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Are soil amendments necessary?  RSS feed

 
                            
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It seems that one should be able to start and maintain a permaculture garden anywhere without soil amendments. If plant species are chosen carefully, can't the plants do all the work, so that no matter how acidic, phosphorus-deficient etc. the soil, it will be healthy and productive in a few years?

I'm interested in a discussion of the usefulness of external soil amendments. Thanks!
 
                              
Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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I do think yes, once a garden is established it can certainly run as a closed loop.  You can add amendments here and there to adjust for things certain species like--for instance more acid for berries, or added calcium for vigorous tomatoes and avoiding blossom end rot.

BUT, when first developing the garden, you need to fully understand the native soil make up, figure out how bad it's been "ridden hard and put up wet", and then you can add amendments which will save time in getting the soil back to equilibrium. Nature can do this quite well all by itself of course, by the succession of weeds etc, but that just takes more time. The gardener can cut the time by smartly adding amendments after careful consideration.

The careful consideration part is key. I have clay, acid soil. For years I tried the knee kick wisdom of "just add compost".  Stuff just didn't thrive. I got HUGE results when I did reasearch on how my soil was made up, and what the natural processes were(like there used to be fires going through leaving ash). I quit adding/tilling in compost, and started throwing ash down and mulching and letting the mulch do the compost thing naturally, adding eggshells for extra calcium with vegetable starts, and QUIT TILLING. The difference is quite amazing.

I think Fukuoka also says if the land is depleted, go ahead and give it a jump start with what it needs to prime the pump. The important thing is to address the plot individually, not throw stuff on it in a general one size fits all manner.

For instance, re the nature's timetable thing, I live next to managed timber lands in various maturities. I would say that after a clear cut(done under old methods which included herbiceides), it takes about 30 years to get the soil back into better shape from being tilled and baked--it's gotten a good start and things really start to come back in and take off(the "old growth" species). Now the timetable is shortened because of different harvesting and recovery methods afterwards.
 
Emil Spoerri
pollinator
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I believe that manure is very important for preserving and improving the consistency of soil. I don't think human manure is enough, I believe for any no input system to work, 1 soil can't be cultivated or tilled and 2 that there has to be plants and animals.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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i think it depends on how patient you are, and what you plan on growing or how you plan to maintain/use the land. carefully selected amendments help(hopefully they are local raw materials), but there not 100% necessary. so the main issue is time. and to me it can be a difference of 2-3 years, or 5-10.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
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Location: Oakland, CA
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One can also find ways to attract wildlife that bring with them elements the soil needs. For example, I've read that a bat box can be very helpful for the soil, as well as knocking back the population of mosquitoes.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
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Location: PNW Oregon
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tropical - your question here is the foundation of the discussion about the Book Gardening West of the Cascades.  Apparently West of the Cascades means mineral depletion and the author of that book says you have to amend in order to grow vegetables.  In addition he points out that amending with local mulch materials will also be low in the necessary minerals - sigh.....  If your talking a mineral depletion a closed loop is going to be tough.

So like wyldthang said it's all going to depend on your area, your soil and it's issues. 
I'd like to think that there is a natural solution for every problem.  Maybe in my area it's hauling in seaweed.

Great Topic . . . .
 
                            
Posts: 126
Location: Ava, Mo, USA, Earth
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Decades or centuries maybe, in years no.  If you don't have phosphorus, for example, you just don't have it.  It has to come from somewhere.  If you are relying on wildlife to carry it in, it will take almost forever.  If you are hoping deep roots will find some "somewhere down there," you will have to keep the plants healthy enough for the roots to make it that deep, and depending on what's missing they may never find any.

If there is enough calcium and enough organic matter, the pH will take care of itself, eventually.  But that can be done by rearanging what's there.
 
Fred Morgan
steward
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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If you have only rock, I sure hope you have centuries to make soil...

You are trying to have plants that need soil, and good soil.  It is also easier to maintain, than create. Nature does just fine creating soil - but her time scale is a bit different than ours.
 
                              
Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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Jami McBride wrote:
tropical - your question here is the foundation of the discussion about the Book Gardening West of the Cascades.  Apparently West of the Cascades means mineral depletion and the author of that book says you have to amend in order to grow vegetables.   In addition he points out that amending with local mulch materials will also be low in the necessary minerals - sigh.....  If your talking a mineral depletion a closed loop is going to be tough.

