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Some observations, some questions about garden soil

 
pollinator
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Hello everyone,

As I have stated many times before, I am in the process of converting all of my garden beds into raised bed gardens with wine cap infused woodchips as my garden soil.  This is a multi-year long project.

My first bed is in its second of three years to completely transition over to mushroom bedding.  I got my first flush of mushrooms this spring and the bedding is dark and crumbly, looking like a mixture of nice loam and coffee grounds.  Weeds grow in this bed like crazy, and the grass that grows there is nice and dark green.

So my question is “where did the nitrogen come from?”.  I have some old fertile holes, but they grew tomatoes last year and I have added nothing since last spring.

I have two other beds that are in year one of their conditioning process and they show signs of nitrogen deficiency.  I will probably have to add in some fertility to get crops out of them.

If anyone has any ideas about where the nitrogen came from on my aged bed, I would love to hear.

Eric
 
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I think it's possible that conditions could be such that free living nitrogen fixing bacteria such as azospirilium or azotobacter could be thriving, happily fixing atmospheric nitrogen.
 
Eric Hanson
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James, thanks,

Would this be normal in a bed dominated by woodchips infused with wine cap mushrooms?  If so, then this is absolutely magical.

Eric
 
James Freyr
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Gosh I have no idea if this would be normal. It was merely a guess as to a possibility of where that nitrogen may be coming from. It sounds like whatever it is you got going on in your raised beds is healthy and balanced.
 
Eric Hanson
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James,

Well, this project started about 2 years ago.  I had a large pile of woodchips that I wanted to decompose.  My initial thought was to dump a bunch of excess 10-10-10 left over from my pre-Permies days.  I was strongly urged to use fungi instead to build fungal dominated compost.  I went the fungal route on the grounds that this would make for the healthiest soil.  Now, two years later it appears that the “soil” I made from woodchips is indeed healthy.

I do have 8 fertile holes in the “chips” and I wonder if the fungi in the soil is cycling some of that around the bed.  But the “chips” are so dark and crumbly that they look more like coffee grounds than woodchips.  They smell and feel like a good potting mix.  Maybe I am being overly optimistic, but I want to say that they have a good healthy balance of microbes and I like the idea that they are fixing their own nitrogen.

Thanks much for the input James, I think what I am doing dovetails nicely with your project of making the perfect garden soil.

Eric
 
James Freyr
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Eric Hanson wrote: But the “chips” are so dark and crumbly that they look more like coffee grounds than woodchips.  They smell and feel like a good potting mix.



Your description indicates to me that what you have is absolutely teeming with healthy microbial and fungal activity. Well done!

Thanks much for the input James, I think what I am doing dovetails nicely with your project of making the perfect garden soil.



You're welcome :) It's neat to read about what others are doing and their techniques used. I'm starting over again, but I'm looking forward to watching the changes in the soil as the years go by. One thing I've come to realize, at least for my garden, is there's no finish line. I'll never get to a perfect soil and stop nurturing it and then continually plant and harvest food from it. I'll always be mulching and adding fertility back to the soil as long as I live.
 
Eric Hanson
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James,

It is interesting to see what others are doing.  I find especially that it is good to bounce ideas off of other people.  One might know what the proper course of action is, but not know they know until after speaking with another person.

You are also probably right that the soil will never be done.  However, I do have a goal for my beds and that goal is eventually needing no external sources of fertility.  I would like for all of my fertility to be both free and originate from my own land.  Among my free fertilizers are:  urine, rabbit litter, comfrey, and nitrogen fixed via legumes.  And of course, the obvious source of fertility that I overlook here because it is so obvious, compost will go in as well.

At present, my 1st mushroom bed is about 80% finished and next year I plan to seed directly into the bed.  Two other beds are about 25% finished, having been recently inoculated with wine caps and some temporary, experimental crops in place just to get some life going in the chips.

At any rate, thanks for letting me bounce ideas off you and I will probably have more questions as I go.

Eric
 
James Freyr
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Eric Hanson wrote:  However, I do have a goal for my beds and that goal is eventually needing no external sources of fertility.  I would like for all of my fertility to be both free and originate from my own land.  



Me too man! I am bringing in some fertility down the driveway to get started and kinda give my garden a kick in the pants to get going, and I don't mind doing that. After all, I do all of this for food production. My chickens have been a good source of fertility over the years, and I'm looking forward to getting cows one day. I wish I had multiple aged compost piles the size of automobiles and one of those diesel chipper/shredders that the tree service guys use would be a dream, but it'll take me years to get to that point, but all in due time I guess.
 
