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Pamela Smith
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I first posted this elsewhere until I saw this topic on soil so putting it here too. Hope that is ok.

Welcome Jenni, I also have a question about my land and permaculture. I have total maybe an acre I could work with. We are on pure sand, yes pure sand. 100 years ago this land was all under water. You can go 5 feet and get nothing but sand, courser sand and some gravel, NO dirt.

For 3 years now I have tried to build soil by building wood chips and mulched hay and manure. Sadly my husband does not get it and he kept tilling it in to the sand. We discovered after 3 years we still have all sand.
I want to know if you have any ideas on what I should do to build up some soil/loom so I can one grow some food and 2 maybe have a pasture for livestock. Should also say besides sand we are on forested land. Pine, cedar and larch. The 1 acre or less available for growing is in the open where the sun can access it. The land is all flat. I water and water and after it goes through the mulch( very quickly) it just sinks deep into the sand.

I have considered starting over and my husband now knows not to till it. I have considered building trenches and fill it with hay and wood chips so water can stay in. Building swales not sure how that would work we do not have any water run off any where near where I can grow. Thought of something similar to a hugal but build a trench then put poplar ( it is all we have other then pine) then hay and wood chips. soak it and in time it should create soil? especially if I add to it every year?

Trench is because I want to build it to be leveled. I tried raised beds without boxes and with all the sand the water just runs off. very little water is trapped in the hay mulch. I want to work on something that one day will not only give me something to work with but create an area for permaculture, a blending of plants that can work in balance to support each other. An opportunity to build soil and make the land usable and beautiful.

We currently have chickens and geese on our homestead.

Our weather is mild winters of around 14 or warmer and summers are as warm as 100 or higher. Wet winters, spring and falls but very dry summers.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. Just getting into permaculture now. Love to create something with our land to pass on to the grand children one day.

Should also mention I have buckwheat seed to use as a cover crop but I assume I should try to build something on the sand first and then plant the buckwheat into it?
 
jenni blackmore
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Hi Pamela, I don't have any experience with sandy soil; I have exactly the opposite problem, solid clay. You're absolutely right in thinking that the only solution (other than trucking in some loam) is to keep adding organic matter. It can be done! One of my favourite Mollison quotes tells us that there are no problems, only creative solutions. I think you are on the right track thinking in terms of hugel kulture and swales. Hugel Kulture is often used as an erosion technique, and for water flow containment on slopes, but it can be employed equally successfully on flat ground. The biological principles are still the same and the gradually rotting wood will produce an incredibly rich food supply over time.

I am a great fan of hugels. They work amazingly well for me and I don't see why this can't be the case for you as well. It might take a couple of years but will be worth it. First off I would make absolutely certain that there is no slope to the land. However slight it might be you don't want it working against you. This can be done using a simple water level, nothing more than a length of clear plastic tubing and some wooden stakes (these don't need to be vampire strength There's probably detailed instructions elsewhere on this site so I won't get into that.

Secondly, I'd dig trenches. My trenches would be fairly narrow because I'd be doing them by hand but if you have mechanical assistance I'd make them about three feet wide and at least a couple of feet deep. I think the essential thing at this point will be to line them with materials that won't allow moisture to seep out. Several layers of cardboard would probably be good to start. I live very close to a surf shop and can get all the large sheets of cardboard I need when the new stock arrives each spring. I use it mostly for weed control on paths and such and as a first layer for new hugels and lasagna beds. I'd top the cardboard with a densely packed layer of wet leaves. Discarded woolen carpet would be amazing but hard to come by.

By the sounds of things you will have to go off site to find leaves so hopefully you live close enough to places where some people rake, bag and put them out for pick-up. This is where I'd switch into hugel mode by lining the base of the trench with rotting logs, the pulpier the better. Top these logs with branches, decreasing in diameter through to twigs. It's important to pack these down as tightly as possible. (My inner child loves jumping up and down on a pile of twigs. It's almost as much fun as a pile of leaves.) You have mentioned using wood chips and I'd be very careful here. Woodchips and sawdust will rob your soil of nitrogen like crazy. I only use woodchips on my pathways where I don't want things to grow!

After the woody detritus is in place I'd switch to lasagna bed mode and layer in as much organic material as I could get my hands on. You mention having chickens and geese. I find that their spoiled bedding works so much better than clean straw and of course it comes already densely packed and manured. A little bit of your existing soil mixed in between these layers surely won't hurt and of course some compost hopefully along with a good number of red wrigglers. If you can introduce worms to this mix they will think they are in heaven and will repay you accordingly! If you pack these layers just to the level of the surrounding ground they should end up sinking a couple of inches below it which should also help keep moisture in. You may want to consider purchasing a few bags of black earth to start things off. Rather than spread thinly all over you can mix it with the existing soil and put small caches where the actual plants or seeds will go. Mulch heavily around this. It will give the plants a nice start and keep them going during their first few weeks until they get stronger.

