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Salt in the soil.  RSS feed

 
Mershka Calico
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Location: Northeast Oregon, US
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At some point, someone who didn’t know any better broadcasted some minerals around the soil of one of the garden areas. There is a trash can containing the minerals left down there. After noticing unusual growing characteristics (a general lack of growth, and chlorosis in some plants) of some plants in that area, I had a terrible thought which made my heart sink into my stomach. I went over to the trash can, opened it, and gave the minerals a taste. Salt. They used livestock minerals on the garden. After getting over my initial feelings of sadness, anger, confusion and -face palm-, my mind started getting to work. I don’t know how much of that area was salted, nor to what degree. The fruit trees seem to be growing well, but they’re on the upper half of the area and not where the veggies are grown. My first thought was just to fill the areas where veggies don’t grow well with salt-tolerant trees, like locusts, the local alders, hawthorns, etc. The majority of the veggies which we’d like to put down there could use the extra shade during the summer anyway. That’s assuming there are spots without much salt in there somewhere. And I still have no way of knowing where the salt is and is not, and where it is in the highest concentration. I’ve thought of flooding the place somehow, but we really don’t have enough water for that, plus the feet of heavy clay soil can make that difficult, as far as I know.
Does anyone have information or tips on how to deal with this? Is there some magic solution? Am I best off with the salt-tolerant trees? It’s my understanding that they’ll eventually take up at least some of the sodium, but I don’t know to what degree or how long it would take to make a difference.
My cabbages are suffering!
 
Amit Enventres
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Location: Ohio, USA
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Oye! Salt.

So, there is a list out there somewhere of the salt tolerance level of different veggies. Watering it out is the best thing you can do, which means: water while it's drizzling and after it rains if you are in a dry climate (so it sounds). BUT, you can also grow tamarix, which accumulates salt in it's leaves: then dispose of the leaf drop and eventually the plant. They can go weedy. You might be able to grow pickle-weed (the dispose of the salt-filled biomass). Sometimes cattails are also tolerant. Depends on your moisture levels. Those two like extra moisture. tamarix does too, but can stand quite dry. Also: consider what is grown close to the ocean: aloe vera, nopales, asperagus, citrus, and strawberries. If you do cover it, and then the soil dries, those plants will have their roots down in the ground and be sucking from that salt area in any fill that's less than like a foot deep - and even still- perennials will reach deeper! I think I remember barely being very salt tolerant too. If the area is not naturally salty and just contaminated, then in time it will return to normal. Adding organic matter will help with bulk, general plant health, drainage, and holding moisture so the plants don't dry out. when it gets dry, they suffer more.

I hope that helps!
 
John Weiland
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Location: RRV of da Nort
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Salt: You should be okay with beets and their relatives. Most domesticated beets and chard were derived from "sea beet", Beta maritima, which was very coastal and tolerant of higher than average salt concentrations.
 
Mershka Calico
Posts: 8
Location: Northeast Oregon, US
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Oh my gosh you two, thank you so much.
It's nice seeing the options you talked about and I'm going to look up salt tolerant veggies later today and change my plans for that area. I still might turn it into a tree zone though, it seems like a nice idea now that I'm used to it.
 
alex Keenan
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Electrical Conductivity is a very quick, simple and inexpensive method that farmers and home gardeners can use to check the health of their soils. You should be able to use a EC to get a handle on where the salt is.



Deep Tilling or deep double digging in a garden. Maybe yeomans plow.
For soils with high salt levels, deep tilling can help by improving drainage. This method works by breaking up hard soils, such as compacted clay, known as claypans, or rocklike soil layers, known as hardpans, that prevent the downward flow of water. Deep-tilling the soil helps to improve downward water flow but is usually only temporary, as some parts of the soil may harden and reseal.

Flushing Soil and Preventing Evaporation
Flushing the soil is the process of using a low-salt water to irrigate the area and wash the salt below the root zone; however, this process works only with soils that have good drainage. A soil test can help you determine how much water to use; the soil should be tested again to make sure the process worked. When water evaporates on a dry soil surface, it leaves salt behind. To help prevent evaporation, you can add a layer of mulch to help soil retain moisture.

Chemical Remediation
Amending salty soils with sulfur, lime or calcium can help by removing or replacing the sodium in the soil. A soil test is needed to determine how much calcium, sulfur or lime to add. Sulfur amendments are used for soils that have free calcium carbonates. Several factors determine how the amendments are applied, including the area's groundwater, specific soil condition and geological factors.

Combination of Methods
A combination approach is more effective at dispersing enough salt from the surface to sustain plant growth. Start treating the surface first by applying the correct amendment and working it in, using deep tilling. Then flush the soil with water to leach the salt from the surface, which means adding enough water to move the salt through the soil. Use the soil test results to determine how much water to use. Repeat this process, and test the soil periodically to measure progress.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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In the "Greening the Desert" video, Geoff Lawton speaks about how fungal activity encapsulated the salts in the soil and made the inert. Check it out. Lots of ramial mulch will speed the process.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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[quote=Jd Gonzalez]In the "Greening the Desert" video, Geoff Lawton speaks about how fungal activity encapsulated the salts in the soil and made the inert. Check it out. Lots of ramial mulch will speed the process. [/quote]

I immediately thought of that video. Fungi do all sorts of wonderful things in your soil, tying up salt being just one of them. If you can pile on the high-carbon mulch (wood chips), you'll give the fungi an environment to establish their network. The fungi will also open up pathways in the soil so that water will flush the salt down into a deeper profile where it will not adversely impact shallow rooted annuals and herbaceous plants. There is a kind of natural selection that takes place --- fungi and microbes that do well in such an environment will thrive.

There are a number of trees that tolerate salty soils -- basically anything that naturally grows close to the ocean, but also popular landscaping trees like Crepe Myrtle and Sweet Gum. Thornless Honeylocust does very well in high salt soils and I believe that it's a nitrogen fixer (although some have debated that, as the roots don't fix nodules). Just Google "Salt tolerant trees" and you'll find all sorts of lists out there on the interwebs.

If the salt is still mostly on the soil surface, you could always scrape the top 3 inches or so and haul it away. That would be sad and a ton of work, but with heavy mulch and compost, you could rebuild that top soil within 2 years. HEAVY mulch -- wood chips, etc. I'd rather deal with the problem once and be done with it, than to watch your poor cabbages die year after year.

If you can't remediate the salt and grow food crops there, then you could plant trees like the ones I list above and at least recover fire wood or lumber from that space.

 
alex Keenan
Posts: 487
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If you use the conductivity to find the salt levels, removing the surface soil in high salt areas would not be a big issue.
You can then take this soil and build a leach pit. You likely could use gray water to leach with.
If you had to recycle the water you could sand filter and then run through a ion-exchange resin or ion-exchange polymer to absorb the sodium.
Or you could just use sun to vapor recycle water. One person I know developed a ice system to concentrate salts out of water.
 
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