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Soil Mix survey

 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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So, I finally think I have gotten my chainsaw working and I'm off to buy some AA batteries for the camera ($#&%%!!) and I'm going to go ahead and put in some fairly major (at my scale) earthworks and beds entertaining the delusion that I may actually be able to see a return on my time investment.

Now I've been toying with the idea of soil mixtures for a bit now and I think ultimately I will largely have to judge by physically making the stuff (I'm a tactile sort of fellow when it comes to the stuff) but I am curious to here the opinions of all of the Artisans of Seed and Soil that I know frequent this site.

The materials I have available to make my soil mixture - which will be going over a few woodcore type beds, where the cores are mostly Large Elderberry trunks, Choke Cherry, and Salmon Berry.

Well rotted Hemlock - this stuff is finally ready, I've been waiting years. Nice crumbly red and already supporting young grass, nettle and elderberry starts.
Well aged compost - deep dark nearly black, except for all the wriggling pink worms (consisting of goat poop, dung, nettles, and other weedings)
Sand - Lots of sand from sluffed bluffs, I could add sea sand but I am skeptical of this
Clay - also from the bluff sluff. I was thinking of using about 3 gallons crushed to powder per
Bio-Char - this wood be activated with goose shit slurry
Ash - I was thinking about a pint per wheelbarrow full

Anyway - I'll check back in and see what all ya have to say. If all goes well trees will be felled by tomorrow, beds will be layed out monday, and mix will be made and applied tuesday.

 
John Elliott
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The only thing I can think to add is to compost those old AA batteries that gave out on you. (For the minerals, of course.)
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Landon Sunrich wrote:Sand
I've never added sand to soil, and probably never will.
I'm sure it has a use in some circumstances, but I've never come across any that warrant it.
The only times I've seen people recommend sand, it's always 'sharp' or river sand, as beach sand compacts down and affects soil aeration.
Landon Sunrich wrote:Clay
I love clay! Drying and powdering it sounds fiddly though; would it work to make it into a slurry and mix it through the other stuff?
Landon Sunrich wrote: Ash
Is your soil on the acid side? My soil's ph is around 6.9, which is fine, but I wouldn't be adding anything alkaline like wood ash.

Should I assume you just didn't mention adding actual, real soil?
Because to me, the microorganisms in mineral soil are the key to unlocking the goodies in the amendments you mention,
and without it I imagine it could take a looong time to get things going.

 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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Leila,

You should see this sand! Its beautiful coarse rich rusty red stuff that is surprisingly light and fluffy when wet. I just figured the rotted wood and aged compost would be pretty much pure humus and that it could use some grit to it. My plan soil wise was to dig out the four inches or so in a pit and get soil contact that way. The wood has been in full contact with soil for probably a decade, its covered in moss and already sprouting just about everything that grows around here. The compost looks dank too. I like the idea about using the clay as a slurry mix. Damn is wet clay heavy. I just got back from the beach (enjoying whats left of the full moon), and I didn't get as much as I wanted. The sand bluff is near the beach access. The Clay bluff is not. And the damn shrimpers where out blasting holes in the sand with water wands. One pass and one time falling into a 3 foot watery sand pit was enough for me this go. My soil is acidic. Everything here use to be a conifer forest, and my main ingredient is rotted hemlock (though I have near the same amount of compost) - which I would presume to be acidic in and off itself. Perhaps I'll go for more like a cup per wheelbarrow full. I plan on mixing in sand at the rate of about 2 gallons per wheelbarrow - with as much rich crumbly fluffy humus as I have in that I think the sand (which is not super fine beach sand) will do well. I am now thinking about mixing in soil too. The only trick is there is buried pvc pipe running through the area though so the digging is going to be a bit chancy and I cant pull as much soil out as I'd like.

Thanks for the input!
 
Tim Malacarne
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Location: South central Illinois, USA
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IMO, a lot of this, within reason, is trial and error. Most folks would advise a soil test before any pH altering additions... Up to you, of course... If you get too much sand, the rainwater and irrigation will pass through too quickly. Compost, OTOH, will work to hang onto the soil water. Sounds to me like you are on the right track! Carry on, and best of luck to you!
 
