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Philippa Gaywood
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So it seems that the new on my property is dead, its like rock, red, no creepy crawlies - at all!! i need/want to plant a garden and friut trees, what would be the best thing?

i was thinking of getting hold of a lot of compost and tilling it in and then maybe putting wood chip and/or straw over the top... or green manure and not planting this season...

HELP....
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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There's hope: life WANTS to thrive in that location.
Starting with a blank slate, getting the soil conditioned will be one of the first tasks to take on. Organic matter, as much as you can get your hands on, is needed. You can put in the effort of tilling it in or let nature do that or you. Add compostfor nutrients and bacteria. Add leaf mold for minerals and fungi. Both help with moisture retention. Mulching protects the soil from the ravages of the sun and rain. If tilling is not an option, loosening the soil can be done by worms or root crops. Radish is a handy crop. They don't feed heavily, break up the surface, grow quickly, and the seed is cheap. If all you did was spread grass seed, some should sprout and begin breaking up the surface of the soil, offering shade, and converting the nutrients and minerals already in the soil into organic material. This is a slow but sure process. If you want the site brought into a high condition quickly, it will depend on how much material you add and how much effort you put in.
 
Philippa Gaywood
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So i was going to buy some compost as ours has not even started yet!! so if i put the compost on top with some leaf mulch and then seed? or the seed first then the compost , leaft mulch... I am a complete beginner but have the passion and energy to do whatever it takes to get it producing.

thanks so much for your advice, Ken.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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One method that has been used with success in generally similar conditions is to take a sort of "plug" approach.

What I mean is, you pick a spot, just a couple of square feet, nothing big. In that spot, you dig the soil and work in some compost, mulch it with wood chips, or whatever organic matter you have to use for mulch, and plant some nice permaculture plants in there, perhaps comfrey, or some other dynamic accumulator that you can use as a chop and drop mulch for another "plug" and that will give you cut and come again type growth. A few feet away, you dig another small plot and put some more plants in there, again amending the soil with compost and mulching.

These little islands will, hopefully, grow and expand, moving into the surrounding area and eventually joining up with one another. It has worked for others, it might work for you as well.

I would also consider planting the fodder type radish in the area in between the "plugs" as it could help decompact your soil, add organic matter and make it easier for the plugs to expand.
 
Galadriel Freden
Posts: 363
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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With what you have, you can sheet mulch; I've had good success with it, although if you're in an extremely dry climate it may not be as successful. My personal sheet mulch is extremely simple: I take my used chicken bedding--I do the deep litter system and generally clear it all out three times a year--and drop it about 4-6 inches deep on a bed. It's turned dry, compacted soil into black, wormy magic over winter. I imagine it would be even quicker in summer, though I should note that we get a fair amount of rain pretty regularly here, which definitely speeds up the process.

But you can use any organic material to sheet mulch, including manure, compost, seaweed, leaves, newspaper, cardboard, etc. Anything you can get your hands on, really.
 
Philippa Gaywood
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thank you soooooo much everyone. so helpful.
 
Bob Knows
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Almost any kind of organic material you can obtan free or at low cost would be good.

A few years ago in Seattle I moved into a house where the garden soil was like beach sand, all sand, no organic or clay. You could lay a running garden hose on it for hours and not make a puddle. Super drainage, not moisture holding.

I found a nearby wood sawing and milling operation where I could get pickup loads of free sawdust. Over the summer I loaded numerous pickup loads of sawdust and spaded it into my garden areas. It wasn't as good as already processed mulch but it was free, available, nearby, and in quantity. It helped a lot to hold moisture and over a couple of years it decomposed into an organic component.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1667
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I'll go with starting small. Mulch small areas really well - like 6 inches plus of material. The main thing is to cover the soil surface to a deep enough level that it stays moist for long periods. This will bring back the bugs and other critters that will till the soil for you, as well as provide shelter for your plants to establish roots. Once they are up they will start to produce their own mulch, and you can expand the area over time as you get more material.

It is better to concentrate your efforts - a smaller area mulched 8" deep will do much better than an area spread 1" thick.

Also, if there is some slope to your land look at putting some swales in. They don't need to be deep - just sufficient to break the flow of water as it sheets across the land after rain. The more you can infiltrate the better.
 
Philippa Gaywood
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the land is on a slight slope... just digging 'valleys' accross the slope? is this how to put in a swale.

maybe i should look to hiringing a permie person for an hour to show me the way - anyone live in Lake County CA??
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1667
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Phillipa, you can look at getting someone to come and help you, but far more valuable long term is to get a feel for these things yourself. No need to rush into it all at once. You may even find other permies from your area here on the forums.

A good inspirational starting spot is geoff lawton's vidoes... let me see if I can find one about swales to give you an idea.

 
Philippa Gaywood
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I have been watching Jeoff videos and reading soooo much, i think maybe too much i need to put the computer down and get into the garden..

We live and learn...

Thanks for the video link!
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
Posts: 755
Location: zone 6b
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If you can have animals, they're great at restoring fertility - I'd suggest either a movable chicken run with some straw or even wood chip bedding or maybe some pigs, also with good bedding. They'll bury the bedding, fertilize it with manure, and also in their manure are a lot of probiotics that can carry on living in the soil.
 
Philippa Gaywood
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how do i plant seeds though mulch?? i get you can make holes for plants/seedlings but seeds??
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I'm pretty new to this as well, but in my short experience, I've found that if the seed is in an area of decomposition with moisture, and isn't kicked around a lot, it will sprout and do just fine. My seeds haven't needed to be all the way down to 'soil' to sprout and survive. I don't know if my germination rate is high or low, but it's been good enough for me . My mulches are averaging about 4 inches deep right now.
 