All of the above is just how I would do it, not how I have done it. I'm sure others have much more experience with sandy soil than I do. Permaculture is definitely the way to go but one requirement that isn't mentioned enough, perhaps, is patience. One fertile swale in the middle of a barren acre might not look like much but a after a couple of years I'm sure you will be amazed. That has certainly been my experience. The other important thing is to start small. Don't try to do it all at once because that tends to lead towards discouragement, not to mention exhaustion. In closing I'd suggest that you give lasagna beds another try as well, mulched heavily around the edges as well as over top. And of course there are some quick fixes such as straw bale beds, which I mention in a previous post. Building good soil is actually very rewarding and what better time to start than this, the International Year of Soil. Lots of good growing, Pamela. Keep us posted



 
Steve Farmer
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Leguminuos trees and hardwood poplar cuttings will grow in pure sand. Once they have used the stored energy in the seed/wood they will benefit from compost dressing or other fertiliser, or just keep adding more seeds/saplings. Let the plants build your soil for you.
 
Pamela Smith
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Thanks so much Jenni. Almost everything you mentioned I had in mind but being a noob to permaculture I was not sure that would be the way to go. What better way to live life then to give life back to the land. So slow and steady and eventually I will have land that will be totally awesome. With soil in place I can learn more about different plants supporting and living together.

Steve, I will look into Leguminous trees for my area. I have planted many sugar maples. Next year want to plant some oak and more popular to balance out the land instead of all the coniferous trees.



 
jenni blackmore
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I like the idea of planting leguminous trees Steve. Could also plant fruiting shrubs such as Sea Buckthorn. I know it's used to prevent coastal erosion so I'm guessing it might do well in sand. Would need to confirm this. There are also some wonderful grasses that create a lot of bulk. I have one that creates lots of leaves and also thin, but usable bamboo type poles. Unfortunately I can't remember what it's called and am not sure how it would do in sand.

The possibilities are almost limitless and of course you could also be thinking in terms of creating a wild zone and a food forest around the edge of your garden space, Sheila. I have a sort of hybrid of the two which I call a purposeful garden. It's tucked away out back and seldom needs visiting but I'm quite fond of it because it was totally trashed by a hurricane to the extent that it seemed like a bit of a lost cause. (Not that the rest of the property was much better) It now supports a willow stand for harvesting, elderberries for tea, bamboo type grass for stakes, several Haskap bushes and Jerusalem artichokes for eating and scented geraniums and Calendula for my pleasure
 
Pamela Smith
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In the "orchard" area that I have been trying to build the last 3 years most fruit trees are doing well and some not so well. In the garden area I have nanking cherries that are doing very well as well as sea buckthorn and haskups.
The goji berries did not do well. Raspberries really took off this year and so did the strawberries. Almost all my fruit do excellent it is the vegetables that do not do well. Carrots and potatoes thrive in the sandy soil.
As mentioned the biggest issue is water it disappears too fast. This is from drainage not evaporation from heat. I do have a mulch on top. I use lots of organic nutrients and that is why everything is growing good. So it is a matter of doing what was mentioned so in time everything will be balanced and take a lot less work to grow and maintain.
 
jenni blackmore
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Sounds like you're more than half way there already, Pamela. In my case it's fruit, and especially strawberries that create the challenge. As with most things there's a trade off and sometimes we have to decide whether the effort warrants the yield. I'm certainly not suggesting this in respect to your vision of growing bountiful vegetable crops as I'm sure that's doable, but more so to my desire for a healthy strawberry patch. After several dismal attempts I've pretty much decided to keep a few in planters and be satisfied with that. Too bad we don't live within trading distance
 
Tyler Ludens
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jenni blackmore wrote: Hugel Kulture is often used as an erosion technique, and for water flow containment on slopes,



NO! http://permaculturenews.org/2015/11/06/dont-try-building-hugel-swales-this-is-a-very-and-i-mean-very-bad-idea/
 
Pamela Smith
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Tyler thanks for the heads up. For myself I had no intention of making a hugel swale. The site you linked to is great info, thank you. With that site in mind my trench idea will still work just from what I now understand if it is not raised a little even and made like a slight mound when the rains come the trench could fill to much with water and float the wood away?or is this only possible if made in a contour? All my beds/trenches will be straight. The whole idea is to eventually build areas that will hold water and or need less water then what the soil is doing now. Pure sand just drains water way to fast even with a foot deep of mulch. I believe in water conservation not waste. The amount of water used this year in our extreme dry heat really made me realize something different must be done.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I have buried wood beds throughout my vegetable garden and so far, even in a large flood event when runoff swept into the garden, none of the wood floated. But my soil is clay. I think if you moisten the wood while building the beds, you won't have any worries about floating wood. I swear by buried wood beds, personally. They have been life-changing! I can actually grow food now, whereas before my food garden would die every summer.
 
Peter Ellis
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The concern with hugels shifting when the water comes through are related to hugelbeds built on slopes and on contour, so that they present a barrier to water moving downhill. In that context, water can build up behind the bed applying pressure, while infiltrating throughout and both lifting woody debris, even logs, and lubricating the contact surfaces, resulting in the whole thing sliding away down hill.

