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Improve soil and start forest garden  RSS feed

 
Nikita Sidorenko
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Hi!

I have no experience working with plants and ground at all.
Occasionally got 800 square meters land and want to play with permaculture (really like idea of forest gardens)!

The problem is that soil is really pure and as far as I understood I must improve it.
So could you please give me some peaces of advice what steps should I make to improve the soil?
Please consider that I want to create kind of forest garden (if it's possible on so small area).

If you know useful links or books - please share with me.
My priority is to get a result(something edible) as fast as possible - to keep myself motivated.

Thanks!

PS I will get there in early March so I really need to know what work can I start doing.

Land info:

800 square meters
Temperate climate (south Ukraine). Snow in winter, hot summers.
Rains are really rare
Slope is about 10 degrees.
Soil seems to be clay. Really exhausted.
No one worked there for several years so it tends to be covered by grass.
 
Lynsey Nico
Posts: 29
Location: Copenhagen
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Hey there! I'm another European working on a Temperate-Zone Forest Garden (in Denmark). The first thing you are going to want to do is get your trees, as they will take the longest to set fruit: I have compiled a guide to a temperate forest garden: the text is in Danish, but I have all of the plant names in English and Latin, as well as pictures. You can download it here:



In creating the garden, I ordered a lot of young trees from private sellers in the UK on eBay: it's the cheapest way to do it, and there are no problems shipping within Europe. Some of them were only 3 Euro.


Books that I have found helpful:



I also have done a series of posts on the topic on my personal blog, which you can check out:



Good luck! Forest gardens are amazing, but they take a lot of work to get started.

 
Nikita Sidorenko
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Lynsey Nico, thanks a lot! I will check your articles and books!
But I still really need to find out what first steps should I do!
Should I start planting something? Should I fertilize soil in some way? I'm really stuck.
 
bob day
Posts: 352
Location: Central Virginia USA
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there are lots of things to think about here, not just rushing into planting trees-- maybe the first thing you need to do is take a breath and relax--


study the land, sit with it and observe the natural patterns, what things grow well now, what animals are present. will you need to protect things from stray cattle or wildlife? You say there is very little rain, what other water resources are available? what are the natural flow patterns, is there runoff that might be captured and used, what organic matter might be available for compost?


it is important to plant trees as soon as possible, but more important to have a plan,, 100 trees do no good if they all die from having no water, other factors such as wind, frosts, etc can all help decide what should go where.

as in all permaculture questions, the answer is "it depends"

but if you want to do something, start a compost pile, see if you can find enough organic matter to make a batch of nice soil,, no matter what else you do compost will always be welcome

if there are no neighbors to work with, establish some contour lines and dig a swale or two, start to organize your water capture and distribution

whatever legumes might be available there (clover ?) could be planted as a cover crop,add some native perrenial grasses, cut or graze them before they flower and you're making soil,, and cover crops can always be moved aside when it is time to plant a tree or bush or vine or mulch plant-- there are many possibilities and so much depends on what is available to you where you are

most of all remember the word play that you used in your post, if it isn't fun you're doing something wrong




 
bob day
Posts: 352
Location: Central Virginia USA
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oh, one book if you need to start reading is gaia's garden--there are lots of resources out there, but this one really gets you going
 
Nikita Sidorenko
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bob day, thanks for your reply!
First of all, there are no or a few cattle and wildlife.
Irrigation water is available several days per week.
I'm not sure if it's possible to get water from any other source since rains are really rare and site is situated on the high position of the hill. Not the highest but close to it. I was thinking about making sort of a drip irrigation.
Do you have any ideas of water distribution in such a dry area? Make a focus on irrigation water?

