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improve drainage fast?

 
dan long
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I'm afraid i will get kicked out of the permie club house for even hinting at such a thing, but could one improve drainage in heavy clay by rototiling in wood chips?

Fukonaka would slap me upside the head for being in such a rush but say your family needs to eat NOW, not the the 3+ years of cover cropping that Sepp might use. The traditional prescription for improving drainage is tillage and organic matter. Hogh nitrogen materials break down into very very little humus while high carbon materials provide most of the humus at the end of the process (correct me if i'm wrong). I'm thinking of using a borderline insane quantity of woodchips: perhaps 6in+ then tilling them in as deep as they will go. Get the vegetables or grains into the ground and fertilize liberally and often with dilluted urine for the first year to replace the nitrogen that the chips will take up.

what are your inputs?
 
Cj Sloane
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dan long wrote:I'm afraid i will get kicked out of the permie club house for even hinting at such a thing, but could one improve drainage in heavy clay by rototiling in wood chips?


In the long run it will make things worse! The top few inches where the rototiller can get to will look fluffy but it will make the layer just below harder and less permeable.

Step back and describe your plot and what you want to grow.

Bill Mollison has said you could grow a lovely garden on concrete (or rock) so think about raised beds and let the roots of your crops loosen up the soil for you. You can plant root crops (like daikon) and if you don't harvest them they will decompose over winter and open up pathways in the soil to air & water.
 
R Scott
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Lasagna raised beds for annual garden now. Or square foot gardening while you build bigger soil in bigger areas.

Wood chips tilled in just bind all the nitrogen. Leaves you a different problem why you can't grow for three years.

Fastest cheapest way to improve clay drainage is key line subsoiling or broad fork.

 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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You haven't given enough info to provide suggestions. Size of area with water problem? Source of water? Flat or sloped? Soil profile?
 
leila hamaya
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i'm thinking sand and organic matter, like make a sand, leaf and compost mix with some local top soil screened...i would guess that sand isnt the first thing that people think of for a growing medium, but lately i have been getting more and more into using it, and some plants and trees really like it...especially where drainage is an issue.

though sheet mulch/lasagna gardening/deep mulch is probably what i would be thinking if i was you. well thats what i am thinking anyway, thats my preferred way

the issue is how to get enough stuff together at once to build up a lasagna bed. if you have a lot of wood chips already you could use that as a good bottom layer to your lasagna beds...
 
dan long
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R Scott wrote:Lasagna raised beds for annual garden now. Or square foot gardening while you build bigger soil in bigger areas.

Wood chips tilled in just bind all the nitrogen. Leaves you a different problem why you can't grow for three years.

Fastest cheapest way to improve clay drainage is key line subsoiling or broad fork.



Nitrogen binding is not a problem when fertilized regularly. I plan to use urine anyways.

neither key line nor broad forking puts OM into the soil. Lasagna beds put OM on top.
 
dan long
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Mike Haych wrote:You haven't given enough info to provide suggestions. Size of area with water problem? Source of water? Flat or sloped? Soil profile?


This is a general, hypothetical musing. I'm not looking for suggestions on my personal site.
 
Su Ba
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Dan, so this is theoretical musings. I've found that my own drainage issues were dependent upon the individual situation.

Over by my barn the problem is compaction of fill material that was silt mixed with cinder (termed cinder soil here) that had been crushed by a bulldozer repeatedly working the area. The condition was created by a previous owner attempting to make a building pad. In that the location was not going to used for a garden, I opted to dig shallow trenches and install drainage pipes. This has kept the location from flooding and being a 3" deep pond. Luckily the ground slopes away from this pad area, so the water can naturally drain away via gravity.

Part of my garden is atop pahoehoe lava. In order to solve the drainage problem so that it could be used for gardening, I brought in a skidsteer mounted hammer and punched numerous holes in the pahoehoe. That allows the excess water to drain quite nicely.