Eric Hanson
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James,

We really are thinking along the same lines!  I too don’t mind bringing in some fertility to start.  In my case, the chicken litter will be supplied by rabbits instead, but these are just two means to achieve the same end.  

I am lucky in that I have an 800’ living fence that needs trimming back each year.  All those trimmings get chipped up each year when I rent a big (12”) chipper.  As a result, I get a nice supply of chips each year that I add to my garden beds.

Thus far I have had great luck using mushrooms to break down the woodchips, but I am thinking of trying to add some urine to get a bacterial boost and to jumpstart the nitrogen accruing process.  And speaking of urine, I was thinking I could add some diluted urine down the middle of my potato rows (as opposed to applying right on top of the potatoes), both to add nitrogen for fertility and to help break down the wood.

The longer I ramble, the more ideas I get.

Eric
 
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hau Eric, most plants don't really get their main source of nitrogen from the soil, except at the start of germination and that doesn't take a lot of nitrogen.
Almost all plants, even those that "fix nitrogen" (which is a misnomer since we know it is bacteria living in root nodules that do the nitrogen fixing) get most of their nitrogen from the air, not the soil.
Corn and other "stalked" plants are the suspected big users of soil nitrogen, not even soybeans or wheat, rye, barley require the soil to contain lots of nitrogen, they all make ample use of air born nitrogen.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Redhawk, thanks for chiming in,

You have followed my project for some time and I thank you for your help.  So do you think that what I have going is a healthy collection of microbes mining the air for my plants?

Eric
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I think you have excellent soil microbiology going on and that the leaves themselves are taking in air and processing the different atoms and molecules that air contain for those nutrients that are needed.
I'm sure you have a good rhizosphere going around your root plants and that nitrogen fixing bacteria are part of the mix there. (they have been known to settle out of the air and to travel along the fungal super highway to places that contain the nutrients they crave.)

Gabe Brown grows really good corn in soil that only has 10% nitrogen content, that happens because the plant is processing the nitrogen out of the air it breathes.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Redhawk,

Thanks so much for all your help over the last year or so.  When I started this project I was really a permaculture neophyte, just dabbling organic gardening.  By this I mean that even though I used organic fertilizers, I used them like they were chemical fertilizers.  If a plant was looking yellow, I dumped on a bunch of blood meal and gave the plant a good dose of nitrogen.  The fertilizer was organic, but my thinking was chemical.

This last year has really changed my gardening outlook, and this has been especially true since I got my first flush of wine caps and found my garden bedding to be extremely fertile.  A year ago I was a neophyte—today I have a basic degree of permaculture competence (though I have plenty still to learn).  I used to view soil as a growing medium with a bunch of chemicals and a little bit of biology.  That view now stands on its head—I now think of soil as a bunch of interconnected biology with a little bit of chemistry.

I would love to be able to better publicize this thread and others, not for bragging rights (actually the experience is kind of humbling), but instead to show others that organic/permaculture gardening though daunting at first, can be a successful endeavor with a little patience and commitment.

Eric
 
Bryant RedHawk
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One thing I've come to realize, at least for my garden, is there's no finish line. I'll never get to a perfect soil and stop nurturing it and then continually plant and harvest food from it. I'll always be mulching and adding fertility back to the soil as long as I live.  



Truer words have not been spoken Kola James Freyr, that is why we are stewards of the land, because when we take nutrients from the great circle, we need to put them back somehow so we can keep the soil in its very healthy state.

There is no stopping the work of building the soil, unless we don't want to have any harvest any longer. The soil rewards us with health giving foods as long as we help the soil be as healthy as it can possibly be.
Building the soil means that we no longer need to worry so much about the plants, in our great soils, the plants are able to take good care of themselves so all we need to do is have good conversations with them or simply sit and admire them for what they are.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You are most welcome Kola Hanson, it is really nice to see folks succeed in their journey with the earth mother because that means they are taking care of her for all the generations to come, as well as those here now.
Be ever watchful of all around you, the earth mother gives those that are good stewards gifts that most don't ever see. (Like the hawks circling over head, the owl sitting in the crotch of a tree, the beneficial insects that live in what we have installed, and so many more.)

Redhawk
 
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