So the first steps I see:
1) Start compost pile
2) Plant cover crop
3) Think about water distribution

Does it make sense?
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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The way to bootstrap any plot of land toward improving soil quality and food productivity is to try to arrange to bring to it and hold on it as long as possible water, nutrients, minerals, carbon.....basically all of the flowing materials of nature. Swales and other earthworks are valuable, especially on barren and compacted land without trees, as they will trap water and it's content of eroding topsoil and nutrients and give it time to absorb. Especially in the early stages, way more "stuff" of many sorts should be coming onto the site than are leaving it. Compost materials of all sorts, mulches, organic matter, paper and cardboard, wood chips and brush and the like. If you are living on the site or spend significant time there, that includes the nutrients that pass through your own body! Some 70% of the nitrogen processed by the human body ends up in the urine, so by simply recycling urine onto the land makes a major contribution to fertility. Learn, too, about nitrogen fixing plants, and plant lots of them in the early phases of your project.....
 
Chris Badgett
pollinator
Posts: 289
Location: Whitefish, Montana
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Hey Nikita,

My wife Samantha, just released a course for how to improve soil organically for beginners: http://organiclifeguru.com/course/organic-soil-building-for-the-organic-backyard-gardener/

Here's the intro video:



We also have 2 online video courses on how to design and grow a food forest:
  • http://organiclifeguru.com/course/food-forest-design-care-for-cites-and-suburbs/
  • http://organiclifeguru.com/course/how-to-grow-a-medicinal-food-forest/
  •  
    bob day
    Posts: 352
    Location: Central Virginia USA
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    Hi Nikita,

    in general those could be the first steps, the first things that you could actually do on the land. But I found it interesting that you put the action items first and observation items second, which is what i tend to do as well. get out there and do something and try and figure out what i'm doing as i'm doing it.

    Really though, permaculture design at it's finest involves far less action, and a more thoughtful approach to everything that we do.

    So just sitting with the land and observing it in detail, watching what birds may be around, which way is the prevailing wind, where does the sun rise and set. and especially look at the water flow patterns,, it is unwise to plan your landscape around an artificial irrigation that could be taken away, although certainly it can be useful in the beginning, even in arid climates there are water resources that are often overlooked.



    if you haven't watched greening the desert you probably should, it is very inspirational and lays out how to build a food forest in the dead sea valley that becomes self sustaining.

    there is so much to creating these self sustaining systems that can be done before any planting is done, and sitting and thinking about the water flow is a very important part of that process

    The idea is to create a contour design for your property, which is basically taking level lines from one boundary to the other, lay them out at intervals and dig simple ditches at first, pile the loose soil on the downhill side of the contour ditch, and plant in that ,,mulch everything to slow evaporation --even though rain may be scarce when it does come it will soak into that soil and water your plantings,, this could also be an effective way to guide your irrigation water. Like Alder mentioned, the rain washing down the hill will be carrying all sorts of nutrients, and when it hits those ditches or swales those nutrients start to feed your plants and create fertility.

    I myself am only coming to understand these principles in the last year or so and i have a steeper slope than yours with similar clay and rocks and i started planting trees before i had established the water flow because i felt like i needed to do something

    now i must go back to these plantings, some may be small enough to move, but it would all have been so much simpler if i had laid out a design first and started planting second.

    so i would revise the order of the steps you mentioned
    1.observe and design to control the water flow
    2. lay out level lines and dig ditches as above
    3.plant cover crops including legume plants--nitrogen fixers
    4.plant lots of different annual vegetables for fun, put them everywhere and see what grows,

    all the time along the way build compost piles, start to design the species of trees etc that will make up your food forest, check out what other people in the area are doing, ask them what they do, what are their successes--esp ask the older people, there is a wealth of natural wisdom there that may help with your design, they may even have cuttings and trees already adapted to the area they will give you free or for low cost and keep reading and learning organic gardening techniques in general, permaculture especially

    above all else, have fun, this is joyous work

    bob
     
    jay william
    Posts: 12
    Location: Stokes County, NC
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    Run some animals over the land. They will cycle the nutrients that the weeds and other vegetation have gathered (often the nutrients the soil is deficient in) efficiently back to the land.

    Follow them with your pioneer species. Plant densely, so you can sacrifice them over the years and coppice them for mulch. At the same time, plant your long term fruit and nut species. This is time stacking. These trees will grow up amongst your pioneers, eventually taking over as you disadvantage the mulch making and nitrogen fixing bushes and trees.

