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Over-fertilizing soil  RSS feed

 
Kerstin Mengewein
Posts: 8
Location: Almere, The Netherlands
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Hi guys,

hope you can clear things up for me.
I have been reading about soils and fertilizing, have asked my PDC teacher, but still I am left wondering about this topic.

If I want to grow peas and beans which do need poorer soils what's the use of mulching, irrigating with compost tea and so on, all to improve my soil and fertilize it if they won't grow there? This question the other way round: If I improve my soils as everywhere discriped in permaculture books doesn't this mean that I will eventially develop soils that I won't be able to grow beans and peas in?

The question is about the concept of over-fertilized soils that I don't get. In my understanding every plant root looks for food and takes in nutriens as much as it wants. It's not that the plants are force-fed, right? So why wouln't beans and peas (and other plants of course that like poorer soils) grow in my good soils? Is it like a villager comes into a major city and doesn't feel comfortable even though he is not forced to interact with everybody? How do you guys then grow such plants, do you leave some areas of your garden bed "poor"?

Thanks for helping me understand soils better =)
Regards from the Netherlands,
Kerstin
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9690
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I would alternate growing legumes with growing plants which require more fertile soil. This is the classic rotation of crops, in which legumes are grown one season (or year) and grain the next.

 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Intercropping with plants that require more nitrogen can work well.

 A mixture of corn and beans is one common example. Corn hogs up available nitrogen. The bean pretty much has to make its own.

 Perennials can be used as well. Autumn olives produce nitrogen. Grapes use it up. Together they make a good mix.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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It seems to me, that adding mulch to a garden, or improving the soil is an industrialized activity that grows out of an "industrialized mindset". By that I mean, industry and commerce teaches us that we aught to be buying things, or collecting things to add to our soil to make it better. We mine the rest of the world of organic matter (and make the soil there poorer) in order to enrich one small garden plot. I don't much subscribe to that theory.

By promoting the idea that soils should be rich, industrialized farming has convinced people that they aught to be changing their soils to make them richer, and buying stuff, or expending labor to make it happen. And in so doing, the seeds that the industrialized farming world is producing have come to require those nutrients to be readily available in large quantities.

I take a different approach in my garden. I don't bring in external inputs. I select for plants that thrive in my growing conditions without poisons, or fertilizers, or mulches. I minimize the amount of labor and cost that would otherwise be required to apply the mulches, fertilizers, and sprays. There is a vegetable farmer nearby that has huge expenses for inputs to his farm for seeds, poisons, fertilizers, heating/cooling the greenhouse, etc... I have zero expenses for those kinds of things. I often wonder, "Who is better off?".

In my climate, the limiting factor for plant growth is water. The next most limiting factor is freezing temperatures. Far down on the list of limiting factors is not having enough humus in the soil.

To me, it seems like corn is a crop that adds fertility to the soil... That is because I don't take the stalks out of the garden. They get tilled right back in where they grew.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9690
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
They get tilled right back in where they grew.


See, to me tilling is an industrial activity, more than mulching. And irrigating, kind of industrial. I guess it depends on what you're used to doing, how industrial it seems....
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
They get tilled right back in where they grew.


See, to me tilling is an industrial activity, more than mulching. And irrigating, kind of industrial. I guess it depends on what you're used to doing, how industrial it seems....


Yup. I opened myself wide open to that one... In my world view, agriculturalists were tilling the ground and irrigating for 10,000 years before the advent of industrialized agriculture. I am not convinced that it is right and proper for humans to be living in deserts. I am such a study in contrasts and selective vision... My life is full of contradictions and compromises... Oh well, I was brainwashed by my family and society, and I'm an old man already. So set in my ways. I make little changes here or there, but the underlying program still runs my life. I just can't envision how to grow annual vegetables without cultivating, while still getting enough productivity to make it worth while. Large quantities of mulch are not a viable option in the desert. I can envision growing orchards without soil cultivation. I don't know what I'm doing in a permaculture forum, but here I am, and a pollinator on the forum to boot. Such delicious irony.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9690
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Yes, we should all be in the ideal climate, that's for sure! Could be kinda crowded, though...

Glad you're here on the board, Joseph.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
Posts: 6141
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My business creates many products that are useful as mulch. Once it's on my truck, I have a choice. I can take it to the branch dump or take it to the farm.

 If I'm planning to go to the farm anyway, then this is the most environmentally sensible choice,  since it involves no additional driving.

I avoid tillage because the soil contains lots of rock.
 
dan long
Posts: 272
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Kerstin Mengewein wrote:Hi guys,

hope you can clear things up for me.
I have been reading about soils and fertilizing, have asked my PDC teacher, but still I am left wondering about this topic.

