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Too MUCH Drainage?!: Dealing with sandy soil  RSS feed

 
Aria Stroph
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I have been considering purchasing land in the southeastern US, probably north FL. One of my main concerns is that soil in these areas is often extremely sandy. The area that I'm leaning towards the most looks like this: sand for the first 1-4 feet, with a sandy loam starting around 3-6 feet down, and sandy clay (or sandy clay loam) beginning around 5-10 feet below the surface. Basically, the top few feet are mostly sand. Large swaths of land were planted with slash pine trees a couple decades ago, so that's mostly what's growing in the area.

So obviously this is not the most ideal gardening soil, but the land is very affordable, and I'm willing to put in the extra work up front. I've been considering how to improve the soil, and here are my ideas so far:

-Cut down many of the pine trees and laying large logs on contour to form quick, rudimentary swales. The land is mostly flat out there, but whatever slopes I might have available, I'll take advantage of.
-Inoculate the pine stumps with edible mushrooms.
-Pile the smaller logs, sticks, and needles from the pine trees (and any other obtainable organic debris) on the uphill side of the swales, forming a sort of hugelkultur terrace/raised bed thing.
-Cover the whole thing with a mix of sand and loam from the property and sow a mix of ground covers to fix nitrogen and provide more compostable material.
-Build the site up over time with larger plants, constantly improving the soil and enlarging the garden.

Does all of this sound feasible?

Also, with such sandy soil, is it possible to install ponds/lakes without liners? I guess I'd have to dig down until the soil is mostly clay so the lake bottom can be compressed...

Thanks for your help!
 
Raven Sutherland
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Location: MAINE
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you need Humus which the area lacks. Humus holds ten times it's weight in water.
Determine your locations rainfall and then plant according to what prefers sandy soil
but needs allot of moisture. Rather than importing loam and spreading it thin if were
me i would select the best spots and for sun ,air ,ease of access and pile it up deep
creating an Oasis here and there until eventually they begin growing in size.
 
Peter Fishlock
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I agree with Raven, you need to iniate the processes that start to make the humus/soil. This happens best in a well stack forest environment, where you have plenlty of mulch to put down to b broken down. If you build this up in the place most capable of doing it quickly then advance it out it might happen better.

I watched a bit geoff lawton done on desert type environments, He put his swales in, and planted mostly legume small ground cover, medium legumes bushes and legumes trees which will be a permanant part of your you oasis.
then amongst with that very fast gorwing hardy pioneer species that will shoot up and provide valuable ground cover, these also have other beneficail capabilities, because if you pick them right they can do other roles aswell.

when picking your land be very mindful of the water situation, try to visualise where you swales will be, and where you will start.

For your pond you can use this http://mistralni.co.uk/catalogue/product/94/Bentonite-GRG-montmorillonite-clay

its a sort of clay that seels ponds and lakes, I would still try to seal it as best as I can first but if you find the ground isnt the best sort for compaction methods this will plug any gaps.

Im from england so I really dont know how much rainfall you will have there or how much evaporation, but if its a very dry arid lanscape you may not want to have water open to the sun/ evaporation, store it in the ground as best you can swales and hugel and raised beds will slow it up better and keep it in the ground, really you want as little dams or ponds as possible.

If you get a fair amount of rainfall then this isnt a problem.

if you absolutely want a pond or open water think about how you can cover it with shade, I saw a picture in a book, of vines growing over a pond in arid landscape to give it cover, theres was still evapouration but the plants benefited from that which is still elongating the amount of time that energy stays on your land.

there a a number of videos around that Geof Lawton done on permaculture and desert / dry / arid landscapes going from the start, check out you tube, and google im sure youl find those.

hope this helps

Have a nice day

 
David Good
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I'm in approximately the region you're considering - it's a great, though different, place to garden.

The ground is mostly too flat for swales and the rainfall is pretty high to boot. The best method here seems to be keeping the ground covered with vegetation. Organic matter disappears at an astonishing rate when cover is removed.

You can't keep any water in the ground here easily. Even a little leak in a pond will dry it rapidly. The drainage is amazing. Clay lining does work, however.

Also, we battle nematodes and strong sunshine. "Full sun" plants most definitely do not need full sun here. And raised beds? HA HA HA! They're death traps, even though they get recommended endlessly. The drainage dries them like nobody's business.
 
Toby Hemenway
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These are all smart recommendations. In the tropics, most of the biological activity is in the vegetation and not in the soil. Mulches will help, and get layers of vegetation going to stack in lots of activity and create shade to keep organic matter from burning up. Layers will break the impact of the rain, too, and keep soil in place.
 