So like wyldthang said it's all going to depend on your area, your soil and it's issues. 
I'd like to think that there is a natural solution for every problem.  Maybe in my area it's hauling in seaweed.

Great Topic . . . .



That book was indeed very helpful to me, *but* going back to knowing where you are--"west of the cascades" includes a LOT of different soil types. The author of the book was farming on historical forest land up in the hills(similar to my situation, that's why his information helped me so much, it was like I was next door to him.  I also have a very early edition so have no clue how he changed later editions). Anyways, WEST means anything from rocky volcanic pumice soil to the silty savannah/prairie Willamette Valley(where most farming is), to the forested basaltrock/ clay of the coast range. And then you throw in variance in climate. And then elevation (1000 feet is a huge difference from the 100 ft of the Willamette Valley floor).

Yes, the forest is very fertile and supports a huge amount of biomass, naturally. BUT you interupt that cycle of raining leaf litter and rotting trees, clear cut the land and plant monocrops the soil is going to rebel. Put the cycle back in motion and it literally blossoms!

 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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Alot does depend on what you want to eat/grow.Here at my place,if a person wanted to eat cow parsnips ,nettles,or salmon berry shoots for their vegetable matter intake ,than No,you dont need to add /return anything.If a person wanted to grow nutrient demanding annuals for their vegetative matter,than yes(barring living on the primo soils)you may have to add stuff.Perhaps nature adds stuff for you like on a rivers edge.Annuals are bred in high nutrient available enviroments so animal fertilizer might be neccessary.That is the main reason I gave up on most annuals.I had worked on various organic farms and found they add blood/bone/feather meal from factory farms or else manure with dewormer/medications/ecoli also potentialy included.
 
rose macaskie
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I think kick startig is a good idea adding fertilizers lime whatever to get the plants growign maybe if its salt in hot places its is salt because  of too much fertiliser for a dry plaace but other wise kick start it.
  some one says you should not brign in organic matter from someone elses land. I have falt that and thought about it and my answer is we want to spread the world that you can grow without harmful additions of chemical fertiliser and so the sooner that message gets carried to others the better and buying what people think they don't want and then hopfully doing well with your plants with the additions of their vegetable matter to the soil would be a good way of making them covet their own vegetable matter.
Also you want to kick astart you own production, when your soil has betterd you can produce mulch for others remember you debt and try to make it up.
  Vegetable matter must have chalk in it as well as breaking down into absorbable nitrogen
The first farming book i bought with a preface by the famouse american soil preserver said that if you grow crops, say maize that grows big and takes up a lot of nutrients and then you harvest them and take the corn other farms to feed factory s hens and the stalks, shredded say, to feed cattle, then the minerals that the plant has taken from the soil go to some other place while if the plant grows on your land and dies and falls where it lives any minerals it takes up get returned to the soil, I took that to mean they did contain chalk also the consideration that cows milk is full of chalk made me believe plants take up chalk.
  I suppose weak hay is just less hay for acre, it still has chalk in it just not so much. All rocks have chalk in them though obvioulsy the white cliffs of Dover have more chalk than granite tors Look up chalk in google .  Fungi does dissolve rock, your land has to have chalk on it that plants can dissolve  given time to dissolve it . Still i would kick start it so it started to have things that dissolve rock with a feed of lime  if i could, and if I had not got caught up whatching how the land changed on its own. I would not chalk it up if i wanted blueberries though . agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
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  Tropical. They do say that jungle soils are very short on nutrients because it rains so much that the nutrients get washed out of the soil. I don't know how far that gets inmproved when you have lots of vegetable matter in the soil to absorb and retain water and minerals. I suppose jungles have lots of vegetable matter themselves . Maybe many of our food crops are especially hungry for nutrients.
  Sand is the other type of soil that lacks nutrients because water washes through it so easily washing the nutrients with it. The more clay the more nutrients the soil retains. Too much clay though is soil with too little oxygen in it that gets water logged untill you get lots of roots and organic matter into it.
    Maybe you have to grow lots of leguminous plants that produce nitrogen in sandy soils. In sandy soils, like in the moors in England, broom, a leguminous plant grows if the place is left wild. Broom, robina false acacia, clovers alfa alfa, tamarind, peas and beans for example. agri rose macaskie.
 
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