OK so i am the very luck owner of a 40 acre, to be, homestead. However i have soil issues.... its woodland with black oak, holly oak and pine and bits of shrub, mainly, the soil is super dry, very red and acidic and thick with oak leaves and pine needles... i want to recondition the soil and get it to work for us. how would i do this over a, say, 2 acre plot.....
Please help.... i'm a complete novice but living my dream, along with a husband, 2 kids, 2 cows, chickens and LGP dogs....
thanks for reading and your much appreciated time.
So we are in Lake County, Northern CA, its quite mountainous here - suppose we are on a 'small' mountain! we have chickens, a cow, getting goats...i have friends who have a yak farm so poo is easy to get!!
Thank you sooooo much for your help...
I would love to pay a permiculture person but our funds need to go into the land at the moment.
With a limited view of your situation, this is what I'd do:
Build a pond as high up on your property as you can with a few water harvesting input swales to take advantage of the 10"-12" of rain that you will get before summer hits. Starting with the area around the pond, and expanding out as you can, thin out/remove the pine trees and then mulch, mulch, mulch with what ever organic material you can get. 6"-8" thick. Plant as many fast growing deciduous/nitrogen fixing trees as you can interspersed with whatever fruit trees you want. Make sure that the pond overflows into the new tree plantings. Then each year, expand this outward from where you left of the year before. If you have the ability to make more ponds, do so, and repeat this pattern across your land.
Toms advise is right on.
As you remove the old trees that you do not want, be sure to use them in hugel beds.
If you take some time and read through a bunch of the threads here you will learn so much. You may not need to pay anyone !
There are several threads here that talk about using your animals to help build the soil too.
Keep asking questions.
If you have lots of leaves and pine needles you can use the Ruth stout method easily, and if that doesn't work for you at least it's a simple starting point. Here's a video explaining the method :
That method is for annual crops, but maybe you could plant trees and grow the vegetables while the trees are small if that's what you want to do.
If you live in a forested area watch out for animals.. Deer and rabbits can kill newly planted trees and wipe out vegetables, mice can eat tubers, etc. Fences around the garden or deep trenches in-between rows of crops help. Crop choice is key if you have animals around..
If your soil is really acidic, it would be frugal to find a good PH meter so you can adjust PH without having to get a million soil tests taken. Some companies make battery free meters for around 100-130USD that can last a long, long time.
Hey Philippa I too have very red acidic soil, I live on the opposite side of the continent and in Canada to boot but I can give you some help because I have overcome some of your problems by pure luck. your forest soil is probably very poor for agriculture and lacking in organic matter more than an inch or so deep. So what you will want to do is fence off the amount of land that you would like to have in production in the next few years. clear out all the trees and any branches larger than an inch or so. you can build hugels, outside of this area but they will not be your ticket to quick productive land in this fenced area. "you will be wanting to use this in short order right?" So go buy as many wet and rotting straw bales hay bales silage bails as you can find for cheap or free. also bring in lots of leaves and greenery have a soil test done and see how much lime you need. you wont need as much as they say but apply at least a few bags.
keep your two cows in this area and feed them here daily. what you really want to happen is for your cows to tramp as much organic matter into the ground as possible piss on it poop on it and basically pulvurise this piece of land into a sad looking sight. picture a feedlot. if you could get some chickens in there too it would be a great help as well. if the area you fenced off has few tree roots it would be best to have this area plowed before you do all this. I would not recommend fencing off an area more than perhaps 150 feet by 150 feet for this to be effective with only two cows. you can move them into another section in a year or so.
Now after your animals have been in here for about 6 months to a year they should be standing almost knee high in a soupy mess. Take them out of the area for another 3 months or so and let this area dry. Till it all in several times and you will have some very good ground for the next 5 years or so. Start to implement permaculture into other areas while your doing this. and once this area is established you can start permaculture here too. If this area has always been a forest you have virtually no topsoil so this is what you will be creating very rapidly if you follow this.
hey Peter im going to post a link from Mark Vander Meer on YouTube you must listen to it totally worth the 20 min. specifically around 15 to 20 min. he explains why forest soils typically are very shallow. Basically because of the ph level being very acidic you have no microbe activity below a couple of inches, hence why in the amazon once they clear cut it and farm it for a year or two the soil is dead, there was no topsoil there to begin with, and they must move to a new area. They are using up what little nutrients and organic matter and bio activity are stored at the very top.
There is a reason why people in the past chose to farm where they did and that was basically always open areas, not because they would have to put so much work in clearing the forests,, but because the soil in the forest is useless for anything but growing a forest. people in permaculture always talk about edge, the secret isn't some magic happening with light levels etc etc. it is because the ph levels are alkaline enough for all the organics blowing out of the forest to decompose where they get trapped along the edge and you will find good soil there.
Part of the reason I understand this is because I live in an area that has a huge low bush blueberry economy. The forest are being cleared and they are letting wild blueberries take over. There is more money in other crops but there is perhaps 1 inch of organic matter once the forest are removed an a ph of 4.5 It would be impossible to plant anything else in these areas, without tonnes and tonnes of inputs per acre.
Take a walk into an old forest with a shovel and discover for yourself.
It is hard to understand you would think that in hardwood forests the trees would be buried halfway up there trunks in the best composted matter possible. Think about they have been standing there for over 100 years dropping inches of leaves every year but yet half there roots are exposed near there base.
Not to add to the topsoil amount in a forest debate.....
However I do know that in a forest (and I too live in one) the vast majority of the nutrients are in the vegetation. Being stored in the living vegetation and not in the soil at any given point in time. This system keeps these nutrients safe from being washed away with the heavy rains that most forest get. It's just a different ecosystem than a prairie, not worse just different. Haul off the trees and burn the brush and you are left with very little nutrients, as well as no soil erosion protection.....there goes your topsoil IMO.
What if one chopped and dropped most of that forest matter right where it grew....? Now you have basically the same system as the Back to Eden folks use for the best food production.
Back to the subject: I would bring in as much organic matter to place on top of the soil as possible, use what you have, but don't like and chop 'n drop it or compost it for soil covering. Leave no soil uncovered, ever! Add in sand to the clay in specific places for a faster amending, like under plants when planting, and cover with organic matter. Plant Nigerien fixers, both plants and trees. Grow a variety of deep rooting plants. And have animals free range to distribute their manures. I hope this helps give you some ideas.
Actually, many forest soils in the PNW (OR WA BC) are very deep and very full of organic material. Some are many feet deep due to conifer needle duff. Most will be acidic and fungal, and so better for trees than leafy vegies, but to say that they are just thin and poor is probably not very accurate. In the Amazon rainforest (and most tropical rainforests), the soils are very thin, and almost all of the organic material is in the standing trees, vines, etc. It's largely a function of temperature. In the really hot areas, organic material decomposes so rapidly that it is very difficult to have deep soils. In addition, some desert-like areas just don't produce a lot of organic material, so not much is found in the soil.