Landon Sunrich
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Thanks Tim,

In this case I'm basically trying to create a soil from scratch rather than alter what is already there - though I'd love to be able to run soil test on everything. I'm running a few days behind - but I'm glad as it granted me the time necessary for a minor epiphany which significantly alters my garden bed plans for the season (which I hope I will be able to spend with my garden!). Anyway Pictures up soon . Maybe early next week? I got some work to do over the weekend (which I think is going to net me even more alder material for beds)
 
Landon Sunrich
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I finished two of my beds today. Here are some pictures of my wormy compost. Some of the logs I was using, and big pile of the mix. I get some bed pictures up too.
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Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Sounds great! As I understand it, sand is good for drainage and clay is good for cation exchange, holding on to nutrients.

I would add a scoop of soil from the woods and one from an orchard if possible. I'm looking forward to seeing how this project goes, keep us updated, Landon.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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Here are some (rather poor) photos of the bed. First bed is approximately 1.5 feet in height and only dug out about 4 inches under it and makes an approximately 5.5 foot circular bed. Second bed is about a foot in height and dug down about a foot and a half deep and is rectangular about 5.5 feet long and 2.5 feet wide. I used a mix ratio of about 3 wheelbarrows compost / 3 wheel barrows rotted smashed hemlock / and 1 wheel barrow of sand + 1.5 Gallons of clay. The construction was basically dig out soil, place log rounds (chokecherry and elderberry of 3inch to 8 inch diameter and various lengths say 2.5 inches to 1.5 feet) into the ground, sprinkle with soil, add mix layer, put down smaller branches and limbs (.25 to 1 inch diameter) sprinkle with soil, add mix layer. top with soil. The second bed got more soil mixed in do to the amount of soil displaced by the deeper dig. I've had 4 good hard rains since I put them in and as you can see from the photos they seem to be holding up. I am hoping the wood pieces turn into sponges for the compost goodness. No biochar in these beds.
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John Polk
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Don't forget: most earthworms only live in the top 2-4" of soil. If you bury them too deep, they may be doomed.
With that much wood, and that little soil, I would try to get some good forest soil to add. It will contain the fungi families that will eventually turn that wood into soil for you.

 
Landon Sunrich
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Yeah thanks John/Matu. This IS forest soil. It's the one the edge between the scrubby choke cherry elderberry regrowth and the true hemlock/yew forest. Within 10 feet of these beds (and including the wood which went in them - which was less than 10 feet from where the beds went) I have counted at least 8 seprate species of fungi. No worries there. The ground itself was teaming with worms and there are many many worms in the compost. I imagine they will migrate as they need. The rectangular bed has a fair bit of soil in it. At least a wheelbarrow full. The round bed less so - but as the rotted hemlock was already sporting Red huck, evergreen huck, nettle, and thimble berry starts (in addition to the non-edible red elderberry) and had plenty of salmon berry roots growing all up in um already - I am hopeful that they will be enough for producing bounty.


Edit: On further reflection there are at least ten mushroom species if I extend that circle to 15 feet. I forgot about the conks and the totally unwanted cyans
 
Michael Cox
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John Elliott wrote:The only thing I can think to add is to compost those old AA batteries that gave out on you. (For the minerals, of course.)


John - this idea tickled me slightly. I think I read something about it a while back but can't find any info about it at all now. Do you have a link to another thread or some more detailed information?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Michael,

If you click Johns blue underlined 'compost' word it should take you to a thread where he discusses it in detail
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Wow! What are you going to plant?
 
Landon Sunrich
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That's a great question Matu, and one which will depend largely on whether or not I get to continue living here in the house I was born in on the lonely little acre I've always called home. The position of these two beds is such that they miss a good deal of the morning sun but catch a good dose of afternoon sun, especially from april through september. Due to the incredible richness of the round bed (which is like half compost) I was thinking of using it for some of the hungrier more demanding plants like squashes and perhaps some onions, chives, exotic aliums and bush bean. I'll see what sort of edible mushrooms I can get to take in them. I threw in some shaggy spores I saved from this fall for good measure. I can envision the nettles moving in on their own. None of these things have particularly deep root systems which is good since the wood core in this bed is fairly shallow and would stunt taproots. The rectangular bed has deeper tilth to it but, at the moment at least, catches even less morning sun. I think radishes, mustards, arugula and perhaps some spinach may go there. I've ruled out lettuce for now because I don't want to feed the slugs. I'm certainly still brainstorming though. I have several areas around these beds which I have staked out for berry bushes and semi-dwarfed trees. I'm planing on filling the holes with a similar rotted wood sponge/ compost mix. I put in the first of several raised beds in the front yesterday which is where I get the most sun. If all goes according to my widely hopeful fantasy about there being some justice to this world I will be taking out a monstrous laurel and putting in beds on the naturally terraced west facing property line which gets awesome sun and has a bunch of 15 year old rotted wood chilling out half buried all ready. Finally there is a large ceder in the center of the property which I dearly love - but if taken out would free up a ginormous amount of sunlight, cease to shade out the orchard/vineyard, and provide enough wood once milled to make the repairs to the house necessary due to neglect and water damage. Just preliminary thoughts, I'm still exploring and have a lot on my mind.