Another section that I converted into garden was a low area where the soil was comprised of decades, possibly centuries, of accumulated decomposed organic material. In heavy rains it would bog and stay that way for weeks or months. But if it dried out after a year of drought, it would be hydrophobic. It was really weird. I worked on that patch for years. Finally after digging in lots (years of work) of gravel, cinder, coral sand, chunky bone and biochar, and compost the area is acting like soil. It no longer has drainage or wetting issues.

I do not have to deal with deep soil compaction nor clay layers. So I haven't had experience trying to solve drainage issues with those conditions.
 
dan long
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Su Ba wrote:Dan, so this is theoretical musings. I've found that my own drainage issues were dependent upon the individual situation.

Over by my barn the problem is compaction of fill material that was silt mixed with cinder (termed cinder soil here) that had been crushed by a bulldozer repeatedly working the area. The condition was created by a previous owner attempting to make a building pad. In that the location was not going to used for a garden, I opted to dig shallow trenches and install drainage pipes. This has kept the location from flooding and being a 3" deep pond. Luckily the ground slopes away from this pad area, so the water can naturally drain away via gravity.

Part of my garden is atop pahoehoe lava. In order to solve the drainage problem so that it could be used for gardening, I brought in a skidsteer mounted hammer and punched numerous holes in the pahoehoe. That allows the excess water to drain quite nicely.

Another section that I converted into garden was a low area where the soil was comprised of decades, possibly centuries, of accumulated decomposed organic material. In heavy rains it would bog and stay that way for weeks or months. But if it dried out after a year of drought, it would be hydrophobic. It was really weird. I worked on that patch for years. Finally after digging in lots (years of work) of gravel, cinder, coral sand, chunky bone and biochar, and compost the area is acting like soil. It no longer has drainage or wetting issues.

I do not have to deal with deep soil compaction nor clay layers. So I haven't had experience trying to solve drainage issues with those conditions.


I always get excited when i see your name pop up in the "my posts" section. You always have really great input.
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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dan long wrote:
Mike Haych wrote:You haven't given enough info to provide suggestions. Size of area with water problem? Source of water? Flat or sloped? Soil profile?


This is a general, hypothetical musing. I'm not looking for suggestions on my personal site.



Well, I wouldn't start doing anything until I knew why there was a problem. Where is the water in the clay coming from? Is it precipitation? Is the area a low one where water naturally collects? You say "The traditional prescription for improving drainage is tillage and organic matter". Tile drainage is also used. Raised beds can also be used. If it's the clay itself that's causing the problem, then agricultural gypsum might be appropriate. I wouldn't try this without first doing a soil test. Do a total soil test since it will show you insoluble minerals as well. Knowing the soluble and insoluble minerals in your soil will allow to work out a plan for soil amendment, both short and long term. You can't start with solutions until you've mapped out the problem.
 
Peter Ellis
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It seems like you may not be considering how important the actual situation on and in the ground is to the approach to solving a given problem.

It bothers me to see "The traditional approach to", because that phrase seems to start at the wrong end of the process.

The approach to optimizing any piece of ground begins with a thorough examination of the site - not just the make up of the ground itself, but the topography, the climate characteristics - it needs to begin with a big picture analysis. From there you can work down to details, like how to deal with compacted soil, or how to address a drainage problem (that may be due to any number of conditions, but your solution is going to have to be based on an understanding of the cause).

Permaculture is this wonderful framework that helps us understand how to approach problem solving and that encourages us to use the best solution for the problem in each specific instance. It doesn't give us a tool kit and a prescription for which to use where, so much as it gives us an analytical skill set, that enables us to design the best solution to the instant circumstance. We may find there are patterns to problems and solutions, but it really is a good policy to approach each situation initially as being unique. One needs to be wary of falling into a habit of using favorite solutions, because that can keep us from finding even better solutions.