If I want to grow peas and beans which do need poorer soils what's the use of mulching, irrigating with compost tea and so on, all to improve my soil and fertilize it if they won't grow there? This question the other way round: If I improve my soils as everywhere discriped in permaculture books doesn't this mean that I will eventially develop soils that I won't be able to grow beans and peas in?

The question is about the concept of over-fertilized soils that I don't get. In my understanding every plant root looks for food and takes in nutriens as much as it wants. It's not that the plants are force-fed, right? So why wouln't beans and peas (and other plants of course that like poorer soils) grow in my good soils? Is it like a villager comes into a major city and doesn't feel comfortable even though he is not forced to interact with everybody? How do you guys then grow such plants, do you leave some areas of your garden bed "poor"?

Thanks for helping me understand soils better =)
Regards from the Netherlands,
Kerstin


When it is said that legumes (beans and peas) prefer poor soil the meaning is probably more "low nutrient" (nitrogen specifically) soil than "poor soil". there are more factors that determine what makes a "fertile" or "poor soil", not just nutrient content, so i think the literature you are reading is using too broad a term.

When beans are grown in high nitrogen soil, they produce more leaves and fewer beans. They will grow just fine, but they wont produce what you want. Growing beans in a plot that previously grew nitrogen hungry plants is solid advice as is growing them in a poly culture with nitrogen hungry plants. You are unlikely to have any problems with excess nitrogen so long as you are not fertilizing immediatly before or while your beans are growing.

As for beans "growing better" in poor soil, i have some armchair theory about that one. Plants all have a niche. Plants that "prefer rich, well drained soil" specialize in bursting from the ground and quickly shading out competition. Plants that prefer "poor soil" dont need to grow so quickly because poor soil has less competition. By growing where other plants do not, they do not need to evolve traits that make them good competitors. So, while legumes evolved to grow in nutrient poor soil where they wouldnt face competition, then will probably grow just fine in "good soil" (assuming there is no excess of nitrogen) so long as you, the gardener, are eliminating the competition for them with mulch, cultivation and weeding.

To make a long response short: dont worry about it. You are not going to make your land so rich and fertile that you wont be able to grow beans there.
 
Kerstin Mengewein
Posts: 8
Location: Almere, The Netherlands
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Thank you, dan long, this was a very nice answer to my question! *happy*

First, the literature that I read was gaia's garden, predominently. Certainly toby hemenway explained everything correctly so I guess I din't use the right words. I am still just at the beginning of my permaculture studies.

Second: The impression I(!) got in this book though was that the more fertile and richer your soil the better. Without any exception, pretty much like a principle (if not even a dogma). I understand the concept of mulching, composting, enriching soils when you start with a garden. Most likely you'll have to recover the land from former use. This is why you should enrich soil. And in a well established garden design you compost right in place and that's mostly it. But still, in this well established garden, with rich soil and everything, how would you grow beans? Wouldn't the conditions for my beans be unsuitable pretty much everywhere because of my mulching, my in-place-composting, creating compost tea when it rains and so on, my not-disturbing-the-soil-policy?

Also I want to say that the place where I grew my beans this year was in the corner of a raised bed, totally no competitor plants around. The raised bed was filled with 4 layers, on the bottom with branches, then a layer of lawn from the place where we build the raised bed, a layer of relatively fresh horse manure, then the top layer of good veggy garden bed soil I purchased from the store and finally I mulched with wood chips and shavings from the guinea pig cage (full with their manure, too). So I think I've got nitrogen rich soil underneath and predominently carbon (full with mycelia and fungy!) on top. Could it be that this is the reason the beans didn't really grow there and were full with black aphid? Had I created an excess of nitrogen in the soil? Is it then that it's never a good idea to grow beans in a newly build raised bed? Well, this particular one was already 2 years old by the way but still I guess there was a lot of nitrogen left...


And about my initial question "Over-fertilizing":
Does this term only apply to plants growing in the wrong spot? Like when there is too much of nitrogen? That's what I understand from this anyway. I am still left with this question: As plants are most likely not forced by anyone to "eat" all the nutrients available what is the concept of "over-fertilizing" a plant?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2286
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
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Kerstin Mengewein wrote:Hi guys,

hope you can clear things up for me.
I have been reading about soils and fertilizing, have asked my PDC teacher, but still I am left wondering about this topic.

If I want to grow peas and beans which do need poorer soils what's the use of mulching, irrigating with compost tea and so on, all to improve my soil and fertilize it if they won't grow there? This question the other way round: If I improve my soils as everywhere discriped in permaculture books doesn't this mean that I will eventially develop soils that I won't be able to grow beans and peas in?