I've also though about strawberries I have a couple patches around of both cultivars and wild ones. And I've entertained the ideas of trying some eastern forest species like ramps and garlic mustard but I don't want to be 'that guy' that introduces a bunch of invasive that get out of control - even if they are edible.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Today has been a nice sunny day, and everything has warmed up and thawed out from the deep freeze we had a week or so back so I spent the last hour on another experimental soil mix and bed. I'm trying to build good soils from raw ingredients.

I prepped out the site for this bed last summer. Its on the steepest bit of slope on the property I loose about 1.5 feet in height on about a 6 foot run. I prepped the site out with a hoe just chopping down all the tops of the creeping butter cup. Then, I made a semi-circle ring wall out of rotting stumps on the downward slope and put a bunch of bits of pithy cored brush in a 6 inch or so deep lattice of .5 to 1 inch thick, by several feet long branch bits. I let this sit all through the fall and winter soaking up moisture and spores. Many many spores. I came back again during the freeze last week and re chopped tops of the buttercup and smashed up the twiggage a bit. Already the nettles (which I have been purposefully spreading. Have been starting to creep in and the buttercup is making efforts to come back - but it seems to be struggling.

Today over the last hour I mixed up a soil mix to poor over it and applied it. The bed is about 8'x5'. I decided for shits and giggles to make the bed primarily out of sand. The subsoil isn't too bad but it is the clayiest soil on the property.

I put a few shovels of compost in the bottom of the barrel, about half a wheelbarrow full of sand, and then topped that with more compost and several bucked of woodchips (which have been sitting since last spring in full contact with the ground and subject to 30sih different types of spores.) I took woodchips of several types of trees from several different areas all of which had plentiful mushroom fruitings of several varieties.`I mixed this up pretty good. Then I dumped a couple gallons of a mix of about 35% clay and 65% water over this and mixed. Then I dumped 6 or so gallons of goose shit slurry into this and mixed it really good. I estimate this mix is about 40 percent OM by volume and 15-20% by weight. Then I shoveled, dumped and chopped in this mix over the lattice work of pithy carbon. I top dressed the whole shabang with a light wheelbarrow load of compost. I think the mix looked pretty good. I think I'm going to try planing leeks and parsnips here. Hopefully I'll be able to keep y'all filled in on how this and other experiments turn out.
 
David Good
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Clay and biochar together... great!

I've read (from Steve Solomon) that clay helps build long-term humus molecules... in my sandy soil, I seek out clay to add into the mix for that reason. I also mix biochar into my humanure composting system to create microbial condos. I think you're a long ways down the right track... keep up the good work and experimentation.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Whew, It's been a productive afternoon. We had a huge amount of rain last night and so I decided to go back and dig some more holes in the woods and go down to the beach and check on the bluff situation. I managed to procure in this time about a standard store bought potting soil bags volume of exceptionally rich humic alder forest soil. A large glob of extremely wet clay around the size of the blocks they generally sell in stores (slightly larger than a rectangular football) 10 gallons of bluff sand and around 20 gallons of wood char from the beach fire pit! Around 10 gallons of this is 'clean' and 10 gallons was wet and mixed and coated with sticky wood ash. I think I'll save the ashy stuff for a barasica mix.

I am about to mix up some potting soil. My thought was to use around 10 gallons of wood char, 6 cubic inches of clay, and around 3 gallons of goose shit and mix it up with water into a slurry. I don't have an aquarium aerator so I was going to use a paint mixer attachment on a drill to whip it up 2 or 3 times a day for 2 or 3 days. Then I was going to poor that mix into my sand and hand mix that and the humic wood soil tin what I am expecting to be about a 1 to 2 ratio. I know this wont be a sterile mix and I will likely have a bunch of woodland volunteers springing up but in my line of thinking that will just give me the chance to learn a few new cotyledons before pricking the unwanted volunteers out.

Anyway I think that's what I'm up to next. What say you folks?
 
Landon Sunrich
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I was also thinking of saving up the 8 bucks to buy a bag of regular potting soil and doing a side by side comparison. That sounds like fun.
 
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