As I see it, the "traditional approach to permaculture" is to examine each situation as its own unique circumstance, with an awareness of both permaculture ethics and principles. From that overview, it is much easier to see the systemic solutions to get the property from what it is to something much more optimized toward its potential. As systemic problems and solutions become apparent, the details of executing solutions will also reveal themselves.

 
Dave Dahlsrud
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neither key line nor broad forking puts OM into the soil. Lasagna beds put OM on top


I think you might be mistaken on this one. I'm pretty sure one of the benefits of key line is building organic matter into the soil relatively quickly. My understanding is that it encourages the natural process of soil building from the bottom up by infiltrating water, and silt into the subsoil, creating pockets where plant roots can infiltrate the subsoil easily and increasing soil microbial life...thus adding organic matter to the soil.

Tilling in wood chips and dousing it with piss will most definitely add organic matter, and you may get some production. You would be looking at a pretty substantial amount of urine to ensure that you were able to soak the soil the entire depth of tilling, if we are talking any sort of substantial land area. If you were going through all that trouble why not just till in manure...OM and fertilizer? I've had pretty good success tilling in steer manure and sand to loosen up the clay soil in my urban garden plot. I realize you are just talking theoretics here, but it seems like there are better ways to accomplish your goal. Wood chips and urine just doesn't seem like the best short term solution, and far from the best long term.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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It has been my experience with clay soils (the red Arkansas and Georgia type) that cotton seed meal is a far better amendment than wood chips. I also found out the hard way that if you add sand to clay you get bricks not soil that drains. At one house I was putting in rose beds for competions and all I had was red clay to begin with. In a 4' x 20' bed I broad forked in 300 cu ft. of cotton seed meal, two 4 cu ft. bales of sphagnum peat moss and two 1 lb. boxes of bone meal. This was allowed to over winter before I started to plant the rose bushes. each year I would trowel in about 3 gallons of cotton seed meal around each bush in the spring, again at mid summer and yet again at the beginning of fall, manure tea was used once every two weeks for watering. This bed became full of earth worms before the first year was up. The bed produced many first place blooms that first year and for 5 years afterwards, at which time I left that house and the roses since the buyer wanted them.
 
John Saltveit
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I agree with Bryant. Adding sand to clay usually gives you cement. No one is saying that double digging is permanently forbidden. It's just not a good idea every year. In two different gardens, I had compacted clay, amended with toxic pesticide and synthetic fertilizers. I double dug, added old rotted wood and gravel to the base, like 1-2 foot deep, to improve OM in soil and drainage, respectively. Then I added leaves and compost as I neared the surface and planted fruit trees. They all did well. Without any amendment, there is no oxygen in the soil. Roots can't breathe and they die from diseases while drowning. After this double digging, I never did it again and the OM on the surface is brought down by worms and other critters. Don't add new wood chips into the soil, but old rotted wood has already been balanced from the Carbon-nitrogen situation and does what hugulkultur does. Make sure that you don't have separate layers of gravel, wood, leaves, compost. They have to be mixed back in to the original soil. One good ground rule with a tree is to make your soil 1/2 way in between whatever soil you're starting with and the very best possible soil for that tree. That way the tree won't sit there in his clay "pot" of nice soil that you made for him. He'll actually grow up.
John S
PDX OR
 
Tom OHern
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I would broad fork the soil, and then cover with 2 inches of manure and at least 6 inches of leaf/straw mulch. If, during the broad forking, you don't find significant amounts of worms, purchase compost worms and add around a pound of worms per 100 sqft. Do this in the fall, and your soil will be good for planting by the next spring.
 
Jeff R Hodgins
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Inprove drainage and aeration in one step by increasing water holding capacity with biochar and compost. By mixing in pulverized biochar the water will drain as deep as you mix the char. But what matters is not so much the drainage , it's the aeration effect due to adsorbtion of water by the char not to be confused with absorbtion . So your soils water holding cap will be higher with char but the water will be held in place by the cryrtal and allow air to get in. Don't forget to add raw manure to the char before aplication.
 
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