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Newbie needs some fluff  RSS feed

 
Linda Warren
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Hey all,

Virgin gardener here - Put in 3 Hugelbeets and several traditional raised beds last year. Planted blueberries in the Hugelbeets which are doing OK.
Our problem is we have no dirt - we have sand - this made this Hugelbeets difficult. We thought we were being smart when we built the raised beds and did tiny layers of sand, green cow manure and alfalfa - we sprinkled in some lime to heat it up. We let it sit all winter, went out to plant and pretty much hard concrete. (Maybe it was the lime!)

So, my husband thought he would till it to break it up. He did. We planted. It rained and turned back to cement. At first even weeds weren't growing. Some plants are doing OK, others just died. We'd really like to greatly improve. Just don't know what to add. We figure we need at least 4-inches of something (?) We do not have good access to green organic matter, but do have access to a variety of chips and/or sawdust. (Have watched Back to Eden - so chips seem interesting.) We live in N Idaho - only 90 frost free days.

Any advice appreciated. Thank you!
 
John Elliott
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Yes, lime + sand ---> concrete. Or at least a good mortar for setting block. Chips and sawdust would be good, if you can work them in. As they break down, they will form humic acids which will neutralize the lime.

If you have cats, or if you have friends who have cats, collect up all the used cat litter that you can get your hands on into a bucket. For this purpose, the non-clumping kind of cat litter is better than the clumping kind. Put about 3" of the litter into a 5 gallon bucket and fill it most of the way with water. Get one of those heavy duty paint mixer attachments for an electric drill and stir the whole mess up real good. You want to make a clay slurry. It may be good to mix it up, wait an hour or so, and come back and give it a second go-around with the mixer. Once you have some nice runny clay soup, pour this over your lime/sand concrete and work it in real good. You may have to do this a few times, but what will happen after a few applications is that all the sand grains will become coated with clay minerals, and they will no longer be cemented together. Clay/sand mixtures can also get hard and cemented together, but not nearly as bad as lime/sand mixtures, and they will fall apart much easier when they are thoroughly saturated.

Clay will help to bind up some of the calcium, and get you closer to the optimal spot in clay-sand-silt balance, but without any silt at all, clay has a tendency to sink to a level beneath the sand if you don't keep tilling and churning it up (which causes other problems that the no-till people can tell you about). Over time though, the organic matter that you add should break down to silt sized particles and that will eventually get you to a nice soil tilth.

Lastly, adding biochar is something that can also help here. Biochar does not make good aggregate when added to concrete, because it is friable and can break under stress, as in when a root is trying to push through. Exactly what you want to happen in your soil. Figure out the total volume of your planting bed and try to add 2% of that as biochar. Again, repeated applications are probably better than trying to work it in all at once. The more often that you turn and mix this hardened mass that you have, the sooner it is going to break up and become soil. At that point you can look at things to do to build up the soil food web.
 
Linda Warren
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Hi John,

Thank you, thank you for your response!!

So, would this work: let the garden finish growing

Then in the fall: incorporate several inches of chips and a small amount of char. Then plant a cover crop to incorporate green matter for spring (which one?).
Our choices for chips would be: birch, larch or pine


We do not have friends with cats, but could we just purchase the kitty litter? Could we incorporate with all the above?

Would it hurt to (cringe) till it one more time? The stuff is so hard that even a pitch fork won't work it. The other option is we have a backhoe - we could scoop out a several inches and DH could stir, mix, have a dirt party and put it back in.
 
Logan Simmering
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Consiidering you dont have any soil life or structure to speak of, tilling is unlikely to hurt
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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How dry were they without being watered? How many inches of rainfall do you get?
 
Linda Warren
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Our average rainfall is 22-inches and our average snowfall is 65-inches - so the beds were not dry.

Any thoughts on a cover crop?
 
John Elliott
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Logan's right, tillage is the last of your worries at this point; until you can get some tilth to the soil, there is not going to be a soil food web to disturb with the till.

The backhoe is a good idea, and you may want to look into getting clay by the truckload instead of in the 25 lb bags. From previous experience, it doesn't take much clay to give sandy soil a boost, so maybe equal amounts of clay and biochar in the beginning will be a good start. All those choices for chips sound good. Since you say you have a good source for them, you have the starting materials to make lots of biochar. Here's a video that you might find interesting:



As far as cover crops, try some tillage radish and seed it any time now. It will get a good start in the fall and won't winter kill until the temperatures drop down to the teens and the daily highs fail to make it into the 40s. By that time, the radishes may have roots going down 6-8 feet, and all that biomass in the ground with mean more organic matter in the soil when it rots in the spring thaw.

