in my own fairly humid region (Southern Illinois).  In a more arid area, the watering requirements will only get more serious.  It can be done, you just have to keep up on it.  I tried it one year with only limited success, but the upshot was that even though I only got a small amount of crops, I did get some nice garden bedding as a result.



I did straw bale gardening to the tune of a ton of straw bales.  I set up weeper hose and an automatic timer for watering every day with manual override when it rained (I turned the faucet off).  It worked fine for me, though I found the 'conditioning', where the straw starts to compost, took longer than indicated, though I recently saw that the state of the art is now fungal inoculation as well.  I was able to grow respectable yields but the best part about it was all that compost that I got from the straw.  It was a large part of my raised beds the following year and I had a phenomenal garden the following year.  Whatever you do, you'll continually improve your soil, so just keep after it, year after year.
 
You guys wanna see my fabulous new place? Or do you wanna look at this tiny ad?
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!