Tim Eastham
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Location: USDA Climate Zone 9, Central Florida
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Toby Hemenway wrote:These are all smart recommendations. In the tropics, most of the biological activity is in the vegetation and not in the soil. Mulches will help, and get layers of vegetation going to stack in lots of activity and create shade to keep organic matter from burning up. Layers will break the impact of the rain, too, and keep soil in place.


Toby, you are totally on with the shade idea. I hadn't even realized it, but the areas that are doing best in my yard are the areas that are shaded at some point in the day. In my location (a new neighborhood in Central Florida), they scraped all life off, stuck in houses, and planted little trees and grass. I quit messing with the backyard last year and just let it do its thing (no fertilizer or weed killer just watering and mowing). Certain areas look vibrant (worm castings, dark soil, lush 'weeds', etc.) and others look rough (thistles, dying grass, sandy soil). I am sitting here thinking - wow, the vibrant areas are those that are getting some shade.

Makes me realize that I really need to focus on getting some partial shade going in my yard. Trying to get everything approved by the HOA is always a pain though.
 
Tyler Ludens
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You might also consider buried wood beds.
 
Tim Eastham
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:You might also consider buried wood beds.

Actually, along those lines I have a question for Toby (or anyone else). Things in FL are different than most other areas of the U.S. We don't really get a fall, leaves just turn brown and fall off usually. We are still mowing all winter long, just reduce the number of times (from once a week to once or twice a month). Wood breakdown is fast because of the weather and, in some areas, the aggressive termite population. My question is:

Is it a good idea in a suburban neighborhood to employ hugelkultur if there is a significant termite population in the area? I am concerned if I starting burying lots of wood in my backyard I am going to attract every termite in the neighborhood to me like a magnet. Just to give you an idea: my stakes fall over by the end of the year because they are eaten underground by termites...
 
Tyler Ludens
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We have plenty of termites here. Personally, I don't think buried wood beds will cause termites to attack the house. But I would avoid putting the beds right next to the house. My beds are about 15 feet from the house at the closest point.
 
Rob Meyer
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A permaculture answer to that would be to free range chickens or some sort of bird with your hugelkulture beds, or have a mobile chicken tractor that you can bring to termite plagued areas. Obviously that would mean that you are willing to commit to chickens. Another option is to make sure your house is termite proof, which I'm sure there's some organic options for that as well, but none that I know off of the top of my head.
 
David Good
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I don't worry too much about termites. I just accept them as part of the ecosystem of my land. That said, I agree - I don't put rotten wood right next to the house. But I'm happy to have them out in the yard, chewing away at fallen oak limbs and returning organic matter to the soil.
 
David Good
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Toby - you're right about everything happening in the plants themselves. We have sandy loam here, which bears well when well-managed... but boy... it does hate the baking sun. I've seen big differences from place to place around town.

A lot of yards here have stretches of grass with dry sandy spots and lots of burning sun. Yet I've been to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville and walked through cool, shady and damp acres of incredible diversity and greenery.

The layers and water retention make all the difference. Zones are pushed, moisture is held and pests are beaten back. We can grow here year-round... yet some people insist on forcing Northern approaches and have made their land into borderline ecological deserts.

(Off this current topic: I read gaia's garden as an e-book a year ago and really had my eyes opened to some things I hadn't considered before - even though I've been gardening for 25 years. It was like discovering a new room in my house I'd never noticed before. I just bought a hard-copy for my wife to read and have been skimming through it again. Thanks for your hard work. I write for a living and don't envy the amount of tweaking and research you put into the book. Good show and thanks for stopping by Permies.com and hanging for a while.)
 
Ken Peavey
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I'm in north Florida. Its not sandy soil, its sand, over 99%. No clay, no silt, few nutrients. Water drains through it readily, washing away any nutrients that show up. Whats left dries out, exposed to the summer sun directly overhead. The early morning sees dew which becomes humidity later in the day. Normal rain would be for half an hour every day at 4 PM. You could set your watch by it, but the rain patterns have changed in the last few years. Organic matter in unprotected soil decays quickly-a few months and its gone. Soil microbes have excellent conditions with the warmth and humidity, and make quick work of soil matter as well as compost heaps.