The question is about the concept of over-fertilized soils that I don't get. In my understanding every plant root looks for food and takes in nutriens as much as it wants. It's not that the plants are force-fed, right? So why wouln't beans and peas (and other plants of course that like poorer soils) grow in my good soils? Is it like a villager comes into a major city and doesn't feel comfortable even though he is not forced to interact with everybody? How do you guys then grow such plants, do you leave some areas of your garden bed "poor"?

Thanks for helping me understand soils better =)
Regards from the Netherlands,
Kerstin


Hau Kerstin, Do not think that just because you are growing Nitrogen fixer plants that this means they don't need Nitrogen in the soil to grow well. While it is true that beans and peas grow well in poor soil, they also grow well in good, nutrient rich soil. In fact you can get bumper crops of beans and peas by growing them in such an environment. Most people think of beans and peas (nitrogen fixing plants for sure) as good to grow in nutrient poor soil, this is actually not true, they will grow in such soil but they will thrive in better soil. When you plant these crops they form nodes on the roots that contain bacteria that fix the nitrogen found in the soil into usable forms for the plant. It is only when the plant dies that this nitrogen becomes available for other plants, through the process of decay.

Over- fertilized soils tend to be those where man made chemical fertilizers are used in an indiscriminate manner. If you are nurturing your soil, there will be balance within the soil, the microbiology of the soil will be rich and plants growing will thrive.
Some times you find people who have become overzealous through the acquisition of new knowledge and they approach their new field in the same manner that a fresh resident doctor will, they know it all, and their way is the only way. This thinking soon becomes tempered by their own observations but it takes time for them to realized that knowledge is not synonymous with wisdom and experience. those come with many years of experience.

I have a friend who has recently completed his PDC, he is amazed at how well my farm produces because, according to him "I do everything all wrong". What I do is based on 40 years of my own scientific research tempered with eons of knowledge passed to me through the elders. I am still learning and I will always be learning, through experimentation with solid observation and note taking in journals. These are the tools of good horticulture methods.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 874
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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There is a reason why permaculture comes from Australia. And why aborigines did not do agriculture. If Joseph would have his farm in typical Australian soil he would possibly wheep all day long.
American soil is one of the best world wide (at least what I know). There is a reason why most cultures has farm animals apart from the milk and the meat.
Is putting muck on the land bringing something from outside? Or using sawdust in the compost rather than bringing it to the tip? Or what to do with woodchips, true a sustainable society does not produce woodchips, but woodchips are procuced and it helped my "soil" so much. We're not sustainable and collecting the remains of the industrial society.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2286
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Angelika Maier wrote:There is a reason why permaculture comes from Australia. And why aborigines did not do agriculture. If Joseph would have his farm in typical Australian soil he would possibly wheep all day long.
American soil is one of the best world wide (at least what I know). There is a reason why most cultures has farm animals apart from the milk and the meat.
Is putting muck on the land bringing something from outside? Or using sawdust in the compost rather than bringing it to the tip? Or what to do with woodchips, true a sustainable society does not produce woodchips, but woodchips are procuced and it helped my "soil" so much. We're not sustainable and collecting the remains of the industrial society.


Most of the original peoples did and or do practice agriculture using similar methods, it does not matter where on the earth mother they are located.
America has many different soil types, mostly it depends on where you look or live, high desert, stony clay, through to rich loams, all can be found and all have been utilized for planting.
Australia also has some diversity of soil types, as do all other places on the planet.
It is how we choose to steward the land that determines how well the soil will live or how tragically the soil will die and become dirt.

Nature uses animals for the fertilization of lands, she also uses rotting trees, grasses die and decompose as to broad leafy plants.
Roots delve deep or shallow, bringing nutrients up from the depths or holding them in the easy to get to surface layers.
All decaying plant and animal matter could be considered chemicals, but these are naturally occurring chemicals, which have different composition than anything put together from pure raw chemicals in a beaker or reaction chamber.
It is my belief that when we follow along with the original design that Our Earth Mother developed and uses, then we are doing things the right ways.
It doesn't matter if you are bringing in materials like wood chips, they come from the earth as wood, which will decay and work to build soil out of dirt.
I live a sustainable life, I do create wood chips and sawdust which come from the acts of gathering fire wood, making houses, barns and other out buildings.
My animals, which are grown for food as well as other reasons, fertilize the soil, break up the soil surface and crop down plants whose roots sometimes rot (if the plant does not survive the grazing).

My assessment of permaculture is that we mimic the methods Earth Mother uses and teaches those who take the time to observe.
This is not the view or practice of those following the "Modern Agriculture Methodology", these folks believe in killing all the organisms in the living soil and then using artificial, chemical means to provide the nutrients their crop plants need to live.
It is the folly of these people that they believe they are practicing good agriculture, when all they are really doing is removing all the goodness of the soil and then growing in dirt.

 
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