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Soil-less Souls

 
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For those of us who are not blesses with a piece of God's glorious green earth to call our own, what do you do to build up soil when it has no where to go? When you have limited gardening spaces due to an urban environment, what can you do with extra compost and worms? I like to use as much as I can at our community garden then sneak the rest into guerrilla planted wildflower patches.
I also find myself turning to non 'soil' mediums like peat pellets to start seeds and to using aquaponics inside when possible.
Of course my goal is to get some land and sooner rather than later. What can be done to see if the soil will meet my needs before buying land or a house? I've heard if the weeds are at least knee high it's a good bet it's good soil. Will the department of agriculture test soil for free? Would the current owner or agent have to do the testing instead of me? I'm praying whatever land I land on will have healthy soil; but what are the best ways to heal damaged soil? I've heard growing mushrooms under mulch will draw out heavymetals or contamination in the soil, but how long does that take and does it really leave the soil safe for growing food? So many questions and so little soil left for those of us who seek it.
 
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there are some wonderful inner city examples around the country where blighted inner city space has been turned into lush garden areas
 
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Contact your local soil conservation district or USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service where you wish to know more about the soil before you buy.  They have professionals that will help you for free in assessing soil.
 
Gail Jardin
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bruce Fine wrote:there are some wonderful inner city examples around the country where blighted inner city space has been turned into lush garden areas


Yes, this is a goal for sure! Right now were limited to our community garden and rouge wildflower beds for bees and butterflies
 
Gail Jardin
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Jon Stika wrote:Contact your local soil conservation district or USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service where you wish to know more about the soil before you buy.  They have professionals that will help you for free in assessing soil.



Thanks for the information I am all about getting soil tested for free, especially if I go through looking at a few places before buying.
 
Gail Jardin
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In all irony of this forum, I went out and bought some seed starting soil yesterday so today I can start my first flat of seeds for this spring. Isn't it ironic that the seed starting soil is actually a soilless mix?
I guess I should start another post on here but who does their own DIY seed starting soil out of actual soil? I've always heard it's best to start with a sterile seed starting blend. But could you sterilizes soil of your own to use for seed starting?
 
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Gail Jardin wrote:In all irony of this forum, I went out and bought some seed starting soil yesterday


Gail, I think this same thing so very often! I never bought soil til recently (coincidentally, since reading more here and in other places about permaculture). I used to snag it wherever I could (yes, I was that person who would steal dirt from vacant lots), and thought it was absurd to buy dirt..... but realized recently that I need to consider my farm (tiny as it is) as requiring and even deserving inputs and raw materials. There are things I can't produce and have to bring in. My dirt is 10000% percent better than it was when I moved here 7 years ago, but I don't have enough to dig out and fill up all my containers (my container space is roughly the same as my dirt space). In the past I would have felt bad about buying dirt, but now I see it as okay-- I can't make something out of nothing.
 
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Gail Jardin wrote: I've always heard it's best to start with a sterile seed starting blend. But could you sterilizes soil of your own to use for seed starting?


There are instructions on the internet on how to sterilize your own seed starting soil.
It is done either on a baking tray for a certain time, or with a big pot like an instant pot.

I think I have done so once, but I prefer to avoid the hassle (and the smell) and buy the little I need.
Also I have to think about all that good little creatures that I am killing off together with the bad things!
 
Gail Jardin
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Anita Martini wrote:

Gail Jardin wrote: I've always heard it's best to start with a sterile seed starting blend. But could you sterilizes soil of your own to use for seed starting?


There are instructions on the internet on how to sterilize your own seed starting soil.
It is done either on a baking tray for a certain time, or with a big pot like an instant pot.

I think I have done so once, but I prefer to avoid the hassle (and the smell) and buy the little I need.
Also I have to think about all that good little creatures that I am killing off together with the bad things!

😊 I have thought of pressure canning soil then letting it cool for starting seeds in. I wonder what pressure and time it would take?
 
Anita Martini
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Gail Jardin wrote:
😊 I have thought of pressure canning soil then letting it cool for starting seeds in. I wonder what pressure and time it would take?



What I found is: 60 min. in the pressure cooker, and then after cooling use immediately or seal tightly.
Alternative: Microwave for 10 min with 800 W
 
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I typically make my own seed starting blend. I typically sterilize the soil to kill the weed seeds, but I then re-inoculate it with some compost tea. Plants form their symbiotic relationships with microbes from the very moment they start to sprout.
 
Gail Jardin
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Anita Martini wrote:

Gail Jardin wrote:
😊 I have thought of pressure canning soil then letting it cool for starting seeds in. I wonder what pressure and time it would take?



What I found is: 60 min. in the pressure cooker, and then after cooling use immediately or seal tightly.
Alternative: Microwave for 10 min with 800 W


I don't use microwaves! I was thinking about actually putting the soil in caning jars with some water and literally canning it to use later? I am down to only half a bag of seed starting mix and have three trays I want to start over the next couple months. I want to experiment but I also do not want to risk any of my limited resources
 
Gail Jardin
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Hamilton Betchman wrote:I typically make my own seed starting blend. I typically sterilize the soil to kill the weed seeds, but I then re-inoculate it with some compost tea. Plants form their symbiotic relationships with microbes from the very moment they start to sprout.


Do you worry about the compost tea having any pathogens? I will add superthrive to seed starting mix but usually don't add worm tea until the lid is off the dome.
 
