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Growing on and/or improving peaty, waterlogged soil

Posts: 244
Location: Caerphilly, Wales, UK
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Hi Patrick,

Last week someone started a thread on peaty waterlogged sites asking for ideas and advice for permacultural approaches to this kind of land and, as part of the thread, Aranya mentioned a fellow called Bruce Marshall and his efforts to improve upland boggy land who you'd written about in 'Permaculture in a Nutshell'. While my soil isn't peaty or waterlogged, I have a lot of family on the Isle of Skye some of whom do have peaty soil hence my interest in methods of improving it.

While I will borrow a copy of your book in order to read up on Bruce Marshall, has he published or otherwise described his methods and results in detail including the long term effects of his efforts to improve his peaty soil? I tried Googling his name but didn't come up with anything.

Additionally, are you aware of other methods of improving peaty soil or projects/experiments which have attempted to do this? In the previous thread a method called chinampa was mentioned and Sepp Holzer describes the methods he used for improving heathland in Scotland through using stone windbreaks to create shelter and aid soil retention.

Thanks for your time,


P.s. I already have the 'Earth Care Manual' and I must say it's my favourite PC book out of the ones I've read so far!
Posts: 14
Location: Britain
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Hello Sam,

Sadly, Bruce Marshall never did publish his work but since I wrote that book I've become aware that he wasn't that unique in what he did. The basis of his system was to increase the pH and phosphorous content of the soil enough so he could establish white clover, and thus improve soil structure enough to get the soil draining well. This has now become fairly standard practice.

I think the nub of the matter is the kind of peaty soil you're talking about. Deep blanket peat, which is fundamentally caused by a rainfall so high that peat forms spontanously in a self-reinforcing cycle, won't respond to this treatment. Nor should it. Blanket bogs represent an enormous store of carbon and if we drain them enough to grow timber or other crops on them it starts to oxidse. Other peaty soils are caused more by the acidity of the soil than by the high rainfall. The decomposing organisms are inhibited by acidity rather than waterlogging. These soils may well be wet too, but this is often because of a hardpan in the podsolic soil and it may be necessary to use a subsoiler to break the pan before starting. Whether such an intervention would be worthwhile on an inherently poor soil in a challenging climate would have to be seriously considered.

Thanks for your kind words about the Earth Care Manual.

Best wishes, Patrick
They weren't very bright, but they were very, very big. Ad contrast:
Hope in a World of Crisis - Water Cycle Restoration
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