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gardening on Florida sand  RSS feed

 
Derek Mielke
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I'm currently helping a friend get a garden started, it's a typical backyard scenario with a small number of beds.

The problem though is that soil in this situation is nonexistent, it was amended once or twice sometime before, but is currently pure sand and will not retain any water at all
We've since put down two inches of manure, followed by two inches of mulch. However, this has made it worse by acting like a sponge to soak up any water given, leaving the sand beneath completely dry at all times.

I dislike tilling, and tilling in mulch is not typical, but obviously the current is not working; so should we till in the manure & mulch?

Thanks.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Welcome to permies Mike
Can you be a bit more specific on the location? People in that area may be able to help.
I'm on pure sand, but my rainfall's high compared to many places, especially with the major US droughts...
Considering it's nearing the end of a dry(?) summer for you, the whole area is probably pretty parched, and I can't think of a realistic way to sort it out now.
Should it rain in autumn? I'd just keep chucking organic matter on the beds and let the rain do its thing. That's assuming you'll have rain, of course!
I also suggest checking out the hugelkultur threads. My beds are very new, so I can't vouch for them yet, but lots of people do! I've semi-buried my wood, rather than building it up: going up in sand has been a bad idea for me in the past.
If you can grow over winter, I'd think about getting a cover crop in after the rains(?) and chopping it down/mulching on top of it in early spring. My personal favourite is fava beans, but they need a coolish climate.
 
Derek Mielke
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North Central Florida

The rain recently is sparse, but not drought conditions. Winter growing is possible here, I do it myself on my setup, and that's his intention too. He's trying to prepare the beds for planting in early September.
I should also note that the mulch is a medium grade hardwood.

It's a question of whether the manure & mulch should be tilled into the existing sand?

Thanks

 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Derek Mielke wrote:It's a question of whether the manure & mulch should be tilled into the existing sand?

I was kind of saying it, but in a really roundabout way
No. I would not till it in. Before I knew it was woodchip I would have said "'no", basically because that's my default position on tilling; now I say "definitely not!", because if you turn it under, the manure isn't likely to stand a chance against the high-carbon woodchips and there'll be significant nitrogen tie-up for ages until the soil bacteria balance things out again.
I can't say "do this thing, and the soil will be ok by September", because I think it probably won't be
I'm thinking it will probably take quite a bit of time and effort.
I use a lot of chipped tree mulch, but I recommend not using it on areas where it's likely to end up underground. As far as I know, It will not cause any nitrogen issues if undisturbed.
I had a feeling you were going to say "Florida". That appears to be a particularly challenging environment! There's people on permies from there who'll have localised advice.
 
                        
Posts: 66
Location: San Diego
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I started out with sand. My area was all beach a million or so years ago. I dug my mulch in till worms began to show up. After that they took it down into the soil for me. My soil is currently a rich black, full of worms, and anything will grow in it. You may find that perfect drainage, such as you get with sandy subsoil means that organic fertilizer will need to be added more often since good drainage means more leaching of nutrients but if you continue adding mulch the organic matter will hold it in place longer.
One point, I'm not a purist. I do what seems needed at the time. Adhering strictly to a set of rules keeps you from using your sense of what is needed. When a crop comes out and I have a bare patch I till in some composted rabbit manure and the spent mulch. When I have a crop growing I mulch heavily around it to keep down weeds and break down into humus. Good gardening is a cycle, not a continuum.
 
                        
Posts: 66
Location: San Diego
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Derek Mielke wrote:North Central Florida

The rain recently is sparse, but not drought conditions. Winter growing is possible here, I do it myself on my setup, and that's his intention too. He's trying to prepare the beds for planting in early September.
I should also note that the mulch is a medium grade hardwood.

It's a question of whether the manure & mulch should be tilled into the existing sand?

Thanks



You will often hear it said that wood mulch takes nitrogen out of the soil. Like so many garden questions there is no absolute answer to that. It takes up nitrogen in the early stages of decay but gives it back in the later stages. You might say it "borrows" it. It's a good idea to add nitrogen such as blood or cottonseed meal whenever you add fresh wood or other high celulose material.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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I lived in GA for many years and know quite a few folks in N and Central FL who are permies and gardeners. Most of the really successful ones rely on mulch in prodigious quantities. Hooking up with an urban/suburban source of raked leaves, grass clippings, etc. is a valuable practice. Don't let any piece of paper or cardboard leave your site, rather import more. Using lots of manure and charging the whole with all the urine you can get will help deal with any nitrogen problem. People are starting to do biochar, too, look it up. A problem with sandy soils in hot climates is the organic matter simply disappears faster than it can be replenished....charring slows this process way down. I think biochar will be better even than hugelkultur in this regard...it is truly amazing how fast wood will rot in that climate.....
In the long term the moisture issue will solve itself....sooner or later it will rain and the mulch and manure will absorb and hold it longer than the unamended sand would. For ordinary vegetable crops you will probably need to irrigate somehow, some of the time at least.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
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Location: FL
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I'm about 2 hours north of you, have the same sugar sand.

