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Best de-compaction strategy?

 
Matt Richards
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Hi all,

I've finally landed in a community and am looking to build a forest garden here next to our woodland. It's a beautiful location, however its VERY compacted due to the fact that it was recently near a construction site and the soil is compacted down about a meter depth. So... now I am looking for strategies for rebuilding the soil prior to building the forest garden. Here is what I am planning to do so far, but would love some thoughts on what could be done better.

1. Aerate the soil with some sort of tiller or decompaction machinery.
2. Put down a layer of compost on top of that
3. Put down a layer of mulch on that
4. Put white clover as a ground cover down in the foot paths
5. Put some other TBD ground covers/ anti compaction/ nitrogen fixers down in the beds

Does anyone have a recommendation on anti compaction crops? I'm in zone 6, in germany. I'm hoping that after about a year of recovery time for the soil I can start to think about implementing my design, although I expect it might be two.
 
John Elliott
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How about plant some tillage radish now, and let it get winter killed? You still have enough growing season for daikons or Korean radishes to drill into the soil. And they will put down roots more than a meter deep.
 
Rich Pasto
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no tilling. Use a plug aerator. Skip the compos tand mulch by putting down a whole mess of shredded leaves. The leaves will attract very quickly natures aerators; worms. By the bushel they will come and multiply. Ants will also move in too. More aeration. start in one area, expand the next year. nature will have this soil aerated, to a depth you need for growing stuff, quickly. The worst thing you can do is walk on it, voiding nature's progress. Think about raised beds, or mounds, even 3 inches is enough. Stay in your designated walking areas.

tilling will expose millions of dormant seeds from weeds and anything else, along with any contaminants buried by the construction process. Unless you till, then go through the process of creating a stale seed bed, the things you want to grow, are going to be pressed with competition from weeds that grow faster than they can
 
chip sanft
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In addition to radishes you might want to check into forage turnips -- they were cheaper from my supplier and also work to decompact soil.
 
Matt Richards
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John Elliott wrote:How about plant some tillage radish now, and let it get winter killed? You still have enough growing season for daikons or Korean radishes to drill into the soil. And they will put down roots more than a meter deep.


Thanks for the suggestion! I sent a message to the tillage radish co. to see if they have a european distro.
 
Matt Richards
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chip sanft wrote:In addition to radishes you might want to check into forage turnips -- they were cheaper from my supplier and also work to decompact soil.


Interesting - it seems these are used for cattle foraging primarily, correct? could be an interesting option as well.
 
Matt Richards
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Rich Pasto wrote:no tilling. Use a plug aerator. Skip the compos tand mulch by putting down a whole mess of shredded leaves. The leaves will attract very quickly natures aerators; worms. By the bushel they will come and multiply. Ants will also move in too. More aeration. start in one area, expand the next year. nature will have this soil aerated, to a depth you need for growing stuff, quickly. The worst thing you can do is walk on it, voiding nature's progress. Think about raised beds, or mounds, even 3 inches is enough. Stay in your designated walking areas.

tilling will expose millions of dormant seeds from weeds and anything else, along with any contaminants buried by the construction process. Unless you till, then go through the process of creating a stale seed bed, the things you want to grow, are going to be pressed with competition from weeds that grow faster than they can


Thanks for the recommendation - I don't think I have that many leaves available right now unfortunately and I would like to get this regeneration process started on the whole area in one swoop if possible as it will need some time to get back to anything resembling fertile.
 
David Goodman
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I'm a big fan of the Meadow Creature broadfork. It's indestructible and doesn't hurt the ground like a tiller, since it doesn't spin all the layers together.

I made the mistake of starting a food forest without ripping up the compacted ground first. Nothing wants to punch through it now and the growth is painfully slow, so I'm going back and punching holes with the broadfork, flipping sod, then planting cover crops.
 
chip sanft
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Matt Richards wrote:
chip sanft wrote:In addition to radishes you might want to check into forage turnips -- they were cheaper from my supplier and also work to decompact soil.


Interesting - it seems these are used for cattle foraging primarily, correct? could be an interesting option as well.


Yes, forage turnips are for fodder mainly but are supposed to have other good properties: see e.g.,turnips over radishes).
 
Josef Theisen
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I agree with the radishes and mulcing with leaves, but also mulch with wood. Wood chips, branches, logs, whatever you can find. This will encourage mycillial networks to decompact the soil for you.

