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building soil year after year

Posts: 418
Location: Eugene, OR
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Colder areas do get bigger soil buildups. It is their way of making up for the shorter growing season. In the tropics you have less soil unless you manage it carefully, but you get much, much more food and your systems will grow and establish faster. The tropics are all about groundcover, temperate climes all about soil and mulch.
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Location: Zone 9a
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paul wheaton wrote:
The general idea is that if I take steps to build the soil with organic matter, it will last more growing seasons because the microbials are dormant in the winter.  So if I put a bale of hay on the ground, it will decompose faster in warmer climates.  Maybe twice as fast.  Maybe faster than that.

Are you looking for the bale of hay to act as mulch or to act as nutrient?  If you want it to act as nutrient then you want it broken down which happens faster in a warmer climate.  If you want the longest-lasting mulch then cold temps.  If you want to accumulate biomass/turn it into topsoil, then don't you want warmer temps?  If microbes are less active, then that hay is turning into soil at a slower rate.

paul wheaton wrote:
Next, I've heard that in jungles, the organic matter is almost all in the plant life and that the soils are incredibly thin.

More than anything, I think this has to do with excessive rainfall over time.  Higher temperatures and much higher rainfall means everything gets broken down quicker.  Rocks, everything.  Continual excessive rainfall over many years leached the subsoil of most of its nutrients.  Decaying matter is very quickly broke down by bacteria and fungi that are very active in this hot, humid enviroment.  Plants have a symbiotic relationship with many fungi and quickly uptake the nutrient.  The unused nutrient is washed away in torrential rains.  This would explain unfertile subsoils and thin topsoils.

Areas with high rainfall also have acidic soils.  Most plants cannot uptake nutrients as effectively in acidic soils compared to neutral soils, so you could say in a basic way acidic soils are less fertile than neutral soils.

This is not to say that great soils cannot be made in the wet tropics.  Terra preta is often hailed as one of the most fertile soils on the planet.

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I dont know much about micro-organisms i agree with Milo in some part of the break down of organic matter mocrorganisms  put nitrogen at the reach of crops, if you dont have them and you dont have chemical fertilizer there wont be nitrogen for the crops.
Chemical fertilisers are said to do for the microrganisms of the soil, at least chemical fertilisers used wrong, to much fertiliser put on the ground becasause pepole feel that if its a good thing you can't have too much of it or maybe trying to feed the plants all in one go instead of giving them several feeds in a season. Chemical fertilisers also leave micro organism without food them without food, manure is full of organic matter.

    Too much manure can also do fo rthe micro- organisms 
      I have read that organic matter breaks down too fast in the desert so we should export our surples of cow muck to the arabs but probaly we need it too but not so much as they do. Also organic material is light and gets blown away easily in a place like a desert were there are few living plants to protect dead organic matter from the wind. 
    ¿What is the factor that makes organic matter turn into humates or humic acids complex molecules that hold lots of carbon and does not get broken down when it would be more normal for the organic materia to turn back into atoms of hydrogen and carbon and oxygen tthan into humates? I dont think scientist know that yet.

    One of the theories about tierra preta the  deep soils of Brazil is that the pottery chards in the soil and the bits of charcoal put into thses soils by those who lived there before the invasion of south america are the perfect habitat for miroorganisms and that the presents of bits of charcoal in the soil and bits of pottery is what makes these deep soils in jungle type places where normally, as Joel Hollingsworth says, the soil gets so frequently washed by the daily rains that the nutrients get washed out of it. They also say you should soak charcoal or shards in some sort of nutrient before putting them on the soil or they might suck the nutrients out of the soil at first instead of contributing to its fertility.
    All i have heard makes me think frost is good for soils it breaks them up doesn't it?
    Another idea about terra preta is that there is some type of special fungi in the soil where terra preta forms.