Tilling is ineffective and unproductive. The reasons for tilling: loosen soil, break up sod, blend in soil amendments. This sand does not compact-it stays loose in all conditions I've experienced. This soil does not produce sod with the indigenous grasses-dead grass leaves and roots are consumed within a season. Blending in soil amendments will occur as the materials breaks down, percolating through the soil with each rain.

I've been trying to grow in this stuff for 10 years. This is a quarzipsamment entisol soil. The sand goes all the way down to the limestone, with no soil horizon to slow the drainage. A sun directly overhead will dry out the soil surface to several inches, even with 99% humidity every day.

MULCH
Gotta have it. Exposed soil sand will be dry, dryer, driest. Deep: 3-4 inches in order to insulate the soil from the drying effects of the sun. A diverse blend of mulch is needed. Big stuff, little stuff, flat stuff, chunky...all of it. That high humidity provides a significant amount of moisture to the soil every day in the form of morning dew. In my experience, a diverse mulch blend helps the dew find a path to the soil better than a homogenous mulch. Wood chips are a fine start but don't stop there. Leaves, twigs and grass clippings have a place in there. Grass clippings have the surface area for the dew to collect. Wood chips and twigs hold much more moisture for their weight and dry out slower. Leaves are a wider barrier for escape.

IRRIGATION
What good is the mulch if it soaks up all the water before it can get to the soil? When you add water, it needs to get under the mulch. Drip systems and pitcher irrigation will do the job of putting the water exactly where it needs to be. An 8 inch terra cotta pot will service a 2' radius. Filled each day, it is about equal to 1/4" of rain per week. This is enough to keep your plants going until a good soaking rain gives them the boost they need.

RAISED BEDS
The big advantage of these is to provide drainage. This is not an issue in this soil. Unless you are filling your beds with imported soil, raised beds are a waste of time, effort, and energy.

ORGANICS
The constant humidity and warmth creates an environment in which compost/manure/leaf mold is consumed quickly. Before they are consumed, the fungi have a field day, releasing an abundance of nutrients. I find an inch or so added to the the top of the soil is enough to get a good crop. Rake aside the mulch, add the compost/manure/leaf mold to the surface of the soil, then replace the mulch. The organic layer does not need to be mixed with the soil. As it breaks down, the nutrients drain through along with the water. The first thing encountered are the plant roots, which readily absorb these nutrients.

 
David Rogers
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Add Sea-90 or Redmond #10 Sea Salt. Read The Ideal Soil from www.soilminerals.com


Dave Rogers
 
Eric Markov
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Location: Bay Area CA zone 9
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Dig in lots of wood chips -- 50% chips down 8" or one shovel depth. And then just fertilize enough to get your plant's leaves green.

I did this in my clay soil with great results.

While I've never had the opportunity to test it in sandy soil, it should work. Wood will hold more moisture than sand and as it rots it holds even more water.

Dig in new chips every season until the soil is built up enough?

Here are pictures from my wood chip soil trial:
http://lowcostvegetablegarden.blogspot.com/2012/10/wood-chip-soil-pictures.html

 
David Good
gardener
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Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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Derek - I'm also in N. Central FL and have grown plenty of veggies in sand.

Here's the trick I found where I am: though it sounds counter-intuitive, the sand often remains dry beneath because it's not breathing. We double dug a spot and sprinkled in compost and grew plenty of stuff. Once the water gets beneath the surface, it does a lot better. Generally, when you water sand here the water runs all over the top and will often evaporate before sinking in. You have to make it sink in.

Then - once it's sinking in - get something green growing on top ASAP or cover with mulch to trap the water in.

Good luck.

 
David Hartley
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I have pretty much nothing but sand and sandstone where I currently reside; south Oregon coast... One advantage we have, the ground is almost always "moist"...

That being said... What action to be taken can depend on how much effort and how much time... If you don't have much time in the way of "labor hours", but do have time to "wait" for results... Some suggestions: only concern yourself with the top 4~6 inches; which can all be added affair in the way of compost, mulch, etc... Plant a ground cover, such as a variety of white clover: their roots go pretty for down Then plant annuals that develop extensive roots, but are low consumers: such as buckwheat, various root crops and many others. Whether the plants are to be harvested for eating PF for "chop & drop", do not disturb the roots. The undisturbed roots will build and create soil, airways, aid water retention and naturally "till" the ground

P.S. take advantage of that wonderful resource you and I have nearby: the ocean! Incorporate sea "stuffs" into your compost and/or soil for wonderful trace minerals and key elements
 
Joanne Gross
Posts: 17
Location: Eugene, OR, USDA zone 8b
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A technique used many times in dry-farming in deserts or areas where the soil doesn't hold water well is sunken beds, or basin gardening. Here's a link about it.

For your particular conundrum, I would dig out the garden beds until they were 5-6" inches deeper than the paths, then fill the beds with compost. If you don't have access to that much compost, you could sheet mulch them with leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste, manure, etc. right now and they should be ready to go in the spring. If you do sheet mulch them, however, the level of the finished mulched beds should be a few inches above the level you want the garden beds to end up, as the mulch will fall quite a bit as it composts. The amount of rainfall you receive would determine if you want your compost-filled beds to end up below the level of your paths, level with them, or slightly raised.
 
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