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seeking urban soil prep advice

 
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Hi everyone, this is my first post! I'm starting a garden in urban Portland, OR for the first time and looking for some permaculturish advice for how to prep my soil. I live at a rental, so who knows how long I'll be there tho I'm looking at hopefully 5+ years. I've taken college classes in propagation, soil science, and mushroom propagation, but this is the first time i've gotten to design and start a garden of my own from scratch. I'm also newish to the PNW and not too familiar with this climate & soil situation.

The current soil:
The yard (~1400 sqft) was used as a playground for a daycare for 10 years, which currently shutting down. Every year the operator has had a load of chips from chip drop dumped on the yard, and at some point he had "nontoxic playground sand" dumped, not sure what that is exactly, possibly feldspar. The ground is pretty compacted from kids running around, with almost nothing growing on it except some low non-grass weeds on the lesser trod areas, and from a quick squeeze seems moderately clayey.

I've read Gardening West of the Cascades front to back, and the thread about it on here challenging some of it. I'm worried about the symphlan thing, wondering if anyone has experience with that being a problem after 3+ years, or has avoided it somehow. Solomon's soil amendment recommendations are kind of intense but seem justified, esp given the regional deficiencies in relation to common garden veggies. I don't have a huge budget but i'm willing to pay for Complete Organic FertilizerTM if it's necessary (learning "good&fast" in the "good, fast and/or cheap" formula). Trying to execute a plan by late october to get the soil ready for planting an annual veggie garden in spring. Not planning on putting in many perennials since its a rental.

Questions:

-from a permaculture perspective, what kind of testing if any should I do? Shake test, NPK, other, none?

-Are wood chips in portland generally softwood? And if so, are there mushrooms that are easy to grow in softwood/conifer chips to help break them down into soil?

-What kind of bed prep would you do starting in fall to be ready for spring annual veggie planting? I don't mind bringing in outside materials, but obv less effort is better. The ideas I have thus far are:

-Chip dump in fall+mushroom inoculation, then direct planting
-horse manure dump in fall, compost until spring & apply
and/or
-rototilling to 1' w/ solomon's recommended amount of COF, plant w/ fava beans to overwinter & till in in spring

-We're hopefully going to bring in some chickens in the spring, for some local fertilizer, and I'm also wondering how people have used/prepared their chicken poo for use in the garden.

-My fav vegs happen to be corn, beans, and squash. Has anyone had success with 3 sisters gardening here? It seems a little dark/damp, but a guy can dream....


Looking mainly for ideas from folks local to the PNW, preferably who've gardened in a spot longer than 4 years. If yr not but have some thoughts, please just let me know if it's coming from experience or speculation (not that the latter isn't useful, I just wanna know). Or, if there's a good PNW specific thread on this, sry if i haven't found it!

Thanks in advance! Also let me know if there's other details that would help in getting better advice
 
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I'm a beginner so take my advice with several grains of salt. I would nix the chipdrop step just because you're likely to end up with a fungal dominated soil which is great for perennials and not so hot for annuals. Focus more on bringing in compost, dirt, and trace minerals. Be careful of the pyralid contaminated dirt from this year (I recommend reading up about it.). I would also bring in some red wigglers and a get a nice verimicompost going. You really wanna increase the bacterial life in the soil. If youi're bringing in chickens I hope you've talked to your feudal lord *cough* I mean landlord about putting up a structure. I don't personally care but wouldn't want you to get kicked out over something silly. Also consider whether you want to free range your chickens or paddock them or what. I personally would wait a season or two on chickens, but we "own" our home so we've got the stability and longevity to contemplate it before we do it.
 
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Location: Noosa Hinterland QLD, Australia
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Hi Anton,

The procedure to get any produce garden up and running is pretty simple. It starts with a soil test using the William Albrecht method of getting
the mineral ratios correct. Logan or Spectrum Analytics are a couple of labs that follow these methods.

The first thing that is needed to know is what the mineral make up of the soil is and get them in balance.
The advantage of this approach is you are not guessing or using outdated – old wife's tale of how to get the soil correct.

I am a soil consultant in Australia and a lot of the soil tests I see, show that too much compost is been used resulting in the
a complete unbalanced soil.

We all suffer from the MORON effect believing that by putting MORE ON of something it will work so much better.
This is not the case and will result in an imbalance that will in turn not produce the desired result.
This goes for compost, water, and fertilizer, etc.

