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repairing soil - my post barley experiment  RSS feed

 
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This is about repairing the soil I damaged and getting back on track with my no-till experiment.  Since most of the house has gone gluten free and we have a new local brewery, I don't plan to grow barley anymore.  But there are lots of other things we can grow no-till.


A couple of years back, I attempted to grow barley using the Fukuoka method of natural farming.  Only a bad thing happened, the "organic" straw I got was heavy with herbicides.  Several years later and very few weeds or even moss will grow where my would-be barley patch was.



You can see one side of the line has moss and the other has none.  This year there is a bit more than hawkweed, but a lot of the plants in places are deformed.  It's not great to begin with, but the straw made it worse.

I'm still determined to keep trying no-till until it works. 


The first step is to transform this dirt into soil.  The soil tested acidic so we applied a small amount of lime and lightly tilled the soil so that we could seed a mixed cover crop. 



I'm feeling bad about starting a no-till with a rototiller.  I did try it without first.  I'm also reading a lot of permaculture design books right now and they all seem to start with earthworks.  Earthworks disturb the soil.  But it's just done once. 

The second step will be to seed and scythe.  With luck, something will grow and come fall, I can spread a fall cover crop mix on the area and scythe down whatever grew this spring.  If I'm lucky, the soil will be somewhat repaired by this time next year and I can grow something edible on it (I'm hoping chickpeas and/or oats) but it might take another year. But at least my chicken is fertilising while she's digging up my seed.


 
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hau R Ranson, I tried Mr. Fukuoka's method twice, neither time did I have success, probably something on my end, but I have also heard from others that their trials didn't really work.

It is my belief that just as in successful no-till, you have to have a decent base of cover crop already in place for his methods to work their best.

For you plot, to remove any contamination caused by the tainted straw, you might want to consider myco remediation through some mushroom slurries.
Another way to approach it is from the bacteria end by using some fermented leftover juices (the liquid left from the ferment is usually rich in bacteria).
Or, if you have some all natural apple cider vinegar you could take part of the mother from that jug and create a new bottle, allowing the child to grow and then using that to inoculate your space.

Using both bacteria and fungi as inoculants will greatly reduce any effects of the contaminated straw mulch as well as beefing up the soil biota.

You might try a mix of cover crops for your seeding, that way everything will be in place when you come back to give no-till another trial.

Most seeding in the no-till method uses a seed drill of some sort, I use a stick and my foot, takes longer and I don't have nice straight rows, but I don't want to spend the money for one of the push style seeders.

Redhawk
 
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Been a lot of discussion on no till lately.  No till hasn't been successful for me. But I am still hoping one day I'll get it right.  In the mean time I am watching your progress with great interest!
 
raven ranson
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I'm very curious to see how this goes.

The interesting thing is that locally mulch seldom works.  It either keeps the soil too dry by not allowing dew to penetrate, or it keeps it too wet in the winter.  Fukuoka and many no-till advocates come from places that have forests that drop their leaves, the leaves are a mulch which decomposes and creates soil.  We have very few forests like this and those we do have are in very choice conditions like estuaries or places that create their own rain from dew capture. 

But I like the idea of experimenting.  I have sections that we increase the soil fertility with animals, some with trenching compost, some with tilled under green manure.  If we can manage a crop with no-till, then that would be really nice. 
 
Bryant RedHawk
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One of the most interesting things about mulches that I have found is that they can be detrimental when not enough rainfall occurs.
In areas where fogs are the main moisture providers they can actually keep that moisture from getting to the soil surface and thus don't work the way they should.
In that type of environment it is a better use of mulch materials to work them into the soil so they form a medium for fungal and bacterial growth while at the same time providing air pathways which can direct moisture down where we need it to be.

The one constant I have found in over 40 years of research is that there is never going to be a singular way to do anything productive to creating soil.
Most of my findings point to multiple methods working in unison to reach the desired end effects.
It is the same fallacy that modern farmers have fallen for, that there is a singular way to grow the most per acre, when the data shows clearly that there isn't a universal remedy.

