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Lasagna compost and soil  RSS feed

 
Roberto Barbagallo
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Hi everybody,

that's my first post here, so bear with me. I have friends who are not into permaculture and they use to till the soil because the say it's better to let it "breath" to be more fertile. Of course I'm a no dig fan and I suggested them to use the lasagna compost technique to increase the humus of the soil.
Their question is: once the seasonal plants have done their cycle in the soil, will it need to have another round of composting?
I couldnt answer them because I just saw this technique on a PDC and I've never used it on any long term soil. My idea is that once the permaculture starts and we add mulching to the system, the soild should keep it's humus contstant or even get better according to the ballance of guilds and dynamic accumulators. So I see the compost mostly as a starter for soil and plants, not as a constant food for them.. am I wrong?
What do you think?

cheers
Roby
 
                              
Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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I guess I look at the natural cycle of the forest around me--stuff grows, then leaves and herby stuff dies back and falls to the ground Including a continual "rain" of nutrient rich liches and bits of moss being blown out of the trees, organisms and freezing cold break down cell walls and digest stuff. Rain leaches nutrients back down into the soil. Annual plant rots dies and rot down in the soil. Then there's the mycchorizal threads between trees and plants exchanging nutrients and doing something to them chemically to make them easier for the plants to digest. SO yes, humus or good dirt does indeed build up, or rather it works its way down, because you know how you need to replace soil in a raised bed after a few years because plants are sucking mass out of the dirt and using it to grow mass of leaves and dirt--so soil doesn't build "up" so much as we think it does.

SO, if you were to dig down in a no tilled, mulched bed after a few years you'd see good tilth and dark goodness farther down into the soil than when you started.

I layer mulch throughout the year, to reflect the natural cycles.  So say through summer I'm adding chopped grass/weeds as a mulch(which surprisingly is "gone" by fall), then through the winter I add leaves, clear spots to throw down kitchen scraps, sprinkle ash over all when I clean out the stove, so it's like a continual mulching and composting right on the bed--just like in a natural environment. I try not to cover perennials(unless they are tender or sturdy like asparagus). If I prepare a new bed, I pile it high with slash(like 2 feet high) and in a year it's ready to plant. So I dont' have a separate compost pile where I make compost(which would lose nutrients to leaching unless it is kept covered).

Ash from local trees is good because trees go down far into the sub soil and bring up minerals and nutrients, which they release either by being burned up or rotting. So if your land is naturally wooded, but is cleared now and you're growing stuff on land that has been untreed for a long time, it's missing those deep nutrients brought up by trees.

For your friends question I would ask them, "what happens to a plant in the wild?" and see if they can answer that(...).  How does the woods/prairie/desert get along without us applying hordes of compost(fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides...).

SO yeah, in setting up a garden you would most likely need the compost to get going(unless you have kickass dirt to begin with). But once it gets going, it's "chop n drop".

 
Roberto Barbagallo
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Great answer!

and yeah I mostly told them to look at the natural cycles of soil in a wild environment. Of course we have the need to add to the system more nutrients (with the chop and drop mulching) due to the fact that we use the soil more intensively that the nature does if we harvest for a farmer market.
The land in question has trees and hasnt been tilled for decades and in fact many plants grow there spontaneously and happly strong, ie huge ammount of blackberries and giant mulleins. Therefore I desume the land has lots of nutrients and a good soil already. Probably due to the location being at the feet of a volcan (Etna, Sicily) we wont need to add ashes which occur naturally.
About the kitchen scraps then, you'r throwing them straight on to the veg beds that are already growing? Are you then covering the scraps with other mulch?

The lasagna bed we did at the pdc, according to the instructor, is meant to be ready in one month, probably due to the dimention of the pile (1.5m x 1m x 1.5m) but many other I read are doing it, they also wait one year.
In another place we did an experiment and we planted (wrongly without mixing it) straigh after 3 weeks and the plants are now growing happly!

cheers
Roby
 
                              
Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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hi roby

I put kitchen scraps on established beds throughout the winter, after/before the annual type veggies are growing in them. That way it doesn't matter if critters scrounge for stuff.  ALso later in the summer fruit rinds/meat and stuff attracts hornets. So during the summer I either throw kitchen scraps on the beds I am making for next year(the piled high ones), or throw them in the round compost bin that came with the house--the birds eat stuff(I'm happy to feed the birds), the hornets can eat it without getting in the way. I don't mess with that bin(probably sounds weird), it's a pain to deal with, and stuff leaches out the open bottom and since it's next to my raspberries I figure some of the "tea" gets to the roots--the bin is indeed surrounded by happy bushes and plants. And there's potatos growing in there too from rinds.

I do separate out eggshells and coffee grounds from the kitchen scraps. The coffee grounds I throw down around plants all through the year. The egg shells I save up and smash well and throw them in new beds on the bottom layer, put in the hole when planting transplants, and around perenials in the spring when there is lots of rain to leech them down.

One thing about kitchen scraps in summer when it is dry is that they take a lot longer to break down, so they would build up kinda "garbagy" and smelly--I know that's a just a personal ick factor In the winter with the rain and freezing they break down much faster. I do like to compost right on the growing space as much as possible, because of leeching(we get a LOT of rain outside of summer).

I suppose I could pick up the mulch and put the scraps underneath on the soil where it is moist. But I like the way I do it.  When I have chickens they get most of the kitchen scraps, bones, leftovers(more feeding the birds!).
 
Burra Maluca
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I think the decision on whether to use compost or mulch on your beds depends on the health of the soil.  Our soil was in pretty bad shape, but gradually we've used enough compost on some parts of it that it's 'found it's teeth' and now virtually whatever we put on it rots down pretty quickly so long as the weather isn't too dry.  The soil that hasn't been fed so well is still in the teething stage though, and if we only mulch it then the mulch sits there for ages and hardly rots down at all.  It's still doing the soil good, but ideally we'd use compost *and* mulch on those patches.  I guess it comes down to how much compost you have available until you're sure you don't need it any more. 
 
Roberto Barbagallo
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So you dont mulch everywhere? That I guess is also part of the composting, but has also other purposes.

I wonder how to organize the mulch and the composting in a large scale organic farm operation. Yesterday I watched The Real Dirt and they didnt use any mulching on the fields.  And I saw them first weeding with hands trought the smalle vegs and then, after the beds were enstablished and florishing, there were no weeds at all, which seems strange to me. I guess I would keep adding cardboard and dry weeds even on my large scale farm. Dont you? Also the cardboard mulching would be a way to recycle

Roby
 
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