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Raised Beds Year 2: Soil settling problems!  RSS feed

 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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I have a small community garden plot with lots of restrictions on what I can do there. Earthworks and hügels are out of the question, for instance. Anyway, I chose to make raised beds with wooden sides, made of raw untreated pine I could get from a local saw mill. I wanted to and so far have implemented no till, with the soil nicely inoculated mith mycorrhizae and such, a cozy ecosystem I would prefer not to disturb.

I followed a typical "lasagna" recipe: A thick layer of hay, then a bit of well-aged sheep manure, then a ton of straw, then a bit more manure, then about 20cm/8" of my deluxe topsoil layer, which as I'm a believer in diversity, had about 20 ingredients, including biochar charged with sea minerals, EM and mycorrhizae, loads of manure, waste perlite and vermiculite a garden center was going to throw away, sand, two kinds of peat, coconut coir, worm castings, commercial compost, etc., etc.

It's done really well in it's first 8 months, but as we figured and were warned the soil has settled A LOT. So the soil line on our once stuffed-up-to-the-top-edge beds is now 30-40cm (a foot or so) below the top edge of the sides. Which is fine, of course it was going to happen, hay and straw composts, that was the whole idea, compost settles, etc. The only problem being that there are a million wizards who will give you a lasagna recipe for when you're first building your raised beds, but I have yet to find a mention of anyone having actually dealt with a second season in such a lasagna bed, and the obvious settling problems.

Here's my biggest conundrum. I have this lovely, designer soil, with a nice thick layer of bio-activated, newly decomposed compost below it, and presumably a delicate-yet-intricate underground fungal network that would make any permie's heart sing! However, I now need to either 1) leave things as they are and plant my spring veggies into essentially a deep pit, or 2) add a bunch of stuff and then till the soil, bringing some of the lovely soil I've been creating/nursing up to the top where it will do some good and at the same time destroying the lovely fungal network that's been building, or 3) just leave stuff where it is, and throw a huge new batch of (fussy to make, expensive, but wonderful) topsoil on top and start all over again, pretty much wasting all this lovely soil and mini-ecosystem that I've been proudly incubating for the last few months as it will be too far down for most veggies to get to.

Am I missing something? Are there better options than this?

I'm really questioning the wisdom of the thick layers of hay and straw I used at the beginning for this very reason. Might very well have been better to go the wood/kindling/pseudo-hugel route or to have bit the bullet and just filled the entire bed top to bottom with expensive designer topsoil. But anyway, I am where I am and would love to hear a few opinions (or better yet real life experience) about what I should do next. I need to be planting my peas soon. Visual attached. Thanks.

PS - I know most of you permies will want to drag me out to the woodshed for my expensive, designer topsoil. I sympathize with you, I promise. Here's the sitch: I have this 25m2 (250 sq ft) plot for 5 years max and I don't have any rural resources to feed it with, so I just had to get going with what I could put together. I am a homesteader wannabe that lives in an apartment with a balcony and has a typical urbanite business. Great ideas and solutions are all much appreciated, but please keep in mind that I don't have access to much outside the scope of a couple of local garden centers with limited product range and said 25m2.
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R Scott
Posts: 3341
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Plan B. Remove the top board and it will look like you meant to do it.

Plan C. DEEP mulch, wood chips or straw or whatever you can get. It will fill the bed in the next season our two.

 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 746
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Pits are a good thing in a Mediterranean climate, helps the soil retain moisture.

In your case not so much- since it's elevated- but a tiny bit of shade on the soil shouldn't hurt.
 
Casie Becker
garden master
Posts: 1380
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I'm gonna agree with Scott, deep mulch that bed. I have nearly unlimited access to ramial wood chips and a place to store them. All of my beds are already slightly raised from where they started just from the build up of these chips.

If you go the route of wood chips most people say just leave it on the top for at least a year to avoid nitrogen shortages. My mother insists she's never had problems stirring it right in, but she's also had access to large quantities of manure.

Remember that you aren't ever wasting deep soil improvments. Even if the plants can't reach down to the soil biology, the soil organisms (mostly the fungi) will be reaching up to the plants. The extended access to nutrient caused by the fungi joining forces with the plant roots is actually one of the reasons we want to encourage soil biology.
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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R Scott wrote:Plan B. Remove the top board and it will look like you meant to do it.


My, you are devious! I like how you think! Actually, I like how both you guys think: Maybe this isn't such a problem after all. Sun is often in short supply where we are, so if anyone has any brilliant suggestions that do involve raising the soil line, I'm all ears!
 
