I am in the process of buying a 4ha piece of land in Brazil in the south of Minas Gerais state.
Yesterday was a milestone in our design process, as we received our soil analysis, that I am sharing here:
You will see that they were 2 samples, taken from the top part and the bottom part of our land. The top is a sandy soil while the bottom is more loamy, but interestingly enough is has only about 5% silt, which seems quite unusual... Obviously, our biggest challenge, which will probably take a few years, will be to correct the pH which is 4.8 both at the top and the bottom. And about the nutrient/element analysis, I am not an expert at all and was wondering if anyone here could help us decrypt our soil profiles...
I would love to read any comment you may have that could help me understand better our soil analyses and what they mean, translated into permie words, so that we can TAKE ACTION in the best possible way!
Care for the earth, care for the people!
PS I also added 2 pictures:
- The first showing what 90% of the land looks like: it's covered of the native grasses (not weeds!) shown by the first pic, with a light
- The second showing the remaining 10% which are trees, our *little* existing forest, hosting a water spring
I also have to add that the grasses hide within them an impressive number of flowers, tiny dwarf trees (even fruit trees), orchideas, and
other plant varieties. This is typical of the climate (tropical of altitude) and biosystem (cerrado) from here.
Thanks Tyler, I know how beautiful this land is, and I wish it was fertile... Maybe it is already? I do not know how to read the soil analysis well, as I am a newbie... For sure, I am very motivated as I know permaculture techniques are very powerful.
I am guessing it will be a long (several years) adventure to correct the soil acidity and the low nutrient content and availability. For my information I actually just did a bit of research and realized that the conventional agriculture currents advise an addition of 4 ton per hectare of lime
Sure, there is some life in this soil, however my aim is to transform it into a food forest, with many fruit trees, and if I am not mistaken this will take time. I am now awaiting confirmation of more expert eyes than mine...
To be fair to everyone here, I must say I also posted this message on forums.permaculture.org.au, see following link:
May I add here as well that my most urgent worry at the moment is that I do not know where to start in order to start developing my food forest:
-> Should I attempt fixing the soil using limestone? (does not seem very sustainable to me)
-> Should I start with a ground cover like sugar cane?
-> What phases should I plan for the development of my food forest?
Hi Michel, welcome to permies
What an amazing place! I second Tyler's question: are you confident that it's infertile? I have no idea what that area *should* look like, but it sounds like there's a lot of biodiversity, which is a really good sign.
I've got lots of questions...
Is any of the grassland original savannah, or is it all ex-forest? Any idea when it was cleared?
Should I assume the rainfall's quite high? What are ther rainy seasons? Does the spring always flow?
What's the drainage like?
Is it windy?
I don't understand your soil test, maybe a Portuguese speaker can help.
Is there a result for organic matter on there?
From what I know of soils, if the area is naturally acidic, trying to increase the ph to any major degree would be an endless, unwinnable battle.
I grew up in an area with very acidic soil. It has very high rainfall, and major nutrient leaching on the cleared land. Sound familar?
I ask about drainage as waterlogged, anaerobic soil is often especially acidic.
While I'd be wary of saying "do this and your ph will increase"; adding carbon and other organic matter to the soil, as well as earthworks to drain and hold water, would probably help.
Aside from that stuff, I'd recommend researching what trees/plants/vines do well locally, since they'll be adapted to your conditions.
Thank you Leila, your post is inspiring!
Yes, this land is really wonderful and beautiful, and actually does not only host many plant species but also quite a bit of wildlife - many region-specific birds, but also the maned wolf, some moneys and even some jaguars...
No, I actually don't think myself this land is infertile, as we all know permaculture can solve these sorts of equations. I guess I just did not really know where to start... But I did some research and little by little I am finding what the solutions are. I believe a huge helper will be to connect with the Brazilian biodynamic community as their knowledge seems very strong - I realized most lands in Brazil are actually acidic so I now don't feel like "the only one" anymore.
The area, a hundred years ago (well, that's my guess of when the land was cleared to become a pasture - could be more), was covered with the magnificent "Mata Atlantica" (search Google if you'd like to know more about it).
The grassland is 100% native though - we cannot call any of the plants you see on the pictures "weeds".
Another aspect is that during the last 10 years the area was left entirely wild (no more cows) and we can see some native, pioneer trees (like the "Candeia") reappear.
The rainfall is quite high, yes, but there is a 3 to 4 months dry period over the winter (we are in the middle of it now - the grassland is greener during the summer).
The drainage is very high (70% sand!) and so the soil does not retain much nutrients. My research about the soil analysis results till now tells that the soil is also very much Aluminium-toxic - meaning that not only the nutrients are leached away by the rain but also that they are very seldom available to the plants.
Organic matter is the "MO" column but I could not interpret it yet (as I have no reference) - my guess is that it is low as well.
Yes, it is quite windy here, but most winds are light ones (less than 20 km/h) - it will be great to put up a windmill up there.
And YES, YES and YES about organic matter: I will focus on this fore sure as this land is very thursty for it!
Thank you again!
I'm especially amazed by the maned wolf and jaguar. Have you ever seen them? We're supposed to have bobcats and cougars here but I've never seen them (and would be just fine NOT seeing them, thank you very much! )
I have seen the maned wolf a few hundred meters from my land. The jaguar, I haven't, but my friends have seen its huge tracks in the mud in a more remote area. In that remote monkeys of about the size of a 6 year old child have been seen as close as 10 meters away!
Thank you for your contribution, David, this is useful, even if I decided to use primarily green crops (a mixture of nitrogen fixing plants) and organic matter in order to recover my soil. I will be using limestone only when I will need to make compromises, for example when I'll need to plant trees before in the next few years, before my soil had had time to recover.
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit