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Soil CPR

 
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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Where I live in Haiti, our soil is very weak. We get a lot of runoff from higher ground when it rains, but it's basically just clay and silt with almost no organic material. Until I started preaching soil health and organic material, the only consideration of our agronomy program really, was water. Even now, they have this very false belief that ample water for irrigation will solve all their worse, and conversely, that lack of water equates an impossible growing environment. It's so stuck in the Haitian mentality that it's hard to fight and they aren't realizing that their harsh canal systems and flood irrigation are contributing to the loss of soil health.

So we have 200 acres of all-but bare soil with a few shrubby spiny trees and some cactus and a few other things. The students and even the program director (Haitian) we're convinced there was nothing that could be done now. Here are some things I'm working on getting them to try:

1. Stop digging trenches with narrow hilled rows which leads to evaporation and depletes nutrients and life from the soil. Instead try 3-4 feet wide gently domed beds with mulched walkways between.
2. Leave the weeds until you're ready to plant.
3. Cut the multitude of Jathropa trees and chop them up for a layer of organic material and the additional moisture in the soil. Use these to mulch between plants.
4. When preparing a bed that will be planted in a month or two, load several inches of organic matter and bring a couple of 5 gallon jugs to the guy's dorm and have them fill them with pee. Flood the bed with the pee a couple of times a week (diluting is not necessary since nothing will be planted in there for a while).
5. Collect charcoal powder (an unusable side product of the thriving local charcoal industry . . . Which is where the trees are going) and put an inch or two deep into the area you're preparing. Ideally do this and the next step before the Jathropa, but I'm adding these as I'm thinking of them, not in actual chronological order.
6. Collect a bunch of goat manure (waste from the other thriving local industry) and spread it at least an inch or two thick in the beds being prepared.
7. Work the charcoal powder and manure into the soil a bit, cover with the Jathropa, and the pee.
8. Take a trek to the lake and carry back lake weed and seashells that can be crushed and added for calcium. Layer the lake weed over the Jathropa.
9. Put a couple of buckets I the kitchen for them to throw ALL their organic waste, including water from washing or boiling food, fish cleanings etc, which currently get thrown out and draw strat dogs and hundreds of goats that then eat everything in sight. Go every day to collect the buckets. Dig a trench across one side of the bed being prepared dump the slop in, and take soil and all the other stuff you spread on the next foot or so of the bed, thereby digging the spot for the next day's slop.
10. Once you reach the end of the row, collect cardboard from the kitchen and wherever (I'm collecting quite the pile from our groundskeeper who now saves it for me) and cover the whole thing with a layer or two. Cover with an inch or so of local soil to weight the cardboard. The cardboard will provide a heat and wind barrier to keep the bed moist and provide shade to help it break down. Keep pouring urine on the bed every few days.
11. After a month or so (especially if it's raining, this will go quickly), cover the whole thing with sugarcane mulch or more lake grass, and punch holes into the cardboard (it should be easy at this point) to plant your veggies.

What did I miss? I might add a couple of inches of sawdust to the initial layer that gets worked in, to add organic material. With at least an equal amount of manure and a lot of urine, it should break down and not rob any nitrogen.

The one other step is to plant rows of moringa to filter the harsh sun, to provide additional nitrogen, and to chop and drop for mulch.

Basically I'm going to ask for a section of the agronomy garden and work on this with some of the students who have shown a lot of interest in permaculture techniques. We're working on basically a zero budget, so we need to use what we have here.

Thanks for your feedback!
 
pollinator
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The only thing I can think of to add is some kind of barrier on the sides and slopes, so that the rain doesn't wash your hard work away.
 
gardener
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1218
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hau Priscilla,

I would only change the positioning of the sawdust, use it as the first layer of mulch after the working in of other organic matter.
Wood chips are just large hunks of sawdust and we use them on the surface so that any water that filters through takes some of the sawdust or wood chip goodies with it.
Sea salt will give the soil far more minerals than all the other amendments but I'd go with using the sea salt prior to planting and again after the plant roots establish for a few weeks.
Try to get some fungi growing in your mulch layers, fungi is far more important than most people think when it comes to soil.

Those are the differences I'd recommend.

Moringa is an awesome tree, it does many good things including being an edible. Leaves can be used as mulch, compost greens, tea, table greens. These trees respond well to coppice which means you can harvest lots of wood every few years (around 4 years between coppicing).

If you can, get some of your students to read through my soil series, they might like what they can learn from them.