On effectively level ground, that is not an issue. If the level area floods enough to float away a hugel bed, you have other problems

I have been working with almost exactly the soil you describe, in the New Jersey pine barrens, for twenty years.
For the first few years I tried amending beds with bales of peat moss, that would disappear, no sign of them, in under a year. I gave up for awhile.

Then I came across this permaculture idea and was inspired to try again.

My soil is not only one hundred percent sand according to the national soil survey, it is one hundred percent one kind of sand I did soil testing looking for NPK and found no measruable amounts of any of them. Pine Barrens.

So we got four chickens and started tractoring them around the yard, letting them scratch and eat and manure, working that high nitrogen organic fertilizer of theirs into the sand. And we started composting everything. Keeping all of our leaves. We took down eleven trees in our half acre yard BEFORE Hurricane Sandy came through and knocked them down. and we kept those on the property too. We buried cubic yards of branches and built mounds on top. Wood buried in the sand to hold water, nurture fungi and other soil organisms and generally encourage the growth of a soil food web.

Where in the past I could dig for hours and not see a worm, we now have some worms. Where the sand was a clear gray, or orange, we now have some humus in with it. One particular area where the chickens stayed the longest grew lamb's quarters eight feet tall! Incredible in our sand!

We have quite a long way to go, but we have found that having even tiny livestock adding their manure and piling on the organic matter does, overtime, make progress in pure sand. This approach, applying lessons from permaculture, is having success where no amount of digging in amendments had worked, or even stayed present in the ground.
 
Rob Browne
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Location: Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
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While they may not directly improve your soil you could consider some wicking beds for annual vege crops. You will get produce while the other gardesns are establishing and they definitely have their place in a permaculture setup.
 
Pamela Smith
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Thank you Peter and Rob. This is where I am lucky. Even though we are pure sand I have tons of "weeds" especially lambs quarters. Then again it was probably due to the manure. The garden was put in a corral area that was used for years for cows for 1-2 weeks a year. Obviously lots of manure over time. You would think that would have built some loom but nothing as well as no worms. Hence why I knew tilling in the hay and manure would have been an extremely long process if it worked at all.

I will look into this wicking bed as well. Much appreciation to everyone for sharing ideas.

 
Kate Muller
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While my yard isn't pure sand like the pine barrens of NJ it is close. Eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos love my low nutrient sandy soil but everything else struggles.

I built many of my annual veggie beds as hugleculture beds in the spring of 2014. The wood is starting to break down and they are full of moles and voles and other small animals.
I am finding they the beds need to be reshaped after a while to keep them from getting too wide and too low. Between the chickens cleaning up and prepping garden and the
wood settling as it decomposes the beds tend to spread out over time. I need to keep them around 4 feet wide due to my short arms so I reshape them as needed.

The beds are average 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide. They warm up nicely in the spring and frost rolls around them in the early fall but they are dry and hot most of the summer.
I have found they need heavy mulch by late June. The mulch made a huge difference in improving the soil, water retention and weeding. Under the heavy mulch
was the first time I found earthworms in my beds. I used mulch hay and grass clippings for my mulch this past year. It worked great and I am sure I will have weeds in
spring but I am hoping the the 2 months of the chickens destroying the mulch on the beds this fall will reduce the number of seeds.

This spring I am planning to get composted manure and use it mulch layer. I will not till it in and I will mulch on top of it. Hopefully I will get better results this coming year.
 
Pamela Smith
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Thanks for sharing Kate. Our concern as well is a vole/mole and ant infestation if we go to Hugels. We already have these problems just in our regular garden beds never mind when we build a Hugel. Maybe if one makes sure it is really soaked?
I am considering to put down a heavy layer of cardboard and paper on the bottom so the water does not run through to the sand. Then poplar branches and logs. Along with chicken manure, some sand, clay and alfalfa mulch. Anyone else have thoughts? We get extreme heat in the summer and if ants, moles and voles get into this not sure how beneficial that would be. If it is well soaked it should keep them out. But how long once soaked will it stay soaked?
 
Kate Muller
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Pamela Smith wrote:. If it is well soaked it should keep them out. But how long once soaked will it stay soaked?


I have a cool wet summer and my beds would dry out above the wood in a week. The soil would be very warm and very dry to the touch in less than a week.
I doubt keeping them wet would keep the critters out out spring and fall are very wet and the beds are still full of them.
 
Alder Burns
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On sandy sites in damp warm climates, I would seriously consider biochar. Those soils can eat through incredible amounts of organic matter whether buried or mulched, and it all has to come from somewhere. I don't think a site in such a climate can produce enough stuff on-site to increase it's organic matter content significantly, at least not in any decent timeframe. Perhaps an old-growth forest can begin to accumulate an organic layer. But charring will lock a good fraction of the carbon into a form not easily degraded....though you will lose 2/3 or more of it in the burning process, the remainder will be there.....
 
patrick canidae
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You can build soil in the hot, wet, sandy south.