So get a soil test to know what your starting point is then work on getting the minerals in balance. You will need an experienced soil consultant
to read the soil lab results and recommend a recipe to address what is excess or what is needed.

Next start building up the biological life in the soil (Soil Food Web) by making up compost teas with a high microbial life to feed the soil.

To grow nutrient-dense produce you need Minerals and Microbes.

The advantage of a Mineral Balanced soil is –
Higher yields.
Nutrient-dense produce – High Brix readings
Great tasting and flavorsome fruit and vegetables.
Plants will be more disease and pest resistant.
Longer shelf life.

If you need help in getting started down this track get back to me and I will steer you in the right direction.

Hopefully, this is helpful.

Cheers
Anthony
 
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Anton,

Personally I think that your wood chip idea is wonderful.  At present I ONLY garden in wood chips and that bedding material is the most fertile I have ever had by far.  Personally, I use Wine Cap mushrooms to break down the wood chips--and you will want to make certain that the wood chips do break down and fungal activity is one of the very best ways to do so.  My garden beds--all about 1' tall--take about a year to yield up mushrooms, but the chips themselves are noticeably decomposed by the wine caps in about half that time.  If you like, I can walk you through the process of converting wood chips to mushroom compost.  And don't worry about bacterial content as a healthy fungal dominated wood chip mass will inevitably attract a host of bacteria that work alongside the fungi.  At one point a couple of years earlier I was also concerned about my gardens being too fungal dominated and not sufficiently bacterial dominated.  Time and experience has shown that the fungi are AMAZING for soil productivity,

Now the only real concern I have for you is the exact source of the chips.  If the chips all originate from conifers, that really cuts down the number of fungi we can use.  But if you can find almost any non-conifer based chips, you can be successful with this technique.  If you are still interested, I can certainly help with some get the process rolling.

Good Luck!

Eric
 
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hi Anton. I don't know much about Portland. I live in a totally different country. But I do know about (sub)urban soil. When we came to live here, in this rental apartment with front and back yard, almost all was paved. Only small borders in the front yard were without pavement, planted with some bushes and ornamental plants.
I have taken out over half of that pavement to have more 'garden'. But then the 'soil' is all sand.
I can tell you: the most important ingredient you need is: patience! You'll have to add compost, mulch and what more ... and then it still takes years before you'll have a balanced garden.
You can start planting or sowing, experimenting, but the first years won't be without problems (pests, diseases). I don't say this to discourage you, only as a warning. Please go on and make it into a beautiful garden!
 
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Hi and welcome to Portland!

I had to look up symphylans - I don't think I've had a problem with them.  

I think the main question for your gardening plans is - how's your sun exposure?  You can improve the soil, but if your yard has giant trees (have you noticed how almost all the trees in Portland are giant?) then you will be growing greens, but not tomatoes.  Land to the north of a building can grow veggies in the summer, but not at other times.

If the previous owner was regularly adding wood chips, and also a load of sand, but you think it feels like clay, it sounds like you are well on your way to good soil.  I would plant some cover crops ASAP, also consider if you're going to do anything cool like build a hugelkultur berm.
 
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Anthony Saber wrote:
The procedure to get any produce garden up and running is pretty simple. It starts with a soil test using the William Albrecht method of getting
the mineral ratios correct.



Hi Anthony

Thanks for sharing! I was following up on your suggestions and in my digging I found some criticisms of the Albrecht method. In particular, here's a recent report from the University of Minnesota that states as part of the conclusion "Ratio-based fertilization theories like the Albrecht Method provide scant proof that they offer any economic or soil health advantage to farmers." As far as I can tell, the Albrecht method might inadvertently provide some soil benefits but there isn't science backing it. I don't know if this matters to you or not, but I found it interesting while investigating your reply.
 
Anthony Saber
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Location: Noosa Hinterland QLD, Australia
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Hi Ivar,

I am open to any suggestions that will increase the nutrient density of produce. At present I have not found
any thing else that does the job via  soil test. My suggestion is give it a try and see for yourself.

I don't believe you will do any harm to the soil if you follow the the recommendations of a soil consultant who uses the
so called Albrecht method.

By using a brix meter you can easily and cheaply monitor the nutrient level of what you grow and eat.

I personally use minerals and microbes to achieve my aims growing nutrient dense foods.

Cheers
Anthony
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