Have you seen Paul's video of Mark Vander Meer on Soils and Forestry? Very interesting stuff.
 
Matt Richards
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Josef Theisen wrote:I agree with the radishes and mulcing with leaves, but also mulch with wood. Wood chips, branches, logs, whatever you can find. This will encourage mycillial networks to decompact the soil for you.

Have you seen Paul's video of Mark Vander Meer on Soils and Forestry? Very interesting stuff.


Very interesting indeed, thanks Josef
 
Joshua Simon
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I have not heard anyone mention a sub-soiler. It is like a strong piece of steel that cuts a slit effectively eliminating the compaction along it. This is pretty much the same as a keyline plow. In my opinion it is the best way to get your soil in good condition and pretty fast too. It works even better if you can inject compost tea and soil improving plants at the same time the lines are being ripped. This doesn't till the soil. Contrary to popular belief, that soil should be built from the top up, this does the opposite an is much less dependent on inputs to work.

Mark Shepard talks about this and after 2 yeas your soil will be radically different and much deeper. I was just at Marks farm this summer and I could easily stick my hand down a foot at least into very good loose friable, well airated, and rich organic matter soil in one of the subsoiler slits.

If you do this it will open up the clay to be broken down more easily by insect and roots will colonize further down looking for moisture and nutrients. Every year you will have some root decay and this will continue to improve the soil deeper down until finally the clay no longer resembles clay. It wll be rich and dark soil full of life. If you can do this the first two years and get soil improving crops as well as forage crops planted you can begin running animals in there. Hogs would be good because they will prepare the soil for you and after they leave the paddock you can begin seeding your food forest. I would recommend sowing some wild root stocks from seed that you can simply graft on to unless you want dwarfing root stocks. If you can grow your own root stock though in very tough conditions you know it will survive almost anything. After that you can graze cattle in a silviculture system managing as a savanah. I recommend planting trees that you can trim for the cattle. Quick growing like poplar. And if you so choose continue your succession into a complete closed canopy. This all can be done hand In hand with establishing your food forest. The first two years of subsoiling will do wonders for your soil and the animals will further improve that as long as you manage a good rotational grazing plan. And it will also be profitable why your food Forrest is coming up. If there are certain plants that you don't want your animals to touch just don't include them access to that area. You can have islands within the system where you develop the human aspect of your Forrest with medicinals and other edible beside the trees. The subsoiling will be enough to improve those sites, although I do recomend having animals on the entire area so all can derive equal benefits from animal fertilizer. Also Swales are a must and pocket ponds unless your site is historically swampy. You dont want it all to sink in to the ground.
One great aspect of Swales is that you can use them to distribute water as well as fertilizer over large areas. I don't hear people talk about it as much in that way. Say you have animals in one part of your swale system and you need there fertilizer in another part, a swale at 1% grade will distribute it where you need it. even to areas where you can't graze your animals for fear they would destroy som of your precious plantings.

Good luck in your project! Whatever it is you choose to do.
 
Matt Richards
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Joshua Simon wrote:I have not heard anyone mention a sub-soiler. It is like a strong piece of steel that cuts a slit effectively eliminating the compaction along it. This is pretty much the same as a keyline plow. In my opinion it is the best way to get your soil in good condition and pretty fast too. It works even better if you can inject compost tea and soil improving plants at the same time the lines are being ripped. This doesn't till the soil. Contrary to popular belief, that soil should be built from the top up, this does the opposite an is much less dependent on inputs to work.

Mark Shepard talks about this and after 2 yeas your soil will be radically different and much deeper. I was just at Marks farm this summer and I could easily stick my hand down a foot at least into very good loose friable, well airated, and rich organic matter soil in one of the subsoiler slits.