Pick part of your yard that isn't garden or pretty yard, and turn it into a hay field. Berseem clover, Dixie crimson clover, mammoth red clover, tall sweet clover, and ladino clover needs to be seeded into this area heavily. Let it get fairly tall, and then start mowing it down in strips and mulching your beds or rows. Make it a rotating set of strips stair stepping from just mown to gone to hell and flowered out. Cut a strip every day or two or seven as appropriate for the growth curve of the clover and the microbe consumption of the soil you are mulching. If you know how, you can plant live crimson clover or berseem into your rows and let them grow outside of your regular crop season, then smash them down and kill them with cardboard mulch and plant seedlings into it. Or leave it alive, and only kill a circle of it where you are going to put in a plant, and let it grow around your primary crop as living mulch and N fixer. I would also plant a broad variety of daikon and other radishes and turnips into the rows 30-45 days before average frost date and let them suck up all those nutrients and hold them until the following year.

Pure clover plantings can make a few tons of green material an acre a year.
 
Neil Layton
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Hello

It's been done, but you need to be by the sea to do it.

Here in Scotland we have a habitat called machair, which is a rare coastal dune habitat formed by shell deposition and the use of seaweed by early farmers to grow crops. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machair

My suggestion, and this would be dependent on you being near the coast, would be to make big mounds of rotting kelp, with as much crushed shell as you can find, cover it with a thin layer of sand (or it will stink!!!*), and plant through it, in effect growing in a seaweed compost.

This will be deficient in copper, cobalt and manganese, and you may wish to add other amendments rich in these minerals, which I could probably look up, but it's 3am here.

I'd love to hear how you get on if you try this. I'm not aware of experiments in creating machair.

* I mean it: rotting seaweed is literally nauseating! Cover it with something else!

 
Hans Quistorff
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I tracked down the video I remembered that did an in ground wicking bed in your situation. The goal is to use a liner to keep the water from dropping below where the roots can reach. you could use less tubes by filling between tubes with wood. I use the tube in my planters and put an empty drinking water bottle in the vertical part with a flag. when the water level drops so the flag is inside I ad more water.
 
Rachel Dee
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Hey!

As Elaine Ingham said : if your soil has too much clay, add organic matter. If it`s too sandy, add organic matter. If it's too alkaline, add organic matter. If it's too acid, add organic matter. Just add organic matter.

We've successfully grown on top of sand. Because... compost! Lots and lots of compost.

We do humanure compost, and that equals a huge amount of new compost every year. We've stopped thinking that garden = going into the soil. Just make the soil on top!

So basically, it has to start with composting everything you have on hand - seems you have hay and animal manure on hand - and you could make something with that for sure if you don't want to get into composting your humanure.

Our steps are :

- Lay out cardboard with tape removed (for us, it acted as a weed barrier, but in your case, it could help with water runoff)
- Lay out finished compost 2 feet deep
- Lay out a foot of mulch on top (It depends how fast you want it to grow things. If you want it now, do hay. If it's for a third season's planting, you could do wood chips)

With a hay mulch, we were able to plant it and grow things successfully within a year. You would have to keep adding layers every year, because the compost layer really eats up anything around it. It does keep something like 900% it's own weight in water, so it's really good stuff to work with in arid conditions.

We were able to make (3) 200 sq ft gardens in a year. It's best if it can just be left to do it's own thing, but as I said, you could plant in it the first year.

Seriously, just keep making your area bigger by adding the cardboard, compost and mulch on perimeters. In 2 years, we had real deep soil on top of any existing soil. I know with this technique I can move on top of a rock and start growing stuff within 2-3 years without a (big) problem. Compost is magic.

We did just a cardboard and wood chip bed, and nothing would grow in it for 3 years. It's ready next season for plant life, but, alas, we're moving away from it. Boo. With so much compost coming from our humanure piles, we'll never ask ourselves what to do with it by doing this. It does take a lot of good quality compost. It's a lot of work, but once you have rich soil, there'll be a lot less work to do every year to keep it up.

 
Rick Valley
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It matters lots what the geography is, meaning the whole picture. I gather from a few sparse clues that the site in question is in the north country. (poplar and pine) Like maybe a place I visited near Traverse City Michigan, which is on Paleozoic bedrock but anything near the surface is all glacial outwash sand from the Canadian Shield, and dune sand on top of that. Dig deep, it's still sand. And there are damn few leguminous trees that like that climate. Maybe Amur Maackia? Siberian peashrub is perhaps a good bet. And make sure they're nodulating (do they have root nodules where the rhizobium bacteria are housed? if not, they've been grown with chemical fertilizer) But rhizobial nitrogen fixers (legumes) aren't the only players in the game; perhaps you can get some Actinorhizal nitrogen fixers, like Shepherdia Canadensis, or if there's some wetlands handy, alders. But maybe you're farther south. Where are you anyway? Mollison does have some stuff to say about sand- he's familiar with the Perth area, good old leached-out sands. And on coral atolls, nice carbonate sand with a saline high water table. (check the Designer's Manual) But Bill doesn't much like cold weather, and didn't have much nice to say about Canada when he visited with only flip flops for his feet. He says organic matter is key, and even small amounts of key micronutrients can really kick start productivity. Compost will really get jamming if you add clay, and the most efficient way to do the most with the least is with clay "shakes", (ie "milkshakes" called so because of the consistency you're aiming for) made with maybe a quart of clay max to 2/3 full white bucket of water, and mix it with a drywall mud mixer, either the giant potato-masher elbow-grease style, or be an American and use a big electric drill with a mixer paddle. (and don't get shocked) Clay ions add tremendously to the cation exchange ratio of a compost, and help form humus, which is relatively stable and long-lasting, versus humins, which are brown, not nearly black, and don't really help the soil except perhaps as a cover, and don't add to the water holding capacity of a sandy soil either, which humus does. So if you go anywhere where they have some clay, get some. Even better, a pickup load full. What my friends in N. Michigan do is raise hogs, and the manure is transforming the pine and popple* landscape. (*I graduated from Tomahawk H.S. in the Northwoods on highway 51 in Wisconsin, is why I say "popple" and not poplar. Sand and pines are real "poplar" around there too! Now my Michigan friends could just buy topsoil from somewhere else, but instead they buy feed from somewhere else and add value, (and sell organically raised smoked hams, etc.) and use the behaviors of the animals and their microbiological associates to help develop the soil as well. Shee-it!
 
