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What can I do for my soil after a fire?  RSS feed

 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1320
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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More than 1 acre burned last thursday here.
Actually my zone 5. I had planned to "clean" it, but in a way that would keep carbon for the soil, not for the air!
So now I have to deal with the situation, and try to see the good aspects, first, less job and I have finally found the boundaries.

I tell you the element to help me chose the best tactic:
- It is slopy.
1 part just a little, near the road.
1 part that burned less but I do not think about doing anything because it is very steep.
Then there is the bottom with the almond trees that did not burn.
(I have a also put a pic, much more rejoincing!)

- It will not rain for the next 3 months.
- It might start to rain a little at first, but it might also start with a big big rain.
- Little soil and rock.
- I was bush and pines. I intended to remove the bush (cistus monspeliensis) so that local wild grains and legumes can grow for goats.

I have no idea of what are the main problems for the soil after such fire.
I do not either know what are the advantages.... Hope there are!

Here is what I think about for the less steep part near the road:
(the blackest pic!)

There is a little cover of ashes and char, but thin. Will it go with the wind?
I was thinking of bringing some soil from outside, just to cover the ashes.
But if I do this now, then it will stay bare until the next autumn / rain.
If I don't, is the burned crust of better protection?

I also think I would gather the stones at the lowest part, so that I can keep more soil up there.
This place is very near the place where I build sunken bed, and I have some spare stones I can add.

My goal would be to create a little pasture for goats.

Thanks for comments.
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Dave Burton
pollinator
Posts: 1026
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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The first foremost thing I would suggest is to plant ground cover on the soil so that nothing blows away in the wind. This is very important because on a slope, nutrients can and will leach out of uncovered ground. Wind and water can quickly remove soil that took years upon years to build.

Due to the nature of a fire, being combustion, a lot of organic (carbon-based) matter disappeared in smoke from your ecosystem. Depending on the exact structure of your soiƂ and the temperature of the flames, various outcomes could've happened to your soil: silicate can turn to glass, a water repellent layer can form, severe loss of soil life, etc. Here is a link to a detailed discussion on the effects of fires on soil by Giacomo Certini.
http://www.fsl.orst.edu/ltep/Biscuit/Biscuit_files/Refs/Certini%20Oa%202005%20fire.pdf

You can try speeding up natural succession by taking cuttings and seeds of local plants and planting them in the soil, or you could use it as an opportunity to begin planting what you'd like on that area of land.

Since you plan to make a pasture for goats, clover is a good plant to start with. It fixes nitrogen and makes good ground cover. Mesquite trees and hackberry shrubs are drought tolerant and can help protect and care for more delicate plants. Birds foot trefoil is a drought-resistant perennial cover crop. The most important thing is to just get the ground covered as quickly as possible. Importing soil or mulch may help, but without plants and fungi holding the soil down and together, wind and water will easily undone one's work.
 
Dave Burton
pollinator
Posts: 1026
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
109
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The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has a paper describing techniques that one can use to stabilize soil:
http://www.fao.org/docrep/x0622e/x0622e0s.htm

Since various problems could've occurred in your soil, I found a general article by the Royal Horticultural Society on soil types and how to remedy their associated problems.
http://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=179
If you need help searching for plants, the RHS has a good database to search through.

Unless you are ready to begin making a goat pasture this very moment, your native and local plants are probably the best suited for repairing the ecosystem from the fire.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1389
Location: northern California
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Have you seen what happens in your area after a burn? If not, I would plan to leave at least part of the site strictly alone for observation purposes. In climates where periodic fires naturally occur with some frequency (definitely mine, and possibly yours as well....I think we are both "Mediterranean"), there are plants, fungi, and other living things that are adapted to fires and even dependent on them.....it is not uncommon here to see things coming up and blooming after a burn that were apparently not present before, or quite rare. A lot of earthworks or other aggressive attempts at remediation might just spoil the niches for these things. Perhaps a compromise would be to do some remediation lower in the landscape, so as to catch and hold any eroding soil from above?
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Natural succession after fires in a Mediterranean climate can be a slow process, especially if you have a burn at the beginning of the dry season.

As Dave pointed out, this is your opportunity to plant cuttings of local plants that you want to encourage, but as far as seeding goes, it's probably not a good idea until the rainy season gets closer. Any seeding you do now can (a) blow away in the wind or (b) be eaten by birds. If you do any planting, you are probably going to have to come back and water them regularly over the rest of the dry season, and then they will establish their full root system over the next rainy season. What might do well now are any Opuntia species that are common to the area. They can stay dormant until conditions are wet enough for them to go into a growth phase and start rooting.

I'll agree with Alder that you might want to make some catchments/berms of brush or organic matter low on the slope to catch any soil that might be eroded by a heavy first rain.
 
Wi Tim
Posts: 63
Location: North Idaho, zone 5a
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In my climate, I would try to plant morel mushrooms on the burn.
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1320
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Thanks for these answers! I will read the pdf I have saved now.
Yes right, I cannot sow now, as I cannot water at all.
And yes, plants here are very adapted, even our pines do regrow after being carbonized!
There has been a leek of water from a pipe, and some new green is just growing there already... But will die soon as the source of water will not go on.

Yes I was thinking to stabilize downward, but you made me think that I should not put some earth upward, so that those things/seeds just waiting for the opportunity can show up! There was a lot of cistus, and nothing grows under, so I might have surprises...
Else, I know I will have "tedeera" = bituminosa, a legume, and some wild oats.
I doubt clover can resist in a shallow soil?

Another idea:
I am going to ask for cutting some damaged pines, because they would not have left that much before. I will use them in my new sunken beds, just on the other side of the road, so very near.
The idea could be to use them as well in the downward part of the less slopy area, so that any autumn rain cannot drain away nutrients!

Also, about the calcinated cistus, I think I would let them until autumn, so that they can shade, even little...
Do you think this is useful or useless because the shade will be so little? Should I cut them now, or it is equal whatever I choose?
Of course I would cut only, without unrooting.
The problem about regrowth will be the cistus, I will have to pick them out regularly or else they will invade again all.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2990
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Firstly, your climate is not unlike that of the Ausi outback, the Aborigines do burns to revitalize the land, exactly like what happened to you. If you can, I would recommend putting in some swales on the slopes to retain the soil if erosion sets in with the rainy season. Since you can't water there now, planting anything would be a stretch. When the rains come, the now dormant seeds will sprout and grow, these seeds will be from what ever was growing there before the fire. When the rains dampen the ground you could spread seed and spread seed and then spread seed. A Triple sowing will give you better coverage with your desired pasture type plants than a single sowing of seed, it also takes into consideration some of your spread seeds washing away, but with some swales in place, those seeds should stop within the swales and sprout there, making them lush spots.
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1320
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Thanks, yes I think there not much more to be done!

Now, I must say that I have LEARNT something IMPORTANT!

The left-overs after a fire are NOT ASH-GREY!
Look at the 1st pic:
They are BLACK!

A quick fire running away with the wind has no time to burn herbs to ashes,
so this means that such a fire is making ...CHAR!

If ashes were left, then it would not be as positive.
I am going to open another topic about fire versus cutting, or look if there is one.
 
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