You will need:
-A steady supply of compostable material. I can add a cubic yard of compost to a 4x50 bed and after 3-4 months its as if I never added a thing. If the bed is well mulched, the same material can make it for 6-9 months. The advantage is that compost, even when left unattended, breaks down quickly. Material is readily available in the form of leaves/hay/grass, but you have to go get it.
-Plentiful water, preferably a drip or pitcher system. Sprinklers are not particularly effective with the high sun. The hose warms in the sun, the sand gets hot (as in you have to employ footwear),warm water landing on hot sand evaporates quickly, leaving little to penetrate into the sand.
-Ample mulch. Cover the soil. If you think it is covered enough, add more.
-A different view of the growing season. Fall and spring are the same as summer up north. We do get frost now and then. There are plenty of things that can be grown through the winter-brassicas, alliums, carrots, many herbs. Also, the days are short. Up north sees 16 and 18 hours of sun in the summer. Down here its 12-14 hours of sun throughout the year. The lack of cold makes it difficult to grow tree fruits which require chill.

You will not need:
-A tiller. Its sand from the top all the way to the bedrock. Google quarzi-psamment entisol soil. If you get the grass out of the way, its ready to go. Put your amendments on top, stir it in a bit. Nutrients will trickle down with each rainfall. A good rake will stir stuff into the soil just fine.

I have added volumes of compost several times per year for several years with no change in the soil quality. Mulch has proven to be the best thing. It cuts down the weeds and helps to preserve the moisture and amendments. Right now I have 2 trials going on, 1 with hugelkulture, the other with leaf mold. It is too early to make a call on effectiveness, but I am hopeful.

To give you an idea of the conditions:
-I have taken jeans from the washing machine, hung them on a line and had them dry in 20 minutes.
-There have been times when I have gone outside at 7AM and been drenched in sweat in 20 minutes.
-Today's high temp was 76, 1/11/12
-Low on Friday morning is projected to be 29
-I once used rough sawn hickory lumber for the side of a bed. 2" thick, 8" wide. In 4 years only crumbs remained. It did not have termites.
-I've grown collards 3' tall, before they bolted. Then they grew to 10' high, fell over, and kept on growing.
-I have never successfully grown a beet down here. I keep trying.
-Carrots planted in the fall often get chilled enough in the winter that they will blossom in the spring.
-I have planted green beans and had them for dinner in 44 days.
-I've picked green peppers in December.
-Tomatoes in April are not at all unheard of if started indoors in January.
-I moved here in Jan 99. Have never seed snow down here.
-I have run a sprinkler all night. Checking the soil penetration the next morning showed less than half an inch of penetration. Sometimes if the soil is too dry, surface tension in the water keeps it in a puddle on top.
-A standard 8" terra cotta plant pot, with the bottom hole plugged, can be filled with water, covered, buried to the cover, and be bone dry the next day.
-My brother's banana trees have produced fruit.
-Camelias blossom in February, Azaleas in March, Amaryllis is perennial
-I have rosemary plants approaching 10 years old. It's more of a hedge.

Oh...don't worry so much about the fire ants. You'll get used to them.



 
David Good
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Ken is telling the amazing, unvarnished truth.

For the few years I was exiled in TN, I sheet-mulched and amended my soil and it stayed amazing (until stripped away in a flood).

Here? Gone in a few months.

But we can grow citrus/pomegranates/olives/loquats. Neener neener!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ken Peavey wrote:
-I have never successfully grown a beet down here.


That must be a soil thing, not a latitude thing, because I'm at 30 degrees here, the same as North Florida (my husband is from Jacksonville, incidentally ) and beets grow very well here....It is a bit colder here because of the higher elevation of the Edwards Plateau. So no bananas.
 
Carlos Romero
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Location: Citra Florida
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Almost anything with a decent taproot can grow unattended after establishment, the water table is close to the surface. Be careful with nitrate starved hot peppers like habanero grown in sand, the fruit was small but much hotter than anything commercial.
A roll of %40+ shade cloth should be well worth the investment.
 
David Good
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You're right. I've grown a lot of habeneros.

Heck, even jalapenos get brutally hot here.
 
Raven Sutherland
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you'd have to create a reversed raised bed ....meaning you dig a pit garden and line it with
a double layer of permeable fabric so it can still breathe somewhat but slow down the drainage
by half to 75-90% then go ahead and add in your
loam and top off with a thin layer sandy soil to keep the loam from getting baked into a brick.

In this way the average rainfall at 4 pm doesn't just wash right thru and stays around long enough
to hydrate the loam again and water your (semi shaded by 60% shade cloth) .........PLANTS.
 
John Anderson
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I live in North Florida and have a 50 x 50 garden. In the last year I have put 12 square bales of straw, one round bale of hay, 3 pickup loads of cow manure/sawdust and 6 inches of leaves on the garden and as of now it is sand with no evidence of any of the above. It takes a lot of organic material to have a garden here but I have corn 8 feet tall. growing tomatoes and cukes in boxes works good, let them have morning sun and afternoon shade.