Philippa Gaywood
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so put in the seeds before the sheet mulch?
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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My understanding (and how I've use it) is that sheet mulching is ideal for laying a new garden on an existing bed of life that you want to go away (usually grass, IME). If your ground is as dead as you describe, you don't need to use sheets to prevent grass or bindweed or whatever from growing through it. If you do put seeds below sheets of cardboard, they will almost certainly die.

I am actually doing some sheet mulch seeding and my plan is to stab a hole in the cardboard right below where I plan to seed. So right now from soil up I have grass> cardboard> compost. When I take my seeds out, I'm going to take a screwdriver with me and stab a hole or two in the cardboard and drop the seed right above the hole and cover it up. If all goes well by the time the root is getting big enough to be choked by the cardboard, the cardboard will be broken down enough to just move out of the way of the root.

My suggestion was to just put down organic material (leaf mold, wood chips, compost, but not sheet layers) and if it is moist and decomposing, push your seeds an inch or two into the good and mushy parts.

 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I want to make a note that my understanding of the term sheet mulch appears to differ from Ms. Freden. I've always used it to describe mulching that starts with paper, cardboard, or other sheeting type materials, then topped with some other organic material. If this caused any confusion I apologize.
 
Galadriel Freden
Posts: 363
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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Charles Tarnard wrote:I want to make a note that my understanding of the term sheet mulch appears to differ from Ms. Freden. I've always used it to describe mulching that starts with paper, cardboard, or other sheeting type materials, then topped with some other organic material. If this caused any confusion I apologize.


I think we're talking about the same thing, really. I think the basic premise of sheet mulch is to use some sort of organic material as a barrier, both to plants underneath it and plants attempting to grow into it; I think usually this is accomplished with cardboard or paper as you say. A lot of people put extra organic material such as manure or compost under or over (though I think usually under) the cardboard, and then some sort of more attractive mulch on top (like wood chips or straw).

You mentioned that also that the cardboard may not be necessary with really "dead" soils, as nothing is growing, so nothing needs to be suppressed: completely agree. I would just pile on all the organic material I could get my hands on, as thickly as possible. Cardboard too, if I had it.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1667
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Phillipa - regarding planting, I would just get your mulch down nice and thickly and let it do it's job for a few months. Once the soil has started to recover a bit you can then scrape the mulch aside and plant into the soil beneath. The mulch should have protected the soil surface so it will be more moist and looser than previously - you may even have worms beginning to make a reappearance.

In the meantime you could start some plants in pots to transplant out later - focusing on nitrogen fixers (lupins, clovers, n-fixing trees like locusts), plants with strong taproots like comfrey and thistle family (if you want edibles go for the globe artichoke). Some plants can be sown by scattering seed directly on to the mulch, but they will do better once the mulch has been in place for a while and started breaking down.

The good thing about having such bad soil to start with is that you really can't make it any worse. Get hold of as much organic material as you can and just chuck it down there. Cardboard sheets from local businesses, woodchips, newspaper, food waste from restaurants... lay it out and let it decompose in place.

I would encourage you to invest in some swales early on - much easier to plan for this from the start than to build in once trees are in place. Even small swales can help get your trees established - we had to nurse a lot of trees through a hot summer last year and a miniswale next to each one let us dump buckets of water into holes to soak in to the root zone. Trying to get it to infiltrate by sprinkling on the sloping surface was hopeless.
 
Mike Wong
Posts: 36
Location: Southwest UK, Maritime Temperate climate, Zone 9, AHS Heat Zone 1
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You could do worse than putting a few layers of activated biochar in the sheet mulch too
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You want the underlying soil to become active so DO NOT put down a layer of solid cardboard.
You want something that roots, shoot, water and mineral can access easily.
Your seeds will not really grow thru the mulch. You are going to have to make holes in the mulch to plant seeds.
Another option is to just put down compost only and plant the seed into the compost.
If you want to use mulch you can then do alternating strips of mulch.


I currently have a similar problem right now.
My options are to use a living mulch of clover+daikon radish and others or use wood chip.
My plan so far is plant clover+daikon/etc now i the spring. Then in summer and 1 inch of woodchip.
Hopefully by spring next year the woodchip will have all decomposed and I will repeat the process again.



 
Bippy Grace
Posts: 13
Location: Elgin, Texas 581 ft elevation/ zone 8b/ 34 inches avg. rainfall (hah)/ Mediterranean climate
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When I have had bits of soil like that, the thing that has worked best for me is to call a tree trimming company and get them to dump their trimmings in my yard. Rake it out about 6-10 inches deep, water it deeply once, and if you have time, go to the local grocery store and buy mushrooms and bury them all around the mulch, or buy some dowel spawn online and toss the dowels around.

While you work on other areas of your land, for the next few months the wood chips will start to decompose, and the mushrooms will break down the long fibers of the wood. Once the mushroom spawn is everywhere, there will be something for the other beneficial soil life to eat, and you'll start seeing worms, springtails, and other lovely creatures. In 4-6 months you'll have a rich layer of this beautiful brown stuff sifting down from the wood chips to the layer between your rocky soil and the chips, and that stuff is wonderful to plant in. When the rain comes, instead of pounding the soil and washing away that layer of beautiful brown soil, it'll soak into the wood chips and stay moist, which will slowly, slowly sink into your soil, softening it and bringing in the nutrients from the mulch.

At my last property, I did that to the most degraded, crappy soil I had, which was sun-scorched, cracked (you had to watch where you stepped, you could twist an ankle in some of the cracks), parched, and eroded. In 6 months it was absolutely gorgeous.
 
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