Chris MacCarlson
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I'm not sure of your climate.....but if you are warm and wet (like Oregon) this may work for you

One of the larger community gardens in eugene Oregon used leaf trench walking rows as a way to generate organic matter in the top soil.

Each fall, they would dig out next year's pathways in the garden to 20" deep and fill the next year's path with leaves and organic matter from trees and waste debris.

At that point, they would turn this year's footpath path (last year's leaves) into next year's raised beds, move the path over, and repeat every three years until they had a sufficiently good A and O horizon in their soil

 
Peter Ingot
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patrick canidae wrote:
Pick part of your yard that isn't garden or pretty yard, and turn it into a hay field. Berseem clover, Dixie crimson clover, mammoth red clover, tall sweet clover, and ladino clover needs to be seeded into this area heavily. Let it get fairly tall, and then start mowing it down in strips and mulching your beds or rows. Make it a rotating set of strips stair stepping from just mown to gone to hell and flowered out. Cut a strip every day or two or seven as appropriate for the growth curve of the clover and the microbe consumption of the soil you are mulching. If you know how, you can plant live crimson clover or berseem into your rows and let them grow outside of your regular crop season, then smash them down and kill them with cardboard mulch and plant seedlings into it. Or leave it alive, and only kill a circle of it where you are going to put in a plant, and let it grow around your primary crop as living mulch and N fixer. I would also plant a broad variety of daikon and other radishes and turnips into the rows 30-45 days before average frost date and let them suck up all those nutrients and hold them until the following year.

Pure clover plantings can make a few tons of green material an acre a year.


I agree with the technique. Cutting and mulching is a good way to go.

BUT

Clover and grass will give you a lot more green material than a legume monoculture (maybe 1.5-2 times as much), and the clover will fix more nitrogen if it grows in a mixture than it will in a monoculture. I measured this during my doctoral research, and other people's research confirmed this. Plant around 2/3 grasses and herbs and 1/3 clover and you will get way more organic matter, leaf matter and root matter than if you plant only clover (Mother nature will probably adjust this ratio a bit for you, depending on the state of your soil but unless you have lots of phosphate etc. and absolutely no nitrogen it won't ever get to 100% legumes. This adjustment will happen fastest if you include some of the creeping clover varieties such as the sprawling white clovers (not ladino), the species named are mostly uprights).

The reason pure clover actually fixes less nitrogen than a mixture of grass and clover, because as soon as the soil starts to improve, the clover will start to use soil nitrogen instead of fixing more, and it isn't actually as efficient at using soil nitrogen as grasses are - it's root system is pretty small and doesn't explore soil as thoroughly. Same principles seem to apply with every legume that I know of. Legume monocultures are almost unknown in nature, and if you try to make them happen artificially something you don't want will most likely invade to take advantage of the available nitrogen (once again, Mother Nature attempting to balance things out).

Legumes are actually pretty scrawny little plants compared to something like ryegrass, with very little leaf or root matter, and you are trying to beef up your soil with organic matter. Grass roots work miracles, although you need to thoroughly kill something like ryegrass or fescue before you plant vegetables. Clover amongst vegetables is generally a good idea in the garden. It's another kind of legume-non-legume mixture.

Also that quantity of clover seed would be really expensive, why plant more than you actually need? Grass seed tends to be cheaper.

Alfalfa is often regarded as a legume which grows well as a monoculture, but one thing alfalfa growers don't want you to know is that very often a bale of alfalfa contains a high percentage of grasses and weeds. I'm not an expert on alfalfa, but personally I think the growers should just plant a mixture of alfalfa and something else, like a grass. People who buy alfalfa hay containing a lot of grass say that it still seems to have good feeding value. This makes sense to me as the grasses would be very lush and high protein growing with alfalfa.

It also seemed to me extremely likely that legume monocultures would lose a lot of phosphate, potassium etc. as well as nitrogen. A legume monoculture contains less of these minerals in its hay than a mixed sward, so they must be going somewhere. It's a fair bet a lot of them are leaching out. None of these nutrients sit around long in a sandy soil. Either something uses them or they wash away.