The sun is so hot in the afternood that sade is necessary, To grow lettuce in the summer I use shade cloth. You can grow all year here if you take in consideration the seasons and sun path keeping some plants in the afternoon shade. Potatoes do great, plant in Feb. mulch good and use a soaker hose at first, also I use a soaker hose to start the onions until they can go it without.

This year I am going to use cardboard etc under the mulch to try to cut down the water usage.
 
David Good
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John - I wonder if you're near me. I'm in the Ocala area. Haven't met any permaculturists within an hour of here.

The shade is definitely a must - I've been meaning to try shade cloth myself. I intercrop tall stuff with short stuff and that seems to help. Vines under the moringa/cassava, that sort of thing. And sticking to edges of my oaks and fruit trees. It's all a work in progress, but I'm much happier here than I was up North. Thank God for lots of sunshine in the winter.
 
Raven Sutherland
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Another thing i have learned from container gardening
is that they grow better in plastic pots than in the ground
until a certain point then they don't have sufficient soil mass
within the pot to stay hydrated. That's when i'll cut more bottom holes
to let the roots get out and plant the whole pot leaving it two inches above ground.

This makes watering / weeding a breeze and it concentrates it to the root zone.

WHEN it rains hard you think your deeply rooted plants have just got some
rain water down to their roots zone... NOPE ! it spreads out instead and
only the first couple of inches is wet which is why i always water before it rains.
 
John Anderson
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I have been using 55 and 30 gallon plastic drums cut in half both ways with good results using soil I make, the center ring when cutting them in thirds, vertically, makes an excellent ring for cabbage, tomatoes etc. Actually I make a 2 foot high bench using 8 to 10 foot long 2x6s and 2 foot 4x4s for the legs to put the half barrels on, gives me a no weed and no bend garden for lettuce, radishes, onions, kale etc. and it is easy to cover with shade cloth from april on using pvc as a frame. The potatoes, corn , squash is grown in the ground although squash and cukes do good in the barrels.
 
David Good
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Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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John Anderson wrote:I have been using 55 and 30 gallon plastic drums cut in half both ways with good results using soil I make, the center ring when cutting them in thirds, vertically, makes an excellent ring for cabbage, tomatoes etc. Actually I make a 2 foot high bench using 8 to 10 foot long 2x6s and 2 foot 4x4s for the legs to put the half barrels on, gives me a no weed and no bend garden for lettuce, radishes, onions, kale etc. and it is easy to cover with shade cloth from april on using pvc as a frame. The potatoes, corn , squash is grown in the ground although squash and cukes do good in the barrels.


I've started doing some of the same things. Barrels from the Water Treatment Plant that I've cut in half. I'd like to cut some lengthwise to hang on the side of my porch for herbs. 2 x 4s supporting them between the support poles. See my lousy digital image for details.

Bin-herbs.jpg
[Thumbnail for Bin-herbs.jpg]
Hanging 55 gal. herb bins
 
Mathew Ritchie
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Aria Stroph wrote:I have been considering purchasing land in the southeastern US, probably north FL. One of my main concerns is that soil in these areas is often extremely sandy. The area that I'm leaning towards the most looks like this: sand for the first 1-4 feet, with a sandy loam starting around 3-6 feet down, and sandy clay (or sandy clay loam) beginning around 5-10 feet below the surface. Basically, the top few feet are mostly sand. Large swaths of land were planted with slash pine trees a couple decades ago, so that's mostly what's growing in the area.

So obviously this is not the most ideal gardening soil, but the land is very affordable, and I'm willing to put in the extra work up front. I've been considering how to improve the soil, and here are my ideas so far:

-Cut down many of the pine trees and laying large logs on contour to form quick, rudimentary swales. The land is mostly flat out there, but whatever slopes I might have available, I'll take advantage of.
-Inoculate the pine stumps with edible mushrooms.
-Pile the smaller logs, sticks, and needles from the pine trees (and any other obtainable organic debris) on the uphill side of the swales, forming a sort of hugelkultur terrace/raised bed thing.
-Cover the whole thing with a mix of sand and loam from the property and sow a mix of ground covers to fix nitrogen and provide more compostable material.
-Build the site up over time with larger plants, constantly improving the soil and enlarging the garden.

Does all of this sound feasible?

Also, with such sandy soil, is it possible to install ponds/lakes without liners? I guess I'd have to dig down until the soil is mostly clay so the lake bottom can be compressed...

Thanks for your help!
I have 2 ideas that might help.First is wicking beds, http://wickingbed.com/. Second is kaolin clay C.S.I.R.O.reaserch shows verry good results for improved wetting and nutrient holding,Florida has major kaolin producers.
 
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