    You can always take a plant out, but it's hard to plant a 10 year old apple tree.
     
    Nikita Sidorenko
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    Chris Badgett
    I’m not sure if I really need a course but thank you anyway! I will look through them.

    Alder Burns
    more "stuff" of many sorts should be coming onto the site than are leaving it. Compost materials of all sorts, mulches, organic matter, paper and cardboard, wood chips and brush and the like.

    Should I put stuff into the compost piles or just throw on the ground? Will cover crops and so on grow fine under a lot of mulch?

    bob day
    Thank you for such a great answer!
    The idea is to create a contour design for your property, which is basically taking level lines from one boundary to the other

    Can you please give more info or rephrase sentence above? I understood that I should make swales or contour ditches to catch water and also fill them with irrigation water. Anything else?
    By the way do you think drip irrigation is a good idea or it’s sufficient just to fill swales with water?

    jay william
    Run some animals over the land

    I really don’t want to make deal with animals. At least for the first time. Too complicated for me.

    Follow them with your pioneer species. Plant densely, so you can sacrifice them over the years and coppice them for mulch. At the same time, plant your long term fruit and nut species. This is time stacking. These trees will grow up amongst your pioneers, eventually taking over as you disadvantage the mulch making and nitrogen fixing bushes and trees.

    Sounds good, thank you!
     
    bob day
    Posts: 352
    Location: Central Virginia USA
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    Hi Nikita,

    Perhaps the idea of designing the property is not so necessary to start, you have a relatively small area -800s meters and if there are no valleys or natural channels where water gathers together in runnels or temporary streams, then stick with the contour ditches and swales, concentrate your plantings in the loose soil your mulching in the ditches

    if you watched the greening video that really has a good representation on a larger scale, although i believe in that one he did not plant cover crops but used plant waste mulch to cover everything and slow evaporation along with pioneer trees (hardy nitrogen fixers) planted on the uphill side of the ditches

    I'm sorry that i'm not familiar with your area to give you better advise, but the short answer is if you can get clovers, vetches, rye, really any prolific grasses in that area to grow well then use that as a living mulch.

    when you go to put in individual plants you might want to put down cardboard or newsprint,( i am wary of shiny surface colored magazines, as these sometimes have toxic inks used on them) to give your young plants a better chance at competing, although some just put in the seeds/plants amongst the living mulch and allow it to be survival of the fittest, thinking that it is better for the soil to have something healthy growing then to allow the soil to be barren with a weak plant trying to grow

    of course since you would like to see some results quickly, you might find some squashes, and lettuces, cabbages, other hardy vegetables and give them some compost



    this video and her work in general is a good guide to improving soil biology

    i really don't want to get into a lengthy discussion here when there is an expert that has written so much--in short you want your compost to be aerobic, it will inoculate your soil with microbes that will digest nutrients already present in the clay and stone and feed your plants and keep down unhealthy microbes and disease organisms

    compost needs nitrogen (urine, chicken manure, green mulch) and carbon--brown- dry leaves, sawdust, cardboard, paper --everything should be chopped up with lots of surface area and moistened well, and as it gets real hot after a couple days, turn it, keep stirring it up and aerating it every 2-3 days and in a couple weeks you will have black gold to scatter around, or make tea with or use with your plant starts

    you may not want to take a course right away, but my above description of making compost does not do enough to really teach



    watch this video before you start your pile, and really learn what he is saying there are places where you can experiment, and play, but if you want to have an early success in this process really follow his instruction. To me the soil that comes out of a compost pile is as good as vegetables in my hands,, and i have made many substandard compost piles that did not reward me let this be one of your early successes and the black gold that emerges will inspire you
     
    Landon Sunrich
    pollinator
    Posts: 1703
    Location: Western Washington
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    Nikita Sidorenko wrote:bob day, thanks for your reply!
    First of all, there are no or a few cattle and wildlife.
    Irrigation water is available several days per week.
    I'm not sure if it's possible to get water from any other source since rains are really rare and site is situated on the high position of the hill. Not the highest but close to it. I was thinking about making sort of a drip irrigation.
    Do you have any ideas of water distribution in such a dry area? Make a focus on irrigation water?

