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Peace Corps project- pottery soil improvement

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Hello all,

I’m a US Peace Corps Volunteer working in Small Business Development in Morocco. I work in a small town with a group of local artisans- potters, who create utilitarian cookware (tajines) and water vessels by traditional methods of pottery throwing and firing.

One of the main issues facing the potters is that of soil quality. The potters have a designated area of land on the mountainside from which they remove soil for sifting, processing into clay, and molding on their throwing wheels. Many of them, however, are in disfavor of this area of land, claiming the soil to be of poor quality, and opt to take soil from protected areas-- a practice that has negative environmental and political consequences.

I’ve been brainstorming for ways to revitalize the soil in their designated area of land, to implement systems that will increase soil quality while making use of local and readily available resources. I am not particularly well-versed in this field, though from the preliminary research I’ve done there seem to be a number of possibilities.:

-cover crops (clover, oats, rye, turnips, fungus)
-erosion barriers
-silt from the local irrigation canals (introduce nutrients)
-manure (lots of chickens & donkeys here-- microbial activity, increased fertility)
-introducing chickens to the area
-charcoal and ash (to increase carbon)
-dividing land into sections to be used in cycles—one area will be cultivated with the above elements until it is ready and the soil can be harvested

I currently don’t have specifics such as what qualities they are looking for in the soil, or what the current designated area lacks that they are able to find elsewhere. I don’t know the exact area of land in terms of size, though it is large, an entire hillside at the foot of a small mountain, and is terraced with olive and almond trees. The soil is dry and very rocky. I also don’t know how receptive the locals would be to this idea, but part of the plan would be to find and bring in someone willing to give a workshop and help to implement some beneficial techniques.

I’m curious what suggestions anyone would have for the improvement of the soil in this area, thoughts, or any ideas whatsoever regarding such a project.

Posts: 3611
Location: woodland, washington
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you've got some good ideas there for building soil and they may very well benefit the local ecosystem.  unfortunately, none of them will create any clay, which is probably all that your potters are interested in.  I should mention that I know next to nothing about pottery, though.
Posts: 240
Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
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I am confused.

Is the designated area supposed to be for collection of soil for use in pottery or for growing?  It sounds like you are talking about a collection area for pottery soil.  If that is the case, it is a matter of which soil contains enough clay with little silt, sand, and gravel.  Adding organic matter and such won't improve soil with respect to making pottery. 

Sometimes you can mix marginal soil in quite a bit of water then let it settle.  You then have to scoop the clay rich soil from the top of the settled material (the sand and silt sinks first).  This is a pain and it requires large vessels of water.  I can imagine this additional processing would not be viewed favorably when addequate soils can be found in other places. 

Can you identify and designate other areas as collection areas?

The natural processes that convert aluminosilicate minerals into clay minerals operate on timescales that prevent us from replicaing (besides time, it requires a lot of water).  I think you are stuck with either separating the clay from the low quality soil (additional processing) or finding better soil.
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Location: Tonasket washington
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for growing soil

i like the chinese way of doing part of it. they use there old earthen ovens as a soil; amendment. every year or two they build a new oven. the old one is crushed and mixed into the soil. 

for pottery soil

settlement tanks are the only way i can think of or find a place with better clay. I would bet that in your area there are clay beds that are not protected it will take time to find them however it may be worth it to do a search.

a piece of pipe about 4 feet long with a few teeth on the end and a good strong handle can make a core sampler  (build a ram rod so you can push the core out) wetting it as you take a core will make it easier. where you have clay there was once water so you can look at the terrain and find the places most likely to have clay deposits.
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