If we don't approach a problem from every angle we can imagine, we reduce our hope of success.
Nature never uses one particular methodology over all others, instead she hits a problem from all angles, sometimes all at once and other times in successive rounds.

Animals are wonderful tools as are deep rooting green manure crops and leaf litter, since the soil is fueled by decomposition the greater number of options we give those decomposing organisms the better they thrive and the more fertile the soil becomes from the diversity.

Redhawk
 
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I wouldn't get too bent out of shape with regards to initiating your no till system with tilling in my humble opinion.

No-till is a regenerative tool, but the conditions need to be right before the technique is appropriate. If you have a situation where current conditions are preventing progress then you an either wait until those conditions go away (the herbicide reside will eventually degrade and the soil will recover if you are prepared to wait a few decades), or you can intervene and kick start the recovery.

If that means tilling and getting a good solid cover crop established then it's in the best long term interest of the land and everything living in the soil.
 
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r ranson wrote: ...
The first step is to transform this dirt into soil.
...
I'm feeling bad about starting a no-till with a rototiller.  I did try it without first.  I'm also reading a lot of permaculture design books right now and they all seem to start with earthworks.  Earthworks disturb the soil.  But it's just done once. 

The second step will be to seed and scythe.  With luck, something will grow and come fall, I can spread a fall cover crop mix on the area and scythe down whatever grew this spring.  If I'm lucky, the soil will be somewhat repaired by this time next year and I can grow something edible on it (I'm hoping chickpeas and/or oats) but it might take another year. But at least my chicken is fertilising while she's digging up my seed.



First, a huge THANK YOU!! And a big tio of the hat to you, Ranson, for all your work including sharing all this information with us! And what a cute hen <3

I, too, have been hugely inspired by Fukuoka's work and am trying to start a natural apple orchard this year. It will be laid out in a grid basically and the squares of the grid will be open fields about 13m square for growing green manures and grains. But you've absolutely nailed it: You have to build the soil first. I'll spend two full years just growing soil builder crops before I'll plant my first cereal grain crop.

Remember the beginning of <i>One Straw</i>... traditional Japanese rice farming, while labor intensive, at a minimum it maintained soil organic matter content and nutrient levels. Or even improved them each year. It wasn't until after the US restructuring of Japan following WWII did rice farming practices become detrimental. So when Fukuoka began his <i>mu</i> experiments in the grain field he was already dealing with great, fertile, friable soil. You do not have the pleasure of such a starting point! So you must take steps. To paraphrase Fukuoka and Larry Korn: our activities have injured nature. There can be no natural farming until those injuries are repaired. So don't feel bad at all about tilling. For good or ill my first of those fields I mentioned above? I had a friend break the ground last fall with a moldboard plow! =8-0

Cleaning up and preparing the seed bed after the plowing was so much work (I do everything by hand, no power tools) I decided I would never plow again, not even to get started. I'm too lazy! I'm going to occult and use clay seed balls to reclaim these fields. Ask me in the fall if it worked

With your lack of rainfall in the summer you need lots of humus in your soil. LOTS. Once an adequate amount humus is there I think you'll find the right mulch WILL help retain moister in the ground. If you start growing green manure crops you can consider dry mulch (like straw) or a more succulent mulch (e.g. fresh mowed clover, buckwheat, alfalfa) depending on the season/weather/growing needs.

In your barley experiment thread you mentioned your soil is on top of hardpan/clay? First thought: you just found your source of seed ball material

Second thought: is this ground former conventional-tillage farm fields? As in is that hardpan from plowing in years past? If so that hardpan might very well be blocking any groundwater that might be there (especially in summer months) from reaching the surface soils. I know your expenses on these projects are limited, but have you considered growing daikon? Just the cheap seed (not a food crop)- as a tillage radish? I can barely work the surface of my ground with a mattock when it's dry in the summer - and it's silt loam, not clay! I am sowing tillage radish everywhere to break up compaction and drill holes way down to reconnect the upper and lower soils. The tillage radishes left to decay won't leave much organic matter but they WILL leave behind bioavailable NPK, and the PK are scavenged from deep below the normal crop root zones - so they need to be followed up quickly with a "catch" crop.

