I really liked the video about smelling the soil in the book preview.
My grandfather taught me that around 60 years ago. I now teach my grandkids the same.
Take up a handful of dirt and give it a sniff. To me I can smell if it is rich and alive! Like in the video, if it smells different it may need help.
My soil on the new property is wonderful !! The biggest problem with it is that there is only a depth of around 2 - 3 inches of it, and that is in the deepest areas. Under that layer of soil it turns to a clayish gravel. (I am just outside of Helena MT and have panned a bit of the dirt, little flecks of gold keep showing up, hope that helps with the plant growth in my soon to be garden).
It does take awhile to bring clayish soil to a better gardening state, but it is do-able with a bit of patience.
I bought 10 yards of topsoil many years ago only to find out it was mostly clay. I got my money back from the guy but he didn't want the soil back. I filled up a couple of raised beds I made and made sure to start with lots of small logs, sticks and just general yard waste in the bottom. Then mixed a lot of the plants left after fall harvest in with the clayish soil. I kept doing this for a several years and the clay broke down really well. When I sold my home this past fall one of the things that the new owner was excited about was the soil.
I am excited to work with the soil here over the next few years. Gardening will need some additional soil brought in as I don't want to strip the land of what it has. But I plan on being careful of what I bring in. Mulching will be very important as this area is considered high desert, so will need to retain lots of water.
I think this book, "A Soil Owner's Manual" would be helpful to me on my new journey in life.
I helped out on a homestead with a whole lot of clay in the area. I never got the chance to try growing peanuts, which I hear would do really well there. I did get a chance to mix up the clay with sawdust and some ashes... it does pretty well with a little bit of compost on top.
I have silty clay loam soil. The existing garden plot when we moved here had been tilled with a rototiller for many years and the soil was very compacted and crusted. I scratched seed into that hard clay soil the first year and have never tilled it since (over 20 years). I can now dig in that soil with my hands and it has ~75 earthworms per cubic foot. The only thing I have ever added to the soil was grass clippings, leaves, the residues from the plants I grew on that soil and the seeds of the vegetables I planted in it. No tillage, no fertilizer, no compost, nothing but basic plant residues for mulch and seeds. Living plants are the best thing you can "add" to your soil, they feed the soil biology that will eventually fix the soil by building stable soil aggregates and making age-old associations with the plants. You must have faith that no tillage, mulch and living roots will fix your soil. You may not see significant improvement for 2 or 3 years but you must stick with it and Nature will restore what has been degraded if you work with Her rather than against Her.
My soil is a fine silty loess soil with pyroclastic cobbles and boulders. I'm in the Northern Movahve Valley of Arizona, which is in an open rangeland area frequented by unattended cows. Consequently, the grasses have been eaten down to the bare dirt is some spots. I will eventually fence off my 3.66 acres to better manage the livestock access to my land.
My problem is that the soil is very alkaline. I discovered this when I accidentally spilled some vinegar on the bare soil, and it fizzed!
I also had an accidental spillage of battery acid, and the soil immediately started fizzing when it came into contact with the battery acid.
What treatments do you recommend for this type of soil? Which sort of plants will grow in it?
The subsurface has a layer of caliche (about 3 feet down) that seems to have been metamorphosed by volcanic activity at some point in the distant past. In the process of installing my septic system, I learned that it is only about two to three feet thick.
My backhoe operator got a bit wild and crazy and left me a swath of bare dirt in several areas with only an inch or so of the fine silty loess material on top in places.
I did manage to build a system of soil berms that capture the runoff of our infrequent, but intense rainstorms. I am in the process of landscaping the top of these berms to capture the rainwater that impacts the berms, but I have not yet begun replanting this area. I hope to re-introduce the native grasses and other desert plants that once grew here in abundance before the area was overgrazed with the introduction of European cattle in the 1800s.
I would like to hear your recommendations for incorporating some soil berms to connect the existing mounds of soil that surround the desert vegetation so that I can capture and store the rainwater underground where it is accessible to the native grasses and other desert plants that I hope to establish in this highly alkaline soil. It appears to me that the bare rocky soil that exists between these mounds of soil that surround the creosote bushes and other low shrubs are the result of a combination of overgrazing, wind and water erosion.
I have not gotten around to performing a Ph test or any other soil tests, other than the percolation test required for installing the septic. I am supposed to plant grass in the area of the septic leach field to increase the evapotranspiration effects from the water leaving my septic tank.
To those of this thread that are interested, I started a thread to discuss the specific ideas and methodologies in Jon Sitka's book, A Soil Owner's Manual and applying them. Here's the link
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."-Margaret Mead "The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight but no vision."-Helen Keller
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit