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ferns say "plant potatoes and sunchokes"

 
paul wheaton
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Sepp talked at great length about observation and working with what you saw.

Ferns say "plant potatoes and sunchokes". 

Moss is a sign of acidic soil. 

Areas that get a lot of moisture tend to be acidic.

Areas that have conifers or used to have confiers tend to be very acidic.

N-fixers are a sign of soil low in N.

Nettles are a sign of soil rich in N.

I think there might be whole books on this topic and I think I need to find those books ...

I guess the important thing is that while you could get soil tests to learn a lot of this stuff, Sepp made an excellent point about how the soil conditions could change every few feet.  He talks about how he used to have a lot of equipment to help him figure all of this stuff out - but he hasn't used any of it in years.  I think he has just gotten good at reading a patch and deciding what to plant there.


 
Leah Sattler
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it would be relly nice to have a sort of handbook with ross references exclusively for this sort of thing. like the plant identification books except that along with the basic plant id you get well researched info on what enviromental impact it has as well as what it might tell us about the enviroment and soil it is growing in.
 
Nicholas Covey
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Eco Farm: An Acres USA Primer covers this to some degree.

http://www.amazon.com/Eco-Farm-Acres-U-S-Primer-fertilizers/dp/0911311742
 
Leah Sattler
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that looks like a great book. maybe it could be the next giveway!!! paul?
 
paul wheaton
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Well the problem with using that book as a promo is that I think the author recently died.

I just spent way too much time looking for a book on this topic.  I thought there was one called "Weeds and the stories they tell" - but, apparently, I am mistaken. 

A lot of books have some casual mentions of the stories weeds tell.  I just thought there might be a whole book on the topic. 

If any of you see a whole book on the topic, please let me know!
 
Susan Monroe
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Another Acres U.S.A. book:  Weeds: Control without Poisons by Charles Walters (who, sadly, just died in January).

But plant indications are just general -- they can tolerate a lot and still grow.  Tap-rooted plants can mine nutrients very deep in the soil, but near the surface levels where you grow your crops that mineral can be totally deficient.  You will need a soil test for specifics, and for advice on how much to add to the soil -- too much is usually just as bad as too little.

Some soil minerals can be deficient but not totally lacking, and the amount of deficiency can severely affect your food production.  You don't need much boron or sulfur in the soil, but you DO need enough.

And experienced eye can give general estimates, but a soil test is needed for really fixing a problem.

Sue

 
paul wheaton
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Susan Monroe
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It looks like there are two available through Amazon.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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My understanding is that it is a tiny book.  $25 seems like an awful lot for a tiny book.  So I'm trying to get it through my library to at least take a look at it first.

 
Susan Monroe
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Yes, I almost always borrow a book from the library before I buy it.  I hate wasting money on a book that I don't like.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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After some off and on research, I bought a copy from groworganic.com for $10 plus about $3 in shipping.
 
Sergio Santoro
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paul wheaton wrote:
N-fixers are a sign of soil low in N.


Wait a second, I understand that N-fixers can propagate and survive in a soil that's low in N, because they make their own, but what about the very fact they are fixers? If I see a field covered in clover I think I've got the N covered, not that the soil is poor in N.

 
Burra Maluca
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I was always taught that clover was a sign of 'improving soil' and that when it was 'improved' enough other plants would take over.  A field covered in clover is a sign that nothing else can compete.  Yet.  Or that it's just been sown with clover, of course...
 
Chuck Freeman
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paul wheaton wrote:
Sepp talked at great length about observation and working with what you saw.

Ferns say "plant potatoes and sunchokes". 

Moss is a sign of acidic soil. 

Areas that get a lot of moisture tend to be acidic.

Areas that have conifers or used to have confiers tend to be very acidic.

N-fixers are a sign of soil low in N.

Nettles are a sign of soil rich in N.

I think there might be whole books on this topic and I think I need to find those books ...

I guess the important thing is that while you could get soil tests to learn a lot of this stuff, Sepp made an excellent point about how the soil conditions could change every few feet.  He talks about how he used to have a lot of equipment to help him figure all of this stuff out - but he hasn't used any of it in years.  I think he has just gotten good at reading a patch and deciding what to plant there.





I'm going to have to rethink things now. Our land has a lot of alder, with is a nitrogen fixer. Yet when we cleared land next to it and put in our garden one of our most aggressive weeds is stinging nettle. The land we cleared was mostly spruce, cottonwood, and birch with highbush cranberry. I just assumed our N levels were OK because of the amount of alder we have.
 
Jonathan Byron
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Burra Maluca wrote:
I was always taught that clover was a sign of 'improving soil' and that when it was 'improved' enough other plants would take over.  A field covered in clover is a sign that nothing else can compete.  Yet.  Or that it's just been sown with clover, of course...