Dave de Basque
Posts: 125
Location: Basque Country, Spain-43N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
22
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Hmmm... The votes are piling up for deep mulching. And I've got a bunch of oak leaves saved up for that purpose. So, some deep mulching questions:

1) Any luck warding off slugs and snails? (We have fairly constant pressure in our fairly wet climate.) I've heard oak leaves are hated by our gastropoda friends so maybe oak leaf mulch will do?

2) How on earth do you deep mulch when first sowing, broadcasting or planting seedlings? I suppose you have to first clear off all mulch, and then build it up as the plants grow?

3) With a mulch material that doesn't stick to itself like e.g. straw does, i.e. anarchistic shredded oak leaves, how do you keep a deep mulch away from your plant stems? Or is that really not so important?

Boy these seem like really basic questions... So glad I decided to start this discussion in the "gardening for beginners" section!
 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 746
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Dave Forrest wrote:Hmmm... The votes are piling up for deep mulching. And I've got a bunch of oak leaves saved up for that purpose. So, some deep mulching questions:

1) Any luck warding off slugs and snails? (We have fairly constant pressure in our fairly wet climate.) I've heard oak leaves are hated by our gastropoda friends so maybe oak leaf mulch will do?

Nope. I haven't heard of anyone personally having any luck warding them off [except via slug moat.] Personally I welcome the protein delivery for ducks, but one can't exactly keep ducks at a community garden.

2) How on earth do you deep mulch when first sowing, broadcasting or planting seedlings? I suppose you have to first clear off all mulch, and then build it up as the plants grow?
You sow, THEN you deep mulch. The main recommendation I've seen is not to deep mulch more than 4 inches thick at a time.

3) With a mulch material that doesn't stick to itself like e.g. straw does, i.e. anarchistic shredded oak leaves, how do you keep a deep mulch away from your plant stems? Or is that really not so important?
It's generally not. The concern there is more about woody perennials that might get girdled by certain pests that like to hide in mulch.
 
Casie Becker
garden master
Posts: 1380
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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Dave Forrest wrote:
1) Any luck warding off slugs and snails? (We have fairly constant pressure in our fairly wet climate.) I've heard oak leaves are hated by our gastropoda friends so maybe oak leaf mulch will do?


Sorry, not much slug pressure in this part of Texas. If I had realized how wet your climate was I might have reconsidered mulching. The only things I've heard of (other than ducks) that sounds like it works are all versions of manual picking them off yourself. Those seem to work either through setting up a tempting habitat which you can remove them from or going out at night when they're active. This kind of action has worked fairly well for some of the insect pests I have here, but not all.

Dave Forrest wrote: How on earth do you deep mulch when first sowing, broadcasting or planting seedlings? I suppose you have to first clear off all mulch, and then build it up as the plants grow?


That's correct. If they seed doesn't requite light to germinate you can let some of the mulch thinly cover the planted seeds (like beans and squash) and this can slow the germination of weeds. But with slugs in the picture, maybe this would encourage them to eat the seedlings.

Dave Forrest wrote:Boy these seem like really basic questions... So glad I decided to start this discussion in the "gardening for beginners" section!


People aren't being facetious when they say the answer is "it depends." Even the basic questions are complicated if you're going to get the best results for your circumstances.
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
Posts: 735
Location: Longbranch, WA
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Plan D: Move soil from the edges to hill up your leeks and stuff your leaves around the edge. 1. This will make the boards last longer with more chance to dry between rains. 2. This is where the slugs will hide. You can then put beer traps between the mulch border and the plants. 3. Your soil organisms will work there way into the side mulch and make more new soil to mound up the next year.
Usually the lasagna method involves making a new lasagna in the path during the growing season and then moving the soil the second year to the top of the path from last year and creating a new lasagna path where the bed was last year. 5. Plan D replicates this in a raised bed in a community garden setting where you are not expected to compost in the path.

I don't know if you have slug eating snakes there but they are quite helpful in my garden. Slugs prefer traveling on smooth plastic surfaces so if there is a hose in the garden they will travel along it. Small plastic food tubs with the lid on and a hole cut in the side will make a hotel for them. bury it in the leaves with fruit as an attractant and a string attached to the surface so you can find it and empty them into a slug compost bin whitch has to have a tight lid and small air holes. Put your vegetable trimmings and weeds in there for them to eat. When you are ready to harvest your slug manure but the bin out in the hot sun to kill the slugs and their eggs. That is the permies way; make the problem a solution. I did this one year gathering all the slugs on the lawn on my way to the bin early each morning and wound up with a half a garbage can of nitrogen source to heat up my leaf compost that fall.
 
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