 
Leila Rich
steward
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Welcome to permies Linda
Do you have an idea of your soil mineral/nutrient etc makeup? I'm particularly interested as you mention planting blueberries and also liming.
Blueberries prefer a very low ph, and lime is almost sure to increase it beyond what they like.
I think laboritory soil testing is cool, and really worthwhile (just make sure the technicians know you want organic and beyond recommendations)
If you're interested, I suggest getting one before you do much amending, then maybe every few years or so.
Fall and spring are the best times, as the bacteria are most active then.
 
Linda Warren
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Hi all!

John, I will order seeds and plant radish right away. We will begin getting frost here in Sept, but no snow until Mid Nov. So I'm thinking we could till in the chips, clay, char, radish sometime in Oct. Or should we till in Sept and plant radish after tilling? It will be frosting by then.

I'm wondering since our situation is probably 70% sand, 15% manure, 15% alfalpha and this has settled 6" below the top edge of the bed - how much material should we be adding? I'm guessing 3-4-inches of chips/sawdust and less than an inch of clay and less than an inch of char? Then till or hoe.

I watched the bio-char video a few years ago - will watch again. Thanks! In thinking about it, we won't be doing big burns before fall, but I can add the remains all winter long from the woodstove.

Leila, we did our Hugelbeets totally different (no lime). Most of our acreage is forest, but there was an area that the previous owner had planted grass for many years. We used the back hoe and scraped off the sod, then we dug another two feet deeper. The trenches were approx 3-4 feet wide, about 3 feet deep and 40 in the length. We then dragged dead trees from our forest, then smaller sticks, then went on the sod (upside down) and dirt. We planted the blueberries, then topped with cedar chips for aciditiy. So, our Hugelbeets are only about 12-inches above ground.

We figured we had to dig the trenches in order to have enough dirt to put on top. This area is far from the house. And we did not want to dig up what little grassy area we had left in order to fill our raised beds that are close to the house. Sadly, if I just would have left the lime out, it seems would have had a good start.
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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I am not too sure how extensive the problem is.
Would it be faster to just take out the logs and start over.
Maybe use the "concrete" to build and line a pond somewhere else.
As it stand it seems like it could lots of money, time and resources trying to figure out and then fix.
And during this time you would be missing growing seasons.

I know that acids will dissolve cement. Maybe some sulphur would help, but they also take years to work.
Unless you have awesome source of bulk vinegar (ethanoic acid)
Maybe you can find some biological agent to help.
A fast growing plant with fibrous roots that love limestone/cement
 
John Elliott
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Linda Warren wrote:Hi all!

John, I will order seeds and plant radish right away. We will begin getting frost here in Sept, but no snow until Mid Nov. So I'm thinking we could till in the chips, clay, char, radish sometime in Oct. Or should we till in Sept and plant radish after tilling? It will be frosting by then.

I'm wondering since our situation is probably 70% sand, 15% manure, 15% alfalpha and this has settled 6" below the top edge of the bed - how much material should we be adding? I'm guessing 3-4-inches of chips/sawdust and less than an inch of clay and less than an inch of char? Then till or hoe.


That sounds like a plan. If you get Korean radishes, I have noticed that they have a pronounced shoulder to them, which means you can plant them now and be adding chips, char, clay, and mulch, just so long as you don't bury the crown. You can take the lazy route and let the radish do most of the tilling, and every so often all you have to do is add mulch. One nice thing about Korean radishes is that when you go to harvest them, they leave a football sized divot in the soil, which you can fill in with chips and mulch. Below that divot, the finer roots will go down another 6 to 8 feet.
 
Linda Warren
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S. Bengi - our Hugelbeets are fine - no lime in them. Just the raised beds. Sorry I wasn't more clear.

John, thanks for all your ideas. Do most radishes have such aggressive roots? None of us like radishes, so I'm wondering if we could use a smaller variety and then just till them in for organic matter in the fall along with the chips

OR
would there be a better choice of plant if we are going to till in for organic matter?

I think those are my last questions :-0 ..........maybe

Linda
 
Logan Simmering
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Daikon (the kind of raddish they're talking about) has a much milder flavor then the "normal" sort. though I think for soil lossening purposes your supposed to let them decompose in place anyway.
 
Linda Warren
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Thank you all! Will order radish seeds and get planting.
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