Fukuoka used daikon and other large taproot type plants (burdock and dandelion are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head) to do this in his orchard. Unlike his grain fields, the orchard had almost completely denuded soil; especially when he reclaimed abandoned land after the war. The "tillage" plants were part of a 1-2 punch to build that soil, the other part being finding a nitrogen fixing ground cover that could eventually compete well with the native weeds that would inevitably come.

For your spots still effected by the herbicide-laden straw, the soil microorganisms WILL get rid of that in due course. You can help them along by growing something ( something not-at-all picky like buckwheat or straw oats), and just mowing it down with the scythe (SO glad you have one - I'm convinced they're one of the most important tools) and then scattering the residue over the plot. It doesn't matter what you grow - simply grow anything that will actually grow! Every bit of green mulch put down on the soil will be food for those microbes that will detoxify the soil; and they will help you by building humus over time without you having to do anything other than sowing, mowing, and scattering the residue.

For other areas that could benefit from increased organic matter content OMC - I have the same challenge.  Here's one experiment (of dozens) I'm trying this year: Around here (Maine) one of the most popular OMC builder is sudangrass. The problem with it is if you just sow it and let it grow it can get 3m tall. When all I'm working with is a scythe that is NOT something I want to deal with. So I'm going to mow it with the scythe any time it's between 2-3 feet tall and mulch with the trimmings. The trick is you cannot mow it shorter than 4-6 inches tall or you'll kill it. My Austrian scythe is SUPPOSED to glide on the surface of the ground so it'll be interesting to see if I can figure out a technique to mow 6 inches high. If I have to, I'll just use a sickle, but I'd rather not bend over that much

Since the soil building is a long-term project I'm not worrying about incorporating residues. I'll just let it sit on the surface. EVENTUALLY critters will get it into the soil. And yes, I estimate I'll spend on average $50 per year in seeds while I'm starting this out. But I hope in 3-5 years to be saving a large amount of seed.

Random: I'm also doing with experiments with N-fixing inoculants. That might not be in accord with some of Fukuoka's techniques, but these little critters (I'm especially excited to try <i>azotobacter</i> live in the soil anyway. I'm just trying to give them a good home

I'm very excited to hear more results in your ongoing experiments! I'm hoping to document mine in a YouTube series. Though I feel somewhat silly doing so because I have no idea if any of this will actually work. Maybe I'll just document a meticulous, colossal failure

Good luck!!
-HF

EDIT P.S. - If you want to grow your own gluten-free grain have you considered the broadleaf/"pseudograins"? Amaranth, millet, buckwheat, quinoa... I bet you could find varieties that grow well there. Buckwheat is easy to grow but a royal pain to hull. If home-grown grain is something you're still interested in, since you know Carol Deppe's work... you might check out Will Bonsall's <i>Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening</i>. I think he often makes things much harder than he needs to, but what a wealth of knowledge he has growing grain at home and processing them with simple tools.
 
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I just wonder the pasture adjactent to yours looks green and your field looks very barren. And I would not feel bad using a rototiller at the beginnign you have to get things started without breaking your back. I know that woodchips throw the soil a bit out of the equilibrium but they are great for softening the soil, can you get hold of them?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau R, how is your experiment going? I am curious as to how the test plot is looking now (if it not snow covered).

Redhawk
 
raven ranson
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It's gone terribly.  The seeds germinate and then grow about an inch, then nothing.  It's like they only had enough internal energy to grow that high.  There's not enough neglect to kill them, but there's nothing there to help them grow.

We tried again with the fall rains.  Just a light haze of green from the clover.  Everything else germinated and died.