The most readily available source of nitrogen in a small space is often human urine (legumes work better on a larger scale over longer time periods), you could also improve sandy soil by planting pure ryegrass and feeding it with human urine.

Sandy soils are often acid and rather low in phosphate and potassium to begin with. Lime can help.
 
Larry Koelsch
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In my area, the residential homes rake their leaves to the curb, and the City/Township vacuum them up. If one would contact them, they would dump on your property? Tree service companies look for places to dump their wood chips as well. Worth a try. The more organic material the better.
 
Jay Muir
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What woodchips do you have access to? Are they hardwood or softwood?

We also have over 6' deep pure sand and I've been slowly building soil with various mulching techniques, mostly hit-and-miss but the real workhorse that has been leaving deposits of rich black soil has been the Stropharia mushroom mycelium inoculated into the hardwood chip mulch that I have been applying yearly to the garden. So that would be my advice if you're able to get hardwood chips! (Order from fungi perfecti, they're the best!)
 
Pamela Smith
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Rachel, I did what you said for 3 years. Sadly my husband was not of the same mind set and he kept tilling it into the soil and of course after 3 years I still only had soil. Sigh, All that work gone and money too. The first 2 years we bought old hay since we were new and had nothing to get started. It is good to hear though that it is possible, Thanks.

WE are on forested land with nothing to rake. We do not go through enough hay to build and sadly we discovered I urinate too much for humane manure. Too wet and would not break down like it is suppose too. We are setting up a new system so urine goes in one compost toilet and our waste goes in another.

I just wanted to gather ideas to see if there were other ways to not only build up soil in my 100 X 600 foot garden area but to eventually have an acre of open space built up to grow flax, buckwheat and quinoa one day. The problem with sand is not the growing so much. One can add enough compost to get nutrients to the plants the problem is the watering. I live in southern BC Canada on the Idaho border. Wet springs and falls usually. Summers are dry, very dry and hot. Last summer we were in the 3 digits for a month. Even with a mulch of wood chips on the top I was constantly watering. I am 57 and want to get this done so I am not always dependent on so much wasted water.

I thank everyone for some great ideas. I am going to stand up to hubby and insist he let's me build soil on our land so I can have a future with a wonderful garden and land to grow the crops I want. Most importantly I will have balanced this land for its true purpose and made it functional and useful for the next generation
 
R Nichols
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We used straw bales and manure in our sandy garden areas here in the high desert. No tilling.

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Pamela Smith
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Looks great Nichols. I have wanted to use hay bales, more nutrients and I think it breaks down better but I would be happy with either straw or hay to build an area up but out where I am hay and straw bales are like 8-12.00 a bale
 
Rae Ellis
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I was reading this thread last nite and didn't see anything about biochar. Here's a great article I wanted to share about using it to build sandy soils with the science for you http://marshcreekfarmstead.blogspot.com/2015/03/how-to-permanently-improve-your-sandy.html
 
Rick Valley
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The community garden in Eugene that Chris from Missoula mentions is the Grass Roots Garden behind the Episcopal Church on Coburg Rd. Very different situation from sand, the garden has a low gradient stream incised thru the middle of it, and the soil is incredibly heavy clay, extremely deep, you won't hit lenses of river cobble until tens of feet down. Tilling in rotting straw is not the same as building beds with quality compost. Quality compost contains humus, holds water but is aerated, and has a great cation exchange ratio so nutrients are available. Sand, if it is not a coral sand on a tropical coast, is quartz. When a grain of quartz gets to a certain small size it is nearly indestructible and can last for hundreds of millions of years. It will knock around like a billiard ball, get washed down to the sea and become lithified in a sandstone, metamorphosed into a quartzite after getting squashed by an accreting island arc and pushed up into a hogback ridge, get eroded and be back to the same damn sand particle all over again. Clay particles give the microorganisms what they need to get the sticky thing on and get enough happening so a living soil can form. Before I knew the clay trick I thought compost was just small bits of organic matter, but often I'd end up with hard brown masses that wouldn't accept water, or loose brown particles that didn't hold water, and it really didn't grow a good garden. I wrote it up for Permaculture Magazine and In Good Tilth if you want to get the whole download.

I'm surprised no one has suggested those polymer water "crystals", synthetic jello for water retention. (I don't think it works- tried it in container mix in my nursery and it didn't seem to make any difference.)