If you do this it will open up the clay to be broken down more easily by insect and roots will colonize further down looking for moisture and nutrients. Every year you will have some root decay and this will continue to improve the soil deeper down until finally the clay no longer resembles clay. It wll be rich and dark soil full of life. If you can do this the first two years and get soil improving crops as well as forage crops planted you can begin running animals in there. Hogs would be good because they will prepare the soil for you and after they leave the paddock you can begin seeding your food forest. I would recommend sowing some wild root stocks from seed that you can simply graft on to unless you want dwarfing root stocks. If you can grow your own root stock though in very tough conditions you know it will survive almost anything. After that you can graze cattle in a silviculture system managing as a savanah. I recommend planting trees that you can trim for the cattle. Quick growing like poplar. And if you so choose continue your succession into a complete closed canopy. This all can be done hand In hand with establishing your food forest. The first two years of subsoiling will do wonders for your soil and the animals will further improve that as long as you manage a good rotational grazing plan. And it will also be profitable why your food Forrest is coming up. If there are certain plants that you don't want your animals to touch just don't include them access to that area. You can have islands within the system where you develop the human aspect of your Forrest with medicinals and other edible beside the trees. The subsoiling will be enough to improve those sites, although I do recomend having animals on the entire area so all can derive equal benefits from animal fertilizer. Also Swales are a must and pocket ponds unless your site is historically swampy. You dont want it all to sink in to the ground.
One great aspect of Swales is that you can use them to distribute water as well as fertilizer over large areas. I don't hear people talk about it as much in that way. Say you have animals in one part of your swale system and you need there fertilizer in another part, a swale at 1% grade will distribute it where you need it. even to areas where you can't graze your animals for fear they would destroy som of your precious plantings.

Good luck in your project! Whatever it is you choose to do.


Thanks Joshua, very much appreciate your suggestions. I haven't heard of a sub-soiler before after looking into I see it's meant to be used with a tractor. This compacted spot I am thinking to build the food forest is actually quite small, only about a half hectare or so. Just enough for a few trees and some herbs/ medicinals easily in reach of the kitchen.

Its interesting that you suggest integrating animals as I have been thinking about that for another 7 hectare plot of land which is currently being by a conventional farmer. I am thinking of implementing a large scale grazing food forest for pigs, goats and cattle. I won't have access to that for another 3 years however, so I've got quite some time to plan that out. Do you have a book you could recommend on silviculture? This technique is new to me.
 
James Colbert
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Matt you can use a broadfork instead of a sub-soiler for that small of an area. It will do the same thing to a deeper depth (18" on some models). By the sounds of it you definitely should do something to mechanically loosen the soil. After than it is simply a matter of planting some cover crops and keeping in the soil covered with a nice thick mulch. That is the basics. You could use just plants to loosen the soil but it will take a lot longer
 
Andrew Schreiber
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Howdy,

I have successfully used a plant/mulch strategy for decompilation.

I picked plants that I already see growing in compacted areas. They have deep tough taproots that are designed by nature to decompact and re-vegetate compated and disturbed areas.

The plants I used were:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Curly dock (Rumex Crispus)
Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) (most thistles
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Fiddle neck (Amsinckia lycopsoides)

Once they germinate and grow a bit you can lay a lot of mulch down to help retain moisture and get fungal communities started which will also aid compaction. chop and drop their foliage if you feel the plants will survive it. I just let them grow and do their thing.

Hope that is helpful.
 
Joshua Simon
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I first read about Silvicuulture in Mark Shepard's book Restoration Agriculture.

Here is an interesting resource on the matter. I don't know if it applies to your region but there a lot of knowledge in this none the less. http://www.fao.org/docrep/x5672e/x5672e04.htm
 
Joshua Simon
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Joshua Simon
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Coppice Agroforestry: Perennial Silviculture for the 21st Century
a forthcoming book by Mark Krawczyk and Dave Jacke

We humans must develop land management systems that provide diverse products to meet our needs while regenerating healthy ecosystems. Coppice agroforestry systems can do exactly this.

I am so excited about this book!
 
Rebecca Norman
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Matt Richards wrote:This compacted spot I am thinking to build the food forest is actually quite small, only about a half hectare or so. Just enough for a few trees and some herbs/ medicinals easily in reach of the kitchen.


? A half hectare is more than an acre, and is certainly more than just a few trees and herbs near the kitchen door.
 
Angelika Maier
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Thanks for your input Joshua! I never saw a subsoiler, here is a picture in Wikipedia: subsoiler.
That might be good in our situation with the fill too. However, it is difficult to find such a subsoiler in a non agricultural area.
 
minyamoo metzger
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All of the methods mentioned are very sound.
If you could add in some sort of pond feature it would probably help, especially now. compacted soil is great for no liner ponds.
I'm a big fan of annual ryegrass as a cover crop (mixed with the clover and root veggies).
I do believe lime and wood ash will be one of your biggest friends, by all means do a soil test but donuts to dollars you have acidic soil.
So a little lime and toss on a dollop of good sod or compost it will bring the worms.
 
                        
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Read this, might help! http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/weeds/Weeds6.html
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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