Yes, that squares with my ecology learnings and I would say that in nature that is generally true. Prairie soils low in nitrogen tend to have more legumes than prairie soils high in nitrogen, the agreed upon explanation is that legumes compete better in a low nitrogen soil. Planting a low fertility field to with mostly clover or alfalfa will increase the nitrogen levels, but in nature, the clover or alfalfa generally won't stay dominant too long, it will be replaced with other plants. The farmer can use various tricks to keep a field so it is mostly alfalfa for a longer time, but this requires effort - nutrient removal, cultivation, herbicides, etc.
 
Jack Shawburn
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Theres a bit on page 80 of "Food not Lawns"
 
Mike Turner
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paul wheaton wrote:
After some off and on research, I bought a copy from groworganic.com for $10 plus about $3 in shipping.

Southern Exposure Seed sells it for $8.50.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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That would explain why the only place that I get stinging nettle is right next to the chicken coop.

Would asparagus fern count as a 'fern'?  I have some coming up in an area - I don't know where it came from.
 
                                      
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i dont know if you know it allready paul, but patrick whitefield has written this book about reading the landscape, its called "The living landscape - How to read and understand it'.

He's giving 3-day courses about it on the ragmans farm in the uk as well.

(just pointing it out for the people from this side of the oceans)
 
Suzy Bean
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Paul and Kelda review sepp holzer's Permaculture (the book) in this podcast: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/445-podcast-081-sepp-holzer-permaculture-chapter-1-part-2/
In it, they discuss ferns as an indicator plant.
 
                                                              
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http://eap.mcgill.ca/publications/EAP67.htm

came across this... thought it may help, and it's free!
 
                        
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That's an almost forgotten art. I remember my grandfather paying a lot of attention to the weeds that grew wild on a piece of land he was considering buying. The best way to use weeds to judge a piece of land is to look at what weeds are very persistent about growing in good rich garden soil. If those weeds are doing well on a piece of land you know you are starting off with good fertility. Some weeds will grow on good or bad soil but the condition of the plant tells the story. Dandelions, for instance will grow in poor dry soil but they will hug the ground and have only a few thin leaves. The same dandelions in a rich garden, if left alone, will grow lush and tall. Some weeds, such as iron weed, will only grow where they have no competition so they are almost always found on soils that are poor and/or overloaded with metals (hence the name). You will often find them growing around old abandoned iron works where the soil is poisonous to most plants. Some plants indicate shortages of one sort or another by the leaf color. When I see my epizote starting to show purple streaks in the leaves I know the soil needs more magnesium or manganese, or both.
This is the sort of wisdom that used to be passed down generation to generation but since the advent of large monocrop farms the art has been lost. It will have to be learned all over again.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Kyle Chamberlain
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On nettles, I would like to point out:

We're assuming fertility is the cause of the nettles. What if the nettles are the cause of the fertility?

Nettles do seem to prefer fertiles soils, thriving beneath alders, and under bird perches. However, I've been doing a lot of observation and I've developed this theory:

Plants adapted to nutrient stress (like conifers) have incentive to perpetuate nutrient stress. But plants adapted to fertility (like nettles) have incentive to perpetuate fertility. In a spruce forest, the only place you will find healthy worm numbers is beneath herbacious cover, even when the subsoil is homogenous. The concentration of minerals in plants seems to be roughly correlated to the rate of vegetation turnover. Epethermals concentrate very high levels. Evergreens conctrate low levels. Plants with a high mineral concentration in their leaves will improve the soil with thier detritus.

I find the occasional clump of nettles in dry stony soil, even in places too dry for sagebrush, where they seem to be expanding and improving nutrient cycling. This hints at narrow establishment requirements and very broad post-establishment requirements.

I think that tall herbacious perrenials, like nette, fireweed, and goldenrod are some of nature's best fertility builders. Cow parsnip, coltsfoot, and thimbleberry play similar roles. Although, in succession, legumes like Thermopsis and lupine often preceed them.  Experiments planned...

-Kyle
 
Chuck Freeman
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paul wheaton wrote:
I think I found it!

Weeds and What They Tell

Although it is out of print ....





Anybody read it? Thinkin' about getting it but wondered if it is worth it.
 
Guy De Pompignac
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paul wheaton wrote:

A lot of books have some casual mentions of the stories weeds tell.  I just thought there might be a whole book on the topic. 

If any of you see a whole book on the topic, please let me know!




It exists ... but in french ...

http://bio-indicatrice.promonature.com/livre-bio-indicatrice-ducerf-gerard-1.html



 
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