Hamilton Betchman
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Gail Jardin wrote:

Hamilton Betchman wrote:I typically make my own seed starting blend. I typically sterilize the soil to kill the weed seeds, but I then re-inoculate it with some compost tea. Plants form their symbiotic relationships with microbes from the very moment they start to sprout.


Do you worry about the compost tea having any pathogens? I will add superthrive to seed starting mix but usually don't add worm tea until the lid is off the dome.




I fully expect there to be pathogens present. The beauty of the compost teas, is, if done in the proper balance; never give the bad things a chance to overpopulate.

https://permies.com/wiki/redhawk-soil
https://permies.com/t/115566/Seed-raising-mix-buying-products#941543

Check out Redhawk's soil series if you haven't!
 
Anita Martini
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Not sure if this is done in other regions, but here it is a recommended to use the soil from mole mounds for seed starting.
Usually it has a nice texture and as it comes from deeper layers, it is relatively free from unwanted seeds.

Today I collected a bag of mole earth. I will have to remove the stones though.

There are some other spots where the mole earth is very black and rich, but I don't think it is sustainable to go by car just to collect some soil. I will keep my eyes open and take my bucket with me in the trunk of my car in case I come across some of those very dark, fine mole mounds.
 
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I buy seed starting mix, I use a LOT of it about 200L a year and that's only going to go up. I seem to remember seeing on TV a old way (1800's) of sterilising soil by building a bonfire and heaping it up round it basically steaming it, but I don't remember any more details, I really should look into it as I have light sandy soil that would be ideal for seeds, but I also have a lot of weed seed in it, which makes it useless. On my scale microwaves and ovens are not going to make a dent, and the electic cost would be more than the cost of buying starting medium.
 
Gail Jardin
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Anita Martini wrote:Not sure if this is done in other regions, but here it is a recommended to use the soil from mole mounds for seed starting.
Usually it has a nice texture and as it comes from deeper layers, it is relatively free from unwanted seeds.

Today I collected a bag of mole earth. I will have to remove the stones though.

There are some other spots where the mole earth is very black and rich, but I don't think it is sustainable to go by car just to collect some soil. I will keep my eyes open and take my bucket with me in the trunk of my car in case I come across some of those very dark, fine mole mounds.


Wow! What a unique idea. Have people in your region been using mole mound soil for a long time or is it a new permaculture concept. Is there any lore or legend around using mole mounds for starting soil? I see a permaculture based Thorton Burgessesque children's story in the works if there is!
 
Gail Jardin
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Skandi Rogers wrote:I buy seed starting mix, I use a LOT of it about 200L a year and that's only going to go up. I seem to remember seeing on TV a old way (1800's) of sterilising soil by building a bonfire and heaping it up round it basically steaming it, but I don't remember any more details, I really should look into it as I have light sandy soil that would be ideal for seeds, but I also have a lot of weed seed in it, which makes it useless. On my scale microwaves and ovens are not going to make a dent, and the electic cost would be more than the cost of buying starting medium.


Sounds like you grow a lot! Do you have a commercial farm or run a nursery/greenhouse?
 
Anita Martini
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Hi Gail,
to be honest, I don't know the exact origin of that idea.
I have read it in various books and forums, and some people say that their grandparents and great-grandparents already used the mole earth.
Depending on where you collect the mounds, it is just a loosened version of the original soil around - but with less seeds. If you collect them on a loamy or clay-y field, you will have compacted earth after watering. So either mix with something to hold the air or get it from the edge of the woods.

Gail Jardin wrote:

Anita Martini wrote:Not sure if this is done in other regions, but here it is a recommended to use the soil from mole mounds for seed starting.
Usually it has a nice texture and as it comes from deeper layers, it is relatively free from unwanted seeds.

Today I collected a bag of mole earth. I will have to remove the stones though.

There are some other spots where the mole earth is very black and rich, but I don't think it is sustainable to go by car just to collect some soil. I will keep my eyes open and take my bucket with me in the trunk of my car in case I come across some of those very dark, fine mole mounds.


Wow! What a unique idea. Have people in your region been using mole mound soil for a long time or is it a new permaculture concept. Is there any lore or legend around using mole mounds for starting soil? I see a permaculture based Thorton Burgessesque children's story in the works if there is!

 
Skandi Rogers
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Gail Jardin wrote:

Skandi Rogers wrote:I buy seed starting mix, I use a LOT of it about 200L a year and that's only going to go up. I seem to remember seeing on TV a old way (1800's) of sterilising soil by building a bonfire and heaping it up round it basically steaming it, but I don't remember any more details, I really should look into it as I have light sandy soil that would be ideal for seeds, but I also have a lot of weed seed in it, which makes it useless. On my scale microwaves and ovens are not going to make a dent, and the electic cost would be more than the cost of buying starting medium.


Sounds like you grow a lot! Do you have a commercial farm or run a nursery/greenhouse?



Small (VERY small) commercial yes.
 
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I have used stump dirt from our woodlot. I think it was recommended as an option in 'The Ultimate Guide to Soil' by Anna Hess. Obviously I don't do this in great quantity but I did 2 trays of seeds that way last year.
 
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I always thought it funny that direct planting of seed in the garden they don't say to sterilize it, but if you add the SAME soil to a tray, then they say you MUST STERILIZE IT... I try to direct seed most of my plants even some they say you must transplant (like tomatoes/peppers). Besides I (and my back) personally don't look forward to transplanting 8,000+ tomato plants in an acre garden. The only issue I have with it is finding equipment that will plant peppers and tomatoes at 18-24" spacing and that usually only drops 1-2 seed at that spacing. My next wish list is a Jang JP-6 or JP-6W planter.
 
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