    So the first steps I see:
    1) Start compost pile
    2) Plant cover crop
    3) Think about water distribution

    Does it make sense?


    Hello Nikita,

    I have never been to the Ukraine. Could you describe what your 800 square patch looks like right now? Is is growing in grasses? What historically grows in the country side? Are you on a flood plain or former flood plain? I presume it's flat land. One thing I have been trying out and observing in my climate is to break up and scatter twigs into the lawn and then wait from the vegetation to grow up around it. Irrigate what you are growing and let the carbon twigs absorb moisture. Try to trap a layer of moisture with a dense planting. Introduce fungi. These fungi will start to break down the twigs. After you harvest what you need from the land you could try running animals over it to smoosh in the crop residue and twig carbon into the clay. If you know anyone in the area with animals you could let them use your little lot for just a week or two if you didn't want to hassle with them yourself. Or that's what I'd be thinking about doing. That and the three things you've listed. Nice to meet a Ukrainian Permie! I'm very interested to find out more about your country and what you find works and doesn't work to improve your land!
     
    bob day
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    sorry, i posted a link that i thought was geoff, but it was somebody else talking about geoffs style

    if you get a chance, go to www.GeoffLawton.com and start to watch the videos




     
    bob day
    Posts: 352
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    I found the mp3 file by geoff https://archive.org/details/PermacultureDesignCourse

    it's #2 in the list

    I like the way he teaches it, but really almost all methods are valid as long as they are aerobic--when the pile goes anaerobic it is producing bad guy microbes

    also, piles will work without turning, but they take longer and are more likely to go anaerobic

    Like Geoff says, making compost is an art, so expect that you may have to fail a few times or get results not as nice as you might like, but you should be able to use all of it one way or another
     
    John Elliott
    pollinator
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    Everything grows in the Ukraine, it was the breadbasket of the USSR. I doubt that the soil is 'exhausted', since you say it hasn't been worked for several years and it is growing grass. It may just be a little compacted, being clay and all, but if you dig in some organic matter, you should be pleasantly surprised with what it can grow. If you want it to perform really well, then dig in a lot of organic matter (in the form of a hugelbed), and it will be set in case you have a dry spell in the summer months.

    Potatoes are a good crop that you can start as soon as you get there, and they can be harvested in about 2 or 3 months, for a fast return. It depends on how far south you are. In the Crimea and around Odessa, the climate is more Mediterranean like, and you can get a faster start than if you are in Donetsk or Luhansk.

    I remember seeing a lot of wild brassicas growing in the Kerch area on my travels, so any of the cabbage family should do well for you.

    As far as trees for the forest part of the forest garden, make good use of the 10 degree slope and put some swales or catchments, and you could have an amazing variety of apples, pears, plums, pistachios, almonds, cherries, pomegranates, apricots, and more. If your land slopes down to the south, you may get the benefit of being in a warmer climate zone.

    But the most important part of improving the soil will be to dig in enough organic matter that it will hold onto the meager rainfall that comes to the steppe.
     
    Peter Ellis
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    Location: Central New Jersey
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    Some things to consider. The very best way to learn some subject efficiently is to learn directly from an experienced expert in person. The best way to do this is an apprenticeship. Where that is not an option, the next best choice is to read books written by these experts and try to follow the guidelines they give in their books. These books are designed to help people learn and to best present the information the expert has to share.

    So when you cannot get an apprenticeship, the next thing to do is get a book and read it, then follow it's advice.
    Trying lots of things on your own is probably the least efficient method. Asking for advice from lots and lots of people may be a little better, but it can be even worse, as they may give contradictory advice.
    Reading books by experienced people is a really good way of speeding your learning process and avoiding mistakes.
     
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    permaculture bootcamp - boots-to-roots
    https://permies.com/t/59706/permaculture-bootcamp-boots-roots
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