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How to build deep rich soils by imitating nature  RSS feed

 
William maxwell
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Hey Guys,

I’ve finally got my hands on a piece of a land but the reality is that my soils are shallow, compacted, alkaline and sometimes waterlogged for months.

I've done little bit of research and what I found is that the easiest way to regenerate the soil is to replicate conditions found in nature. Annual gardens, grasslands and food forests, all can be brought to life by imitating natural ecosystem counterparts.

I've wrote a whole post with specific steps on how to improve soils in all three outlined situation.


Here is the link.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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Location: Portugal
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So, any chance of sharing the information here rather than just expecting us all to go straight to your blog? It would seem only fair.
 
Zach Muller
gardener
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Hey william, welcome to the forum! Your pictures look great and your article is very thorough. I like how you kind of began with the core of the matter, ecological succession. Too many people overlook this and do not fully consider where in succession their activities are taking place.
Congrats on getting some new land, i myself just got my own small slice of ecosystem to work on so it has been a busy fall season for me designing a pond system, digging a pond, preparing for ducks, getting cover crops planted, etc etc.
i bet if you shared some of your pics here on the thread it would entice more people to go check it out. Maybe even share with us what you specifically have decided to do with your new soils.
I just moved in a few months ago and I am dealing with deep top soil that used to be an old horse pasture, im excited it is growing huge squashes and tons of cherry toms, but its covered in grass! Im considering covering my entire grassy yard as a squash and pumpkin patch in the coming year as i diversify with clovers and wildflowers and other FOOD.

Good luck.
 
Amjad Khan
Posts: 71
Location: London, Ontario, Canada - zone 6a
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Mr. Maxwell,

This seems like concise information and I found it very informative. I think its very well presented. Thank you for sharing this.
 
William maxwell
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Burra Maluca wrote:So, any chance of sharing the information here rather than just expecting us all to go straight to your blog? It would seem only fair.


I agree!

Here is the scoop so if anyone is interested, dig deeper.

In the post I use Ecological succession as a model for improving the soil and outline 3 different situations that we usually find ourselves in: annual gardens, grasslands and food forests.

Annual Gardens:

Don’t disturb the subsoil and encourage biological tillage
Bring your soil to life with compost
Maintain organic matter with mulch
Use crop rotation to mimic diversity

Grasslands:

Don’t disturb the soil – ensure the lowest level of mechanical disturbance possible
Always keep your soil covered with perennial cover crops
Plant diverse perennial cover crops
Planned disturbance in a form of animal impact and planned grazing


Food Forests:

Improve your soil with green manures and transitional ground-covers
Inoculate your soil with mycorrhizal fungi
Use woody mulch to feed the fungi
Create self-sustaining fertility with nitrogen fixing trees and dynamic accumulator plants

 
Heather Derks
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Hi everyone. I am new here. My organization of volunteers run a free kids gardening program. This year, in a 25foot square plot at our community garden, we tried to grow the three sisters.
The soil was really poor, picture a ball diamond with a thin layer of top soil on top.
Our idea is to do a multi year program on soil rehabilitation, to use this plot to grow perennial foods like asparagus, blueberries and raspberry bushes interspersed with annual herbs and vegetables.
We want to test the soil every year and track whether we're actually improving soil quality or not.
Any tips or suggestions would be awesome. Some questions are, how do we begin to track the soil quality? What kinds of tests do we get? What should we plant first? Which kind of professionals should we have to advise us?
The project is in st. Thomas, Ontario. Thanks!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Heather Derks wrote:We want to test the soil every year and track whether we're actually improving soil quality or not.


I don't know how one would go about determining if soil is getting better or not... Better for what purpose? Or for what ecosystem? If I'm trying to improve the soil for alkali loving bee habitat, I'd be wanting to reduce the organic matter, and dump salt onto it, and perhaps add clay and silt. If I was looking to support a desert biome, I might want to add sand and reduce organic matter that could hold onto moisture and cause the roots to rot during the winter. The soil necessary to support blueberries is not at all suitable for growing Russian olives.

At my farm, I like growing on soils with fewer nutrients. That way, I can select for plant families that thrive in a low-input agricultural system. If I were amending the soil, then I wonder if I would be able to tell the true strengths and weaknesses of plant families?
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Joseph brings up some important factors when one gets into "soil improvement".

Every set of plants has different requirements and that makes it folly to simply try to improve soil in a generalized way.
Blue berries want fairly acidic soil that has rich mineral composition in the upper 13". go deeper than that and you are mostly wasting the nutrients.
Asparagus wants soil with no weeds that is mineral rich, the roots, again will only go around 14" deep so enrichment below the point of root extension is wasted nutrients.
Fruit trees like slightly acidic to fairly acidic soils that are nutrient rich to the depth of around 16-18" which is how deep most tree roots that are actively feeding live.
vegetables have their own requirements, so building a generalized gardening bed will end up with more than the plants in any given area need or want to be able to thrive.
While that isn't a really bad thing, it can result in bolting, stunted growth, root rot and on and on.
In our garden beds we amend for the needs of what will be planted there that year. When we change up the next year, we re-amend for the new crops needs.
This way we aren't throwing nutrients that aren't needed at any crop and over several years of crop movement the soil does end up more enriched than if we only planted one crop in the same space year after year.

 
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