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Creating and maintaining great soil on a smaller scale

 
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​Hello Jon, Welcome.

I am wondering about creating soil mixes and maintaining high balanced levels of nutrients, bacteria and fungi to grow for optimal nutrient density in our food on a smaller scale.

When growing in trays there is little opportunity to deplete the soil, but in raised beds, containers or smaller scale gardens, is it enough to start out with a mix of great compost, great soil and some medium for drainage, and then water with compost tea or top dressing with new compost?

Your thoughts.

Thank you.

(We are so fortunate to have Redhawk's knowledge shared here on the site, it was a challenge to come up with a question.)    :)

Edited to add:

This is for an urban group who will be taking over an abandoned lot in the spring and want to grow microgreens indoors to improve their children's nutrition. They are concerned about making a compost pile as it is not their land want to make an initial 'as good as possible' impression in the neighborhood.
 
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If you are working with a growing medium that is not natural soil, such as a purchased or home-made potting mix then a dose of quality compost and/or healthy soil (perhaps from a place that is still native vegetation) should introduce the microorganisms that will make the growing medium begin to function as living soil.  In growing mediums or soil in place it is often the diversity of soil microorganisms that is lacking and thus reducing the capacity of the soil to function to infiltrate water and cycle nutrients.  If the growing medium can remain undisturbed and host living plants, the microorganisms should have the shelter and food they need to thrive.
 
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Lee,

I can offer up two options to really help out small patches of land.

Option #1:  build a compost pile on the land you want to get microbes in.  Just build a heap and leave it be.  It really does not matter much if you make fine compost or not, what matters is that you let it sit for a good time.  I now make compost piles in my garden beds at the end of the season and let it sit.  I don’t turn.  Eventually, all the microbes in the compost pile will work their way down into the soil which will be magically fertile simply from hosting the pile.  I once built a pile entirely out of grass clippings.  It stood about 5’ tall with a 5’ diameter base.  I just let it sit where it really heated up and reduced to about 1-2” of finished compost.  The real story was the next year where that pile developed an immensely rich, green ring around the old base and a dark, rich ellipse that gently sloped downhill towards a baby peach tree about 10’ away.  All the grass in that ellipse is as rich and dark for the next 3 years and that one tree grew twice as fast as it neighbors over the next 3-5 years.  I now make compost piles in the garden itself even if I don’t use the compost.

The other approach it to utilize woodchips and mushrooms.  I personally recommend Wine Caps and they make amazingly rich fertile bedding from woodchips.

And you can certainly combine these two approaches if you are feeling really ambitious!

I hope this helps and please keep us updated.

Eric
 
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Hi Lee, first great info. It's so very nice to have Redhawk's soil lessons and Jon joining us too!

you may want to consider a worm tower. This link will better explain it. https://permaculturenews.org/2016/02/02/how-to-build-a-worm-tower/

Towers can be made out of almost anything, for any sized garden bed. This would help to continually feed the garden bed. The neighbors will never know that ya'll are composting.

Eric, that's great about the peach tree. I think we are going to start creating compost piles around our orchard. Then we could release the chickens, to eat the fallen fruit and bugs in the compost.
happy growing.
 
Eric Hanson
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Sena,

If I were doing my orchard over again, I would do two things to help out.  First I would plant some comfrey next to the tree simply for chop & drop.

The other thing I would do would be to have some woodchips infused with mushrooms, likely wine caps.

But absolutely, having a little built in compost pile next to the tree will only help it out.

Happy gardening!

Eric
 
Sena Kassim
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Wine caps keep getting brought up...we used to grow oyster mushrooms. Can't wait to learn more about wine caps.

Do you inoculate the wood chips with spores?
 
Eric Hanson
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Sena,  

So I am fairly wine caps obsessed.  They are a great starter mushroom and I have had great luck with them and I strongly encourage their use.  But I am making plans to spread out into oyster mushrooms.  If you are already using oyster mushrooms, then you likely have already seen the compost they leave behind.  I can’t say that wine caps are definitively better, but they are easy for a beginner (me).  Part of their appeal is that they are not especially picky about location the way some mushrooms are.  I would personally say that if you are already having good luck with your oysters, then wine caps probably won’t be a huge improvement, but if you want to try it just to do so, by all means do so.

Out of curiosity, what type of oyster mushrooms have you grown?

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Sena,

Also, to answer your question more directly, I Inoculate woodchips with sawdust spawn.  You probably could use spores, that is after all the way they spread in nature.  The spawn gives it a bit of an initial boost.

Eric
 
Sena Kassim
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We've grown the Elm Oysters indoors. We grew them in bags. 3 bags with different medium mixes, one bag with straw. One with halg straw half coffee grounds an the last bag had more grounds than straw. I'd like to grow more mushrooms outdoors. We are on the sunny side of a mountain in the Appalachians.
I'd like to grow the blue oysters and king strapharias. Def going to check out the wine caps.
Now that you mention it, we started with saw dust spawn.
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