    One interesting thing about the Chernotzen or black soils, these are meant to be the best soils, is that they have formed in all sorts of climates, they say they exist in part of Canada and Texas as wells as in  places like Romania Ucran Humgy and in China. so it seems you can have deep soils everywhere. It seems they form where there is silt, i have also read that they form in any sort of soil.. texas and Canada that is like close to the tundra and desert or nearly desert texxas in at a very southerly llatitude. that means that very good very deep soils can be built up anywhere
  They say there are as many microorganisms in a spade full of soil as there are creatures in the world or some such, a lot any way.
Microraganisms digest food as do fungi and that digestion can mean the molecular break down of the substance they are feeding off as far as i can understand this theme and that means the cleaning up of polutants and also i have read of a bacteria that wraps up nuclear atoms and into a complicated molecule called a heme like hemeglobin and that means that these molecules will stay put and not get into the water system . 
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Location: Central Wyoming -zone 4
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economically i see a plus side to frost because fresh produce is worth more to someone who can only get it 3 months of the year than to someone who could walk to the backyard and pick fresh produce year round
other than that i have to say there are gonna be pros and cons to both areas, me i live in a cold place now, but i hope to eventually live somewhere at least semi-tropical with at least 20 in average precipitation, as opposed to the 14in average around here

another thing, water freeze and thaws in temperate zones, snow gives one hte oppurtunity to capture WAY more moisture than what actually fell by slowing the wind to make it drop(you can get a 3ft drift in some locations with 2in of snow for example), and the ground is gonna get better soaked through frost/thaw cycles (imho) and the ice will cause the moisture to stay near the surface for longer, so that by the time spring gets there than there may be more surface water than what would have been there without the frosts
Posts: 371
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
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Well, stuff called "peat" forms from different things, but usually under similar conditions. In "peat bogs" the most common contributor is sphagnum moss, which contributes acidity to the bog to make things break down more slowly. However, most of the "peaty" deep soils that form do so primarily as a result of waterlogging. Waterlogged soil prevents the aerobic breakdown of organic matter, which is why it piles up into deep soils. This also occurs in the wet countries in Africa, some of which have very deep black soils due to the copious flooding they receive every year (which can wash out roads in a day). There are also some peat bogs in warmer climates, but sphagnum moss prefers cold climates and warm climate bogs are fairly rare. Swamps in warm climates have similar characteristics.

There are other deep soils which occur in warmer climates in the US, which formed from grasslands on top of loess (glacial rock dust sediment). These soils occur in dry and often hot places which are, at least in the US, prone to wildfires due to the dry climate. These soils are interesting in particular since the deep topsoil is no more fertile or productive than the loess it formed from.

For the purpose of growing food, waterlogged soils are obviously not the most desirable, so even if you can build deep soil that way it's not something you would really want to do on purpose. There do seem to be a few patterns to the process of forming deep, fertile soils, but the processes are not completely understood.

A few things that seem to play important roles:
-Aluminum and Iron are major constituents of soils formed from granite (alfisols, ultisols, oxisols) and their activity is toxic to plants and soil life. The lower the pH of the soil, the more active iron and aluminum become, with the prime example being the ancient oxisols of the Amazon basin. Biochar raises pH which helps to suppress Fe/Al activity and when added to the rainforest clay it allows up to 27" of topsoil to form even under the hot, humid, and fairly well-drained conditions.

-Clay soils are made up of very fine particles which tend to compact and force out air, which can partly suffocate roots and soil life, both of which require air for their growth.

-Sand is very coarse and does not hold water, which is also necessary for healthy root and microbial life. It can also fail to drain and become waterlogged.

-Soils which include a large fraction of rock dust tend to be very rich in nutrients, and in technical terms they are geologically young compared to, say, weathered clay which takes many millions of years to form.

-Plant nutrient uptake is maximal for most plants when soil pH is between 5.5 and 7.

-Apparently a large fraction of soil carbon is released by living plants, rather than from dead material. Root mass also makes up half or more of the biomass contributed when a plant dies.

With favorable soil structure and chemistry, deep soils form under both grasslands and forest, although the mechanism of formation is different for each. In forests most of the organic matter comes from leaf litter and wood falling on top of the soil, whereas deep soils under grasslands form as a result of the breakdown of roots from extremely deep rooted grass and legume species. Both are economically important sources of farmland.

For impoving soil structure, diatomaceous earth is one of the best materials as it can hold pentiful air, water and nutrients, although vermiculite and certain types of biochar are similar. DE also contributes to the filtering of groundwater, probably to a greater degree than charcoal.
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