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...
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.
thanks so much for your advice, Ken.
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.
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.
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.
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.
maybe i should look to hiringing a permie person for an hour to show me the way - anyone live in Lake County CA??
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.