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The ground in my yard is so hard! Help?  RSS feed

 
Megan Renee
Posts: 2
Location: South East USA
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Good Morning Y'all!

I just joined the forum but am excited to be here as I'm a total permaculture beginner and have a million questions (but tons of enthusiasm!). I live in a city, and my yard will be my project/work/garden space. My back yard is fairly large, but unfortunately floods a few times a year (sometimes 4-5 feet), so I don't think it's the best place to invest my energy... 

So, the front yard it is! I should note that my house is on a downward hill- so the backyard flooding doesn't flood the house (occasionally the basement a little.)

After years of total neglect the front yard had turned into a pretty chaotic overgrown viney mess. Some serious hard work later and we've cleared out a nice spot! Here are the issues that concern me (and where I'm hoping some seasoned permies can help with advice or ideas)...

-The ground is hard. Like ridiculously hard.
-There are still tons of vine roots all under the surface, and some pretty big stumpy ones too.

I've read about the no-till/no-dig... but in this case wouldn't it be best to till the land, remove the system of vine roots and add compost (other soil friendly things too?) and let the soil ecosystem start over?

I'm not in a huge rush (so much learning to do) so waiting for the soil to recover from being tilled wouldn't be a huge deal. I just don't know if that's a good idea or would even solve the problems.

Also, since the front yard is sloped I was thinking of building a small retaining wall to help level things out. Any advice there?

I've attempted to add a couple of pictures- I hope they work!

- Megan
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Here is a picture from inside my house looking out to our freshly cleared spot
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I didn't take a proper before picture, but here you can see the density
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After most of the hard work was done.
 
Casie Becker
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Many viney plants can resprout from even small pieces of root. I don't know what kind of vine you are working with there, but many of the natives here have extensive root systems that can be several feet deep. I would expect you to need to repeatedly pull and/or dig out returning vines until you exhaust the stored energy in those roots. I do think tilling and sifting out what you can will do a lot to speed the process.

This is another area where a thick mulch helps. The vine expends energy growing up through the mulch and is easily pulled till at least the depth of the soil and then has to spend all that energy to get through the mulch again. If you till and then mulch, an organic mulch will do a lot to feed your redeveloping soil community.

My favorite mulch is free wood chips sourced from local tree trimmers. They are less likely to be sprayed with noxious chemicals than most materials and usually are a free resource. Many landscapers and tree trimmers are looking for places to dump whole truck loads. I think the mostly likely catch in all this is that you could have unwanted plant seeds hitch a ride in the chips, but these unwanted plants are far easier to weed out of a thick mulch than a hard soil.

On another note, one of the nice catch phrases of permaculture is "the problem is the solution" There are a lot of ornamental and edible options for wetlands and ponds. Maybe in time you will find yourself planting things like water chestnuts, celery, and sacred lotus into a backyard wetland. Don't feel pressured to tackle another project, I just wanted to raise the possibility. It's hard to believe now, but eventually you will have time to spare from your front yard.
 
Chris Giffin
Posts: 14
Location: Cincinnati, OH
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I'd probably plant a bunch of radish and beans in the spring and replant as they seed for a season(don't harvest the radish just let it flower/seed and then replant those) I used Icicle radish and daikon, both growing well for me here in Cincinnati, Ohio. If you don't have access to daikon seeds just buy an organic one from the store eat it and pop the greens into the dirt with a bit of the radish still attached.  I been doing that and its loosened my soil up a bunch in spots where it was hard.  Just stagger and keep replanting and saving a bit of the seed as you go for next season. If your basement is flooding even a little bit you might consider regrading it as well before you do all that or digging some ditches or something to stop that from happening. I'm a newbie as well so take what I say with a grain of salt.
 
Connor Leigh
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Chris and Cassie made a lot of good points that I agree with.

Here would be a draft game plan that I might use.

1) Water and then till or loosen the soil with a shovel, but avoid turning the soil over. If your soil is really as hard as you say it is then sheet mulching alone will just take too long.

2) Heavy mulch with woodchips / leaves/ other organic matter. This will create a paradise for a bugs, fungi, and bacteria that will essentially digest your soil and improve it in countless ways beyond loosening it up.

