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Newbie working to bring soil back to life - do I have this right?  RSS feed

 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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A year ago we moved from a small city lot to a semi-rural 1/2 acre. We wanted, and found, a fixer-upper in every sense of the word. I am new to edible gardening, except for some herbs in pots, so I have been reading and absorbing as much as I can. My other big interest is gardening for wildlife with California native plants.

My question concerns a big block in the backyard where the previous owners had a batting cage set up for at least a dozen years. The soil is very compacted and they had a few inches of decomposed granite on top. We moved most of the decomposed granite for a path and now we have a stretch of hardpan that sits between what will be the greywater irrigation field and a long stretch of two terraces that will be rain gardens. I have a plan but I just want to make sure it is a good plan and that I am not leaving out anything important.

My plan is to start build small lasagna beds and maybe a Hugel mound or two (we have a lot of logs and branches from dead trees that we took down and lots of wood chips.) I figure to take a few years to improve the soil so small mounds/beds which will break down and can be spread out will work for me.

What I don't know is if I should do anything to the hardpan before I build the beds - like dig at it with a pickaxe to break it up some, or if I just build the beds/mounds on top of the hardpan, will it eventually break down?

I also was thinking this would be a good place to "compost in place" so I thought I would lay down cardboard, put out the week's kitchen clippings, cover with woodchips.

Am I on the right track? I have been reading so much that I feel a bit worried that I have crossed my wires somewhere.

Thanks in advance and I want you all to know how much I appreciate the sharing of knowledge that I see when I read your many posts. It is exciting to think of the growing journey ahead.

Susan
 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 240
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Yes, you are on the right track. Pile the organic matter on top. Keep the 'mulch' wet. Let time and nature do their work. Will breaking up the soil first help? Maybe a little. It is a lot of work for a small increase in progress. Nature will do far more than you will achieve with the labor. Your choice. However, if you do break up the soil, cover it immediately. It will return to hard pan quickly without a cover on it. Keep it moist at all times for fastest results.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Thank you, Jack. I am not a fan of trying to break up that hardpan so I will just pile on the organic stuff and let nature do the work for me,
 
Aaron Barkel
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You might drag a tiller over it first to break up the hard pan then throw some raddish tillage seeds on it to break it up further. Other than that, your plan sounds solid.
 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 240
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Aaron makes a good point. a heavy root crop would do a lot of deep tillage for you while you wait. Clover, hemp, brassicas, alfalfa, and comfrey would all be good choices depending on the season and zone.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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No access to a tiller so I think I will have to let nature do the work for me. I will try to soak the ground a bit first if I can. And yes, some cover crops to help with it all.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Any plants that grow in your area that have deep roots will do the digging for you.
And not to scare you but some of the best things for this are "weeds". Look around your area for a place that has been scraped clear and see what weeds have come up. Those are the ones you want !
 
Mick Fisch
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Plant deep rooted things. Stuff that will send a tiny little rootlet into the hardpan, then grow the rootlet thicker and shatter the hardpan. Then, once it dies, it rots in place and put organic matter in the hardpan.

Bountiful gardens offers a fodder radish (basically a daikon varient) that they say is good for breaking up hardpan. You grow it over the fall and winter, then leave the root to break down and add humus.

I haven't grown this plant and don't own shares in bountiful gardens, just naming a possibility that comes to mind.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Any plants that grow in your area that have deep roots will do the digging for you.
And not to scare you but some of the best things for this are "weeds". Look around your area for a place that has been scraped clear and see what weeds have come up. Those are the ones you want !


Oh this is a good point, Miles. And of course one man's weed is another man's treasure.
Thank you.


Mick Fisch wrote:
Plant deep rooted things. Stuff that will send a tiny little rootlet into the hardpan, then grow the rootlet thicker and shatter the hardpan. Then, once it dies, it rots in place and put organic matter in the hardpan.

Bountiful gardens offers a fodder radish (basically a daikon varient) that they say is good for breaking up hardpan. You grow it over the fall and winter, then leave the root to break down and add humus.

I haven't grown this plant and don't own shares in bountiful gardens, just naming a possibility that comes to mind.


Thanks, Mick. I will go check that out. I was excited about Daikon until I heard how much they stink as they rot. I have a digger dog who would be digging them up to roll in them and that wouldn't be a lot of fun to deal with.
 
Emilie Thomas-Anderson
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Location: Ben Lomond, CA
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Hi Susan,
A couple of years ago I started a garden on top of an area that used to be a road, paved with decomposed granite, which had maybe four inches of topsoil above it from at least three decades of fallen leaves. I did a major sheet mulching and grew cover crop the first year - tillage radish, favas, annual rye, and mustard - and let the cover crop go to seed. This year, I threw on some oats and also have tons of tillage radish etc. coming up from last year's seed. There is already a noticeable difference in the vigor of the plants and the health of the soil! I never did notice any smell from the radishes decomposing - but then again, my dog didn't have access to the area to dig them up. I think I've still got some leftover harvested seeds from those radishes, and would be happy to give some to you if you're interested!
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Emilie, thanks for your offer to share some seeds. I would love to connect with you and chat more about our SLV gardening challenges. (Sorry I was so delayed in responding to your Purple Mooseage.)

I am so glad to hear you are seeing good results with the sheet mulching in what sounds like a similar situation. I am feeling overwhelmed by everything at the moment but feel like I need to be doing something to keep moving forward. I have about 50 yards of chippings to spread, right now trying to cover the mud.

 
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