As far as too much liquid to make humanure, the problem could instead be seen as too little cellulose. If the collection bucket is unpleasant to deal with, you're doing it wrong. If nothing else, use junk mail! I have to say I resisted for years, but then having kids in diapers and not wanting to use plastic disposables (what a bizarre thing!) we had a lot of diapers to soak and wash. That started eroding my squeamishness. We learned to inoculate diaper bucket with Bac Out, from the company that makes Bio Kleen cleanser, and the diaper bucket water was then sufficiently innocuous to pour on the compost, which did very well. the Once the drainfield at the farm went down, it was an easy shift to make to be in charge of humanure composting for the entire family. Tree service chips, sawdust, forest duff, shredded paper AND FINISHED COMPOST to pre-innocculate the bucket. (nearly instantly cancels odor) By selecting things diverse as possible, maximizing edge (lots of layers) keeping moisture levels up (watering dry layers as you build) it becomes possible to put even 1 inch thick green branches in a compost and have them break apart within a year and disappear within two. A family of 4 should be able to feed a compost operation that by adding plenty of plant material like fruit tree prunings, would be producing at least 6 yards of compost a year. That can power a garden that can feed a family, and I think it's exactly what I would do if I was in dune sand. But I would make it easier on myself and import enough clay to make the best compost possible.
 
Pamela Smith
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Rick, we use peat moss and wood chips. We are in the boonies so know one will bring us anything. We have an area we pile the human manure and I add all my compost from the garden into it as well.
I could see about adding more wood chips. This is from the trees we mulch from our own wood chipper. It will be mostly pine, tie up nitrogen but urine supplies tons anyway and it is at least 2 years before it is added anywhere anyway.

As for biochar, I was thinking of using some of the the poplar and some pine and burn it to create charcoal. I was thinking to create a trench about 3 feet wide. Then add cardboard, the charcoal wood along with the human manure, hay and my chicken compost and let this sit for a couple years. Make a pathway and start another row. This is to eventually build up an acre of soil to grow the flax, buckwheat and quinoa in. Was also thinking after the first year I could actually grow buckwheat and then cut it down and let it rot into this pile. This way I use several sources and should be cheaper and hopefully no moles/voles and ants.

 
R Nichols
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Pamela Smith wrote:Looks great Nichols. I have wanted to use hay bales, more nutrients and I think it breaks down better but I would be happy with either straw or hay to build an area up but out where I am hay and straw bales are like 8-12.00 a bale


OUCH! We get our campus straw for a buck or 50 cents a bale from a farmer about 30 miles from here... yeah a bit of a drive... but with a good trailer it is well worth it. Hope you have such luck as this.
 
Rick Valley
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Ain't it a pain when you're not in the city? Which I am now... but the city is changing too, as the permies proliferate. Now in Eugene there's a waiting list for tree chips, and in Portland you post on chipdrop and you'll have to wait unless you post a cash payment... But when I had to start composting humanure I was positively boonified. There my cellulose was scythed grass'n'weeds, or branches or blackberry chop, or bracken fern. But I have an assortment of scythes and a bunch of brush hooks and slashers and bill hooks and kamas, so I can make little ones out of big ones fast. Having options means you can diversify the wear and tear on your body, as well as choose the tool for your energy level and task.
I use a composting style called "compost tractor" that I got from Frank Morton- the pile never stops, it rolls around the garden leaving fertility in it's wake while it smothers weeds. My compost culture dates back to 1980, when I returned to the USA after a leave of absence. (you know. like some families have sourdough starter that came across the Oregon Trail?) It's been in 6 Oregon counties and a couple dozen gardens...
I am a landscape contractor, and so I do bring back some material from time to time. I find that trimming hedges provides excellent material for composting; I love the looks I get when I tell people we need more formal hedges in our permaculture designs! But we are soft, pampered weaklings sucking on the petroleum teat- without our machines what would we do? Coppice and pollard trimmings are great for compost too. And I use a LOT of Scots Broom- in fact I cut it along roadsides every chance I get. Nothing like an N-fixing plant to perk up a pile. I've made a study of how to live like a peasant, but in style. And although I sneer at power trimmers and I junked my lawn mower I have yards of compost, even when I don't have trucks dumping "waste". NB: adding clay also helps the lasting quality of the compost; without the small portion of clay, the organic matter can combine with the nitrogen and just gas off and melt away.
 
Pamela Smith
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I will be sure to add some clay to my trench pile. Clay is usually filled with many nutrients too. Thanks for the reminder.
 
Jeff Rash
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To the original OP,

I was able to grow corn and other supposed "non sand" vegetables in the deserts of the Arizona. The trick is understanding the soil or the sand and how it works with water. The water needed for your vegetables is NOT draining away. The excess is draining away to be stored at deeper levels. Each grain of sand is a vast reservoir of nooks and crannies that store water- you just need to understand how to tap that water for your vegetables use. The solution I rediscovered is an amalgamation of the local Navajo and Apache Indians planting methods. That and it is tweaked to allow the use of small tractors like a Troy-bilt. (Or you could use any other motorized device. You don't till the soil though- you trench it.)

The secret is to do what the Indians who lived in sandy areas did. If you follow the methods in the mentioned thread below, you should have no trouble with sandy soils. At least I did not. I was able to grow a quarter acre of corn in Kingman Arizona- 100% sand. No manure, no anything. Just virgin desert. Once I developed the deep roots method, I never had a problem. Sunflowers, pumpkins, cantaloupe, honeydew, peas, carrots, you name it I grew it.

The sand is not sucking your water away, it is filling up the reservoirs in each grain of sand and then moving to the next layer of sand, until hydrostatic tension is in balance with the wicking nature of soil. It's like a bank vault really, that you can then later pull moisture from. It's how deserts somehow mange to retain vegetation year round- even though it has not rained in nine months.