3) Plant tons of daikon radish, or something similar, as a cover crop, and let most of it rot in your soil. This is a really quick way to aerate, loosen, and add oodles of organic matter to your soil, and still glean a bit of a harvest.

Step 1.5 could be to add a micro-swale above your garden beds to slow the water and prevent all of your hard earned organic matter and nutrients from washing away.


I would also consider doing some hugelkultur!

You could even do a terrace of beds, hugelkultur or not, each along a contour down your slope to help slow, spread and sink your water/fertility.


 
Tyler Ludens
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Connor Leigh wrote:
You could even do a terrace of beds, hugelkultur or not, each along a contour down your slope to help slow, spread and sink your water/fertility.




Not recommended to put hugelkultur on contour.  http://permaculturenews.org/2015/11/06/dont-try-building-hugel-swales-this-is-a-very-and-i-mean-very-bad-idea/
 
Connor Leigh
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Connor Leigh wrote:
You could even do a terrace of beds, hugelkultur or not, each along a contour down your slope to help slow, spread and sink your water/fertility.




Not recommended to put hugelkultur on contour.  http://permaculturenews.org/2015/11/06/dont-try-building-hugel-swales-this-is-a-very-and-i-mean-very-bad-idea/


Good article, yet I don't think there is real potential for disaster from what I know of Megan(OP)'s situation. Your article confirms that on a small scale that 'hugel swales' could work fine.

"Can you make small hugel like beds on contour safely? Yep I have done so on my own property, the majority of the wood is below grade, the mounds on contour only account for about 2,000 square feet and the hills are only 36 inches wide and were built to about 24 inches high. They were annually cropped for a season then successed to become a small orchard. The total catchment they take water from is only about 5,000 square feet and there are no “ditches” just contour paths between their four rows."

His example is even larger than the situation in question.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yeah, I just feel obligated to post that article whenever people talk about putting hugelkultur on contour. 

 
Connor Leigh
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Tyler,
Thanks for sharing, I am glad I have that info in my brain now!
 
Marco Banks
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I've had several friends and neighbors take a look at my soil and say, "My soil is just hard clay.  You're so lucky you got good soil."

Uh. . . . no.  We live in the same town.  Same soil.  Pretty much most of Southern California has hard clay soil.  My soil used to be hard as a brick, but 15 years of heavily mulching with wood chips has completely transformed it.  Clay is great soil, but without carbon, the clay particles "nest" against each other tightly.  Think of a stack of paper plates, one tightly nesting inside the next.  But when you put a lot of biomass on top of the soil, it breaks down and the worms begin to integrate it down into the soil profile.  Those tight stacks of clay particles are broken up into crumbly cottage-cheese-like texture.  (This is a simplistic formula that doesn't account for the work done by fungi and root exudates, but lets not get too complicated here.)   It's about as close to magic as you can get.  Biomass, water, fungi and worms . . . that clay soil will be transformed to rich, black, loose, crumbly and fertile.

Pile on the mulch and give it time.

That simple?  YES -- just that simple.  Pile wood chips or some other carbon-rich mulch onto the surface of the soil, and then leave it alone.  Tilling it really won't speed things up appreciably.  It's good to water the mulch, so if you've got an automatic sprinkler system, just raise your sprinkler heads with extenders, or spread the mulch away from them.  But leave the soil alone and watch what happens.

As for the vines, they will most likely re-sprout, even under all that mulch.  You'll need to continue to pull them out.  Once your soil is softer, that task becomes a whole lot easier.
 
Virginia Ratliff
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Location: Bartow County GA
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I sat down with the yellow pages and started calling tree companies for free mulch delivery...in less than a month I had 3 truckloads delivered! My hubby is still kind of freaking out that I have almost covered the whole yard...but I did leave a strip of grass close to the road...for him and the neighbors! Sometimes local horse farms will deliver their compost to you...most all will allow you to come haul off their compost.

Watching the change is becoming a complete thrill! I just covered up the yard...at least 4 inches deep...some places deeper. I have 2 hugelkulturs and 1 raised bed in my front yard...one hugel is asparagus and the other annual veggies, the raised bed is annual veggies. Working on planting the rest in perennials. I have planted 2 apple trees, 2 blueberry bushes and 2 raspberries in the last 2 years...the blueberries, I neglected and lost...the raspberries were bare root...they never even came up. Everything was bought off the clearance rack at a big box store...chalked up to lessons learned!