The soil came from deepening the ephemeral pond.  So, it's not really soil.  The machine shaped it into terraces and compacted it.  This is the only terrace that won't grow anything. 

It really is disheartening.  But I still maintain that with the right crops, no-till can work in our climate.  It might be we need to start with soil instead of dirt.


New plan.  Input fertility from elsewhere and use plants to dig up the dirt.

We're going to put a few beds of woad in because it grew really well on poor soil elsewhere and the roots are supposed to be good at breaking up hard packed dirt.  I'll give them some concentrated llama manure and then some sort of mulch.  Extra nitrogen is supposed to help them produce more blue pigment. 

Good news is that the robins have been hunting for worms in this patch.  First time I've seen that for years.
 
Angelika Maier
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What I would do is to get either some bales of lucerne hay (not straw since it contains some nasties) and cover thesite lightly with it and wait until weeds grow and when they are high enough slash and repeat or if the soil already looks good enough slash and till and then turn to no or low till. Or I would cover the whole thing with woodchips over newspaper but moisten as you build in and plant some trees or shrubs. It seems that it is because of the machines.
 
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r ranson wrote:It's gone terribly.  The seeds germinate and then grow about an inch, then nothing.  It's like they only had enough internal energy to grow that high.  There's not enough neglect to kill them, but there's nothing there to help them grow.



Your original problem was caused by herbicide contamination. How long has it been since the contamination occurred? Is it possible the contamination is still hanging around? Here in the UK I have hear of people unable to use their allotments for multiple years after such problems.
 
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Have you tried mustard? It seems to be one of the first to colonise poor soil for me. If you can get mustard to grow this spring you might be able to undersow with amaranth (also a hardy pioneer) at the beginning of summer, then scythe the mustard in place. Red clover and birdsfoot trefoil could go in at the same time as the mustard and would rebound from the scything if they're showing any growth by then. These are the main summer legumes in my pasture and they really are tough.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I see, may I suggest you begin with some mycoremediation techniques, mushroom slurries or a mycorrhizae mix from Paul Stamens or any other mushroom guru outfit.
These will do great things for your soil and your trees will love you for the boost of mycorrhizae.
These hyphae will snake through that soil and once they are going, any bacteria you add will travel along the new highways being formed.
The two together will reverse the poison effect from the herbicides and allow plants to grow better root systems.

The compacted soil will begin to get crumbly faster too.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I gave your plot some more thought over this weekend and I may have come up with an easy to do setup that will get you to the point of plants growing.
Let me know if you want the step by step setup to try out R.

Redhawk
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:I gave your plot some more thought over this weekend and I may have come up with an easy to do setup that will get you to the point of plants growing.
Let me know if you want the step by step setup to try out R.

Redhawk



I know I would be interested in hearing your suggestions.
 
raven ranson
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I would love to hear more.

I'm hoping to start on that plot in a week or two - once the frosts start to let up a bit.

Rain usually ends May first (and starts up in October) so I need to get to work on that plot soon. 
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I would opt for something like an annual rye grass as a starter seed set, this is easy to get rid of once it has done the job of establishing roots and putting some exudates in the soil.
I would next lay down as much spent coffee grounds as I could get my hands on, right over the annual rye grass seed.
This will aid in drawing earthworms to the area, provide some bacteria and fungi along with some beneficial slime molds for a soil building boost.
Next I would try to make a compost tea or even a manure tea to water the area with, this will activate the soil microbes that are present and get them to working.
Once the annual rye shows that it can grow in the plot, you can overseed with a mix of buckwheat and vetch or any combination you have or want.

As you work on this plot, the more biological activators you can add, the faster the soil will remediate from the herbicides that came with the straw.
Things that help with this, besides the obvious mushroom spawn/hyphae are minerals applied in small quantities several times (around once a week to start then cut back to once a month).
Even things like DE, unbleached flour(both are used as light dustings) will bring items to the party that the soil microbes like to eat.

Redhawk
 
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