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Soil compaction test and native pasture grasses?

 
Hayley Crosby
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Hi, my husband and I just bought property in McKenzie Bridge, and we would like opinions on 2 things, first how to find a test for soil compaction for planting native pasture grasses, and second a reliable source of said grasses for the Eugene area

Background: before we got the land it was logged about a year ago, the slash was recently cleared and burned leaving a flat dirt area of about 2 acres. I am familiar with permies concepts, and our goal is to have some wildlife promoting shrubs and trees with some fruiting trees closer to the house. we are in the very beginning stages of planning, but feeling pressure to get some native seed down to keep the invasives at bay and support birdlife come spring and buy is time to plant other natives. we will not be mowing the grass and may have a chicken tractor down the road but no large animals. it is flat and gets a lot of sun (for the mckenzie valley).

my husband thinks that the equipment compacted the soil to the point of needing to roto-till the top layer so the seed can be successful and we dont waste money on the seed. I think that due to the freeze and thaw this year that it would we a waste of money to till, plus all the negatives of tilling I think if we raked the seed in and then mulched over the top to keep the rain from compacting and washing the seed away that may work. then there is the issue of the rain compacting the soil further.

we both agreed that we need another opinion and some kind of objective field test what is the tolerable level of compaction for a successful grass planting? I hope you can at least direct us to some good local resources/seed sources.
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Welcome to permies Hayley.

Concentrates NW is somewhat local to you. They are in the Portland area - they just moved, so I'm not sure exactly where they are now.

I don't think they have native grasses (but their new, bigger facility is to expand what they do carry). Their prices are hard to beat, and they are real friendly to work with. If they don't stock it, they will probably tell you who does, or order it for you.

The link I provided is their retail price list. If you are commercial (or buy a lot from them), they will set you up with a wholesale account.

Do check out their prices - if you are buying a lot at once, it may be well worth making the drive.

 
Andrew Schreiber
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Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
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Hi Hailey,

I am out in Wahkiacus, WA so my climate is a little different. (colder and hotter and drier than Eugene) We have been rehabilitating an old logging skid as well.

Not sure what your over arching goal is, and where you want to system to develop specifically. However, I can speak to my experience rehabilitating compacted logging sites and roads.

There are many hardy pioneering forbs which will do well in compacted conditions. They are not "native" so I do no know if that is a no-go for you. But I am not too concerned with non natives when it comes to ecological repair.

I have used the following species as pioneers in that system with the best success. These are all very hardy, and have pronounces root systems capable of decompacting soils, and seem to prefer a compacted low-fertility germinating condition.

- Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsis)
- Alfalfa (Medicago Sativa)
- Thistles
- Chickory (Cichorium intybus)
- Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
- Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata)

Here is a pic of an almost pure stand of Alfalfa planted over part of the old skid.


Other plants which I have intentionally brought in once these pioneers did some initial work (2 years into rehabilitation) include:
- Dutch White Clover (Trifolium Repens) - transplanted established sod not seed.
- Comfrey (Symphytum × uplandicum) - root cuttings not seed
- Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis) - native grassyou can be sure that it is compacted
- California Lilac (Ceanothus integerrimus ) - native bush

You can run a "compaction test" by simply trying to dig a hole in the soil. is it light and airy? is it really hard? is there a distinct layer of compaction?

However, if it was used as a skid, then you can be sure that it is compacted. I recommend going with a mixture of seeds that have specifically evolved to fill ehe niches in compacted sites.

The list I gave above is suitable for your location, however with some research you may be able to find a community of native plants to do the job to do the job, that's great too. Ultimately, as the system develops, these plants will fade away as a mature overstory of woody perennials takes over.

If you are interested in learning more directly about what we have been doing, we will be hosting a weekend intensive course about creating food forests from a vareity of different starting points. Part of the course involves a conversation about how to guide successional processes to rehabilitate damaged land and get in up into a productive food forest.

you can see more about the weekend intensive at:
http://www.windward.org/2.0/events/permaculture_5april2014.php


 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Location: Missoula, MT
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There are certain "weeds" or plants that seem to love compacted soils and can indicate soil conditions. For example, buttercup is an indicator of damp, compacted, clay soils--if I recall correctly.

I did a site search and found these threads, too.
http://www.permies.com/t/26853/forest-garden/de-compaction-strategy
http://www.permies.com/t/29454/soil/
http://www.permies.com/t/28257/soil/boggy-compacted-rush-infested-soil
 
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