I also have rabbits that I collect their goodies and make compost tea in a kiddie pool...I have a cheap pump that my drill runs and I put a sprinkler on the end and water like that sometimes...I have entertained the idea of "filtering" that water and running it thru a soaker hose.

You will be amazed at once the change starts at how fast things change and grow! I wish you good luck! Keep up the good work!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Virginia Ratliff wrote: Sometimes local horse farms will deliver their compost to you


Beware:  https://permies.com/t/57773/composting/Paul-watch-killer-compost

(I'm sorry I keep posting negative stuff   )
 
Michael Cox
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Take a look at the "Back To Eden" video on gardening with woodchips. Feel free to ignore the blatant religious comments throughout.
 
Bill Erickson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Virginia Ratliff wrote: Sometimes local horse farms will deliver their compost to you


Beware:  https://permies.com/t/57773/composting/Paul-watch-killer-compost

(I'm sorry I keep posting negative stuff   )


Giving a heads up on things is always a good thing, Tyler. I appreciate it anyway.
 
Virginia Ratliff
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My bad...should have stated the negative possibilities about "imported" manure. I also "second" the "Back to Eden" video...there are lots of youtube videos worth watching on his farm! I have only been studying alternative food production methods for about 3 years...the first of which I spent observing my yard...I had acquired a new sun pattern because we took down the last of our pine trees. Learning about nitrogen fixing plants...companion plantings...moving into more perennial food plants...trees...I am working with 8/10th's of an acre in a residential neighborhood. Building my soil...I have focused on that, and I started small. I started with one "dedicated" bed, that has grown into three plus 2 hugels. I am slowly but surely taking over the whole yard. I have had rabbits for years, the last year I have added ducks and chickens! My worm population is amazing in places and I just keep striving to make the whole yard more productive! My goal is to be able to graze your way thru my yard!
 
Cristo Balete
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I'd just like to mention, here, that the wood chip version of Back To Eden doesn't provide enough nutrition for a human being.  Just because you can grow big, verdant plants doesn't mean they have nutrition in them.  We can get tons of growth out of high-nitrate fertilizer, too, and we all know we get nutrients we don't want out of that, so greenery cannot be the indicator of healthy food.

Humans need organic matter from many sources, Compost, leaves, mowed weeds, animal manures, chopped greenery and cover crops.   We need as many sources of soil amendments as we can possibly get.

  The other part of the wood chip issue is that not all wood chips are alike.  Everyone talks about them as if they are equal, and they are not.  It's crucial to know what kind of wood you are getting, because some of them, like redwood and red cedar, have growth inhibitors. 

 
Tyler Ludens
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Cristo Balete wrote:I'd just like to mention, here, that the wood chip version of Back To Eden doesn't provide enough nutrition for a human being.


Have the vegetables been tested and proven deficient in nutrition?

 
Dan Boone
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Chris Giffin wrote:If you don't have access to daikon seeds just buy an organic one from the store eat it and pop the greens into the dirt with a bit of the radish still attached.


Another trick if you're too impatient to order daikon seed off the internet is to check the froo-froo organic markets where they sell sprouting kits and supplies.  Usually they'll have daikon seed for sprouting (to eat the sprouts) in like four ounce packages, for five or six bucks (compared to three bucks for 25 seeds in a typical commercial seed packet).  Still not as cheap as you can get it via some bulk source, but not a bad little store hack if you're trying to pick some up in a hurry.
 
Marco Banks
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Cristo Balete wrote:I'd just like to mention, here, that the wood chip version of Back To Eden doesn't provide enough nutrition for a human being.  Just because you can grow big, verdant plants doesn't mean they have nutrition in them.  We can get tons of growth out of high-nitrate fertilizer, too, and we all know we get nutrients we don't want out of that, so greenery cannot be the indicator of healthy food.

Humans need organic matter from many sources, Compost, leaves, mowed weeds, animal manures, chopped greenery and cover crops.   We need as many sources of soil amendments as we can possibly get.