Here is the post: http://www.permies.com/t/31794/desert/Desert-Corn-Growing-Techniques

Look for the "Project Deep Roots" file in the first post. That's the technique in a nutshell that I put into a proposal for the Arizona Grain Research Council. Should give you a basic understanding of the Trench Method for growing just about anything. It works in all soil types, but in sands it REALLY shines!

You are further welcome to contact me here, there or offboard at techjeff@hotmail.com

Happy planting and if you try the method, PLEASE do keep in touch with results! I want to prove this across as many people as possible to make sure it's not a local phenomenon. The beautiful thing is, the trench method works in places where hugelkultur is challenged. If you have mixed use lands of moderate rainfall or better with sandy soils, this might just be what you are looking for! I know if you live in desert sands like I did, this is exactly what you are looking for!

Jeff
 
patrick canidae
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Peter Ingot wrote:

I agree with the technique. Cutting and mulching is a good way to go.

BUT

Legumes are actually pretty scrawny little plants compared to something like ryegrass, with very little leaf or root matter, and you are trying to beef up your soil with organic matter. Grass roots work miracles, although you need to thoroughly kill something like ryegrass or fescue before you plant vegetables. Clover amongst vegetables is generally a good idea in the garden. It's another kind of legume-non-legume mixture.

Also that quantity of clover seed would be really expensive, why plant more than you actually need? Grass seed tends to be cheaper.

It also seemed to me extremely likely that legume monocultures would lose a lot of phosphate, potassium etc. as well as nitrogen. A legume monoculture contains less of these minerals in its hay than a mixed sward, so they must be going somewhere. It's a fair bet a lot of them are leaching out. None of these nutrients sit around long in a sandy soil. Either something uses them or they wash away.


You should graze a few thousand acres of self sustaining pastures in half a dozen states before you base too much opinion on a thesis project. Clover seed is dirt cheap. 50 pound bags of Mammoth red and Dixie crimson can be had for $100-125. Sweet clover and berseem slightly more. For a 30% stand, a couple of pounds per acre are adequate. Even at 20 pounds an acre it is cheaper than anything else you can do. It is perennial and self seeds once established. You can't haul in tons of wood chips, manure, etc for the same price. I would broadcast a 4 or 5 way mix at 15-20 pounds an acre.

I can produce literal tons of clover an acre, and have put up to 200 units of N an acre into soils with my methods, and the plants are anything but short or scrawny. For a mixed pasture, and not a soil building enterprise, a 30-40% legume mix is optimal for balancing nitrogen needs and forage production and ultimately pounds of animal gain per acre.

All of the nutrients will be cycled, not lost. If you hauled this away as hay you might lose any mined P and K, but not when placing it onto the same soils it is mined from. You must also remember, that clover will keep pumping in N if you cut and carry the tops away. The land receiving the wet cut hay mulch gets N in the form of protein in the leaves and stems, and the living plant root mass must take some of that symbiotically produced N and put it into the next wave of new growth.
 
Michael Bajema
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Hello, Pamela.

I have two comments.
1. The house I am buying has rather good soil, and not much sand, which means I may have a problem growing Bayberry -- produces Bay leaves, fixes Nitrogen, has leaves which smell good (Bay) and have a complementary color (greyish green), and produces berries which make the wax for bayberry candles. So...my first point is that part of Permaculture is finding the crops which like the conditions we have. Thus, I should not be disappointed about not being able to grow Bayberry...but I am.

2. Another piece of Permaculture is observation. I often struggle with that because I have not 'observed' some of the situations that I want to develop...but I *have* observed sand turned into soil. Growing up, I lived next to a river. One year, it flooded and destroyed the sandbar where I loved to play, and all of the plants on it that I enjoyed. But (and this is one of the things that helped connect me to Permaculture), I got to see a wonderful example of succession over the next 15 years (and still go back today). In that area (Washington State) Black Cottonwood (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus_trichocarpa) is very common and grows very quickly. Logs & Twigs had been left behind by the flood, and they sprouted. The ground was ONLY coarse sand and rocks, but soon we had 20+-foot-tall trees. I know that at most by 8 years later, SO MUCH organic matter had fallen from these trees that there was grass and fungus growing there. We had (and still have) some real soil there...all because these trees grow very fast and produce a LOT of leaves. Eight years may be longer than you want, AND this site had the advantage of unlimited water permeating the sand from the river right there...it was never dry more than a few inches down.

Fun story...the family that owns that farm today has 5 boys...the youngest were 10 & 12 when I was last there. Their playtime hobby? Cutting down some of these massive cottonwoods...with an ax. Then cutting the logs up with axes and building trails through the gaps and play houses with the logs. I just watched them take turns cutting through this 20-inch log, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. I hope my son can find such things enjoyable, and not be addicted to video games!

I hope there is something helpful in there.
Michael
 
Pamela Smith
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Thanks for sharing Michael. Yes, there is much to glean from your story. Much appreciated.
 
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