Oh, be sure to put the cardboard down when it is wet, dry cardboard is a water repellent.

That's about all I can think of right now.

Redhawk
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:The only thing I can think of to add is some kind of barrier on the sides and slopes, so that the rain doesn't wash your hard work away.



We have some dead trees that I'm hoping to cut for borders. We'll see how that goes. Ideally we'd use papaya trees since they hold a ton of water and break down quickly to a great flaky material.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Priscilla,

I would only change the positioning of the sawdust, use it as the first layer of mulch after the working in of other organic matter.
Wood chips are just large hunks of sawdust and we use them on the surface so that any water that filters through takes some of the sawdust or wood chip goodies with it.
Sea salt will give the soil far more minerals than all the other amendments but I'd go with using the sea salt prior to planting and again after the plant roots establish for a few weeks.
Try to get some fungi growing in your mulch layers, fungi is far more important than most people think when it comes to soil.

Those are the differences I'd recommend.

Moringa is an awesome tree, it does many good things including being an edible. Leaves can be used as mulch, compost greens, tea, table greens. These trees respond well to coppice which means you can harvest lots of wood every few years (around 4 years between coppicing).

If you can, get some of your students to read through my soil series, they might like what they can learn from them.

Oh, be sure to put the cardboard down when it is wet, dry cardboard is a water repellent.

That's about all I can think of right now.

Redhawk



Milk? Flour? Moldy bread? Molasses? Which breeds fungi the best/easiest/fastest? Sawdust should definitely help the process along with the other organic stuff. . . ?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 6581
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1218
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If the bread is moldy it has no value for collecting bacteria, the molds will excrete toxins to prevent bacteria and fungi from stealing their food supply.
I like milk which can be mixed with rice, corn, wheat berries, or even potato. Molasses is a good source of sugars but most folks use far more than I've found necessary, the more molasses the greater the chance of growing bad bacteria (pathogens) and ciliates (bad organisms that feed on the good organisms).
Fungi have pretty simple needs and most are decomposers so woodchips or coarse sawdust work best for growing fungi, the lignin and other parts of the wood structure give routes for the hyphae to follow as the fungi break down the carbon bonds of the cellular structures.
As the fungi work, bacteria will come to feast on the newly released minerals and that gives the fungi yet another meal since fungi do eat bacteria.

Redhawk
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:If the bread is moldy it has no value for collecting bacteria, the molds will excrete toxins to prevent bacteria and fungi from stealing their food supply.
I like milk which can be mixed with rice, corn, wheat berries, or even potato. Molasses is a good source of sugars but most folks use far more than I've found necessary, the more molasses the greater the chance of growing bad bacteria (pathogens) and ciliates (bad organisms that feed on the good organisms).
Fungi have pretty simple needs and most are decomposers so woodchips or coarse sawdust work best for growing fungi, the lignin and other parts of the wood structure give routes for the hyphae to follow as the fungi break down the carbon bonds of the cellular structures.
As the fungi work, bacteria will come to feast on the newly released minerals and that gives the fungi yet another meal since fungi do eat bacteria.

Redhawk



How do fungi work in dry areas?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1218
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In very dry areas (deserts for example) fungi will be found in the pockets of moisture (it doesn't take much moisture for survival).
I have found fungi at the base of cacti and under fallen over trees, under rocks and almost any place that looked like it might be shaded most of the day.
Usually these fungi are surviving not thriving, until something happens to bring more moisture. If it becomes to dry the fungi will create spores which can survive for decades in their dormant state waiting for just the right conditions.

In the Mojave desert I found good threads of mycelium at 2 feet below surface level in the bends of mountain run off stream beds.

While this is fine for researching survivability, you are trying to create bioactive soil in these same conditions, so trees that can provide shade, plants that can feed people are some of the things needed for good fungi support.
It can be done and it can be done very well, it will take some time to get things going well but the results will be astounding.
You are on the right path Priscilla and I'll be very happy to offer you any helping tidbits I can.

Redhawk
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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Thank you. This is fascinating. We're starting to get a decent amount of shade in small pockets. I assume rotting wood helps significantly. Also the sawdust? Anything that's a carbon source to soak up the food it needs, and hold water.

I have a couple of dried up papaya trees I've used to delineate one of my beds and that can be broken easily by hand into a nice material. So maybe next year we'll begin to see the life diversity. I'm still waiting to see my first native earth worm! :)
 
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