  The other part of the wood chip issue is that not all wood chips are alike.  Everyone talks about them as if they are equal, and they are not.  It's crucial to know what kind of wood you are getting, because some of them, like redwood and red cedar, have growth inhibitors. 



The wonderful thing about getting wood chips is that usually there are multiple species of trees in a single 20 yard load (the BIG ASS trucks that the biggest tree trimming companies have in their fleet).

I've got a load of chips in my driveway right now.  I can smell them, even as I type.  So far as I've moved them, I've seen olive, eucalyptus, holly oak, jacaranda, carrot wood, bougainvillea, some sort of long needled pine, and ficus microcarpa.   That load of mulch must have been sitting in the truck for a week or so, because it's "melted" down quite a bit --- very hot in the center of the pile --- composting and ready to go.

Even chips from black walnut or eucalyptus are still great, even if they inhibit growth for a few months.  I take them all.  Time, fungi and microbes quickly render them inert and good for the garden.  When in doubt, spread them in a location where you want to inhibit weeds --- the back of the orchard or between raised beds.

I'm not sure you can just make a comment like, "the wood chip version of Back To Eden doesn't provide enough nutrition for a human being".  My experience would certainly provide ample evidence to the contrary.  Wood chips and water are our only inputs, and we grow 90% of our fruits and veggies, and about 75% of our chicken feed—and this is on a 1/3rd acre suburban lot.  I've never had my carrots, apples, pomegranates or beets tested, but I'd put their nutrient density up against anyone else's and feel confident in the outcome.
 
mike walla
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Your yard is missing a protective layer of high carbon organic material.  This six to 12 inch layer will allow the micro-organisms just below the surface of your sun-baked clay crust to establish in the high carbon mulch layer.  Example, high carbon layers include:

1) saw dust or wood shavings.  Spread bags of free wood worker saw dust and shaving in 18-inch thick layers.  Wet the layer of wood particles to make it easier to pack down the layer by walking on it.  If it is the raining season then rain will wet the layer for you.
2) wood chips.  Spread think enough so that flooding does not float away wood chips.
3) if the rain does not do it for you keep the mulch layer moist till spring.

This ends Part I (fall rainy season soil preparation)

Part II  Bring the Mulch layer alive with living plants
.,
.,
.
 
Lynne Smith
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I've got a load of chips in my driveway right now.  I can smell them, even as I type.  So far as I've moved them, I've seen olive, eucalyptus, holly oak, jacaranda, carrot wood, bougainvillea, some sort of long needled pine, and ficus microcarpa. 
<snip>
Even chips from black walnut or eucalyptus are still great, even if they inhibit growth for a few months.  I take them all.
I've never had my carrots, apples, pomegranates or beets tested, but I'd put their nutrient density up against anyone else's and feel confident in the outcome.

You must live in Florida or pretty south.
They say it is hard to grow anything much around the black walnut.
I DO know that a person should never use woodchips or shavings from a black walnut or any walnut around horses. Especially for their bedding. It WILL kill a horse.
Just a thumbs up on that in case anyone out there thinos about using it for that
purpose.
I know that as a woodworker the dust can shut me down if I do not put my mask on.
Bad stuff!  But I do love the wood. It is beautiful.
Can things grow around a eucalyptus tree? It is so aromatic..
Lynne
 
Ken W Wilson
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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If you have room, you could plant pecan trees in the back yard. The native pecans we have in MO are mostly found on flood ground. The nuts might wash away some years.
 
Bart Wallace
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I would plow it up to break it up and to get rid of some of the roots. I would also plow in a bunch of organic material and then mulch it thick and deep. Weeds pull up so much easier than mulch. Get some free mulch. You back yard looks very wooded. Go back there and rake of those leaves and such
 
Casie Becker
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Bart, a big problem with many weeds is that they can grow whole plants from pieces of root so the last thing you want to do is tear the roots into pieces in the ground. This can actually work to our benefit with some plants in permaculture. I didn't plant purple sweet potatoes last year but harvested several pounds from vines that sprouted from remnants of last years roots. It's not so welcome when you don't like the plant.
 
Bart Wallace
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Thanks. Never really thought about that to much. Perhaps just letting mulch breakdown on the top then would be my suggested strategy.
 
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