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Building soil and repairing compacted land.  RSS feed

 
shawn dunseith
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Location: mo
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Looking to repair a newly bare piece of land. It's about an acre of fairly sloped land in rural north Missouri consisting of mostly compacted clay from where a house was just removed.

The land will remain bare (no buildings) for a few years and (might be) brush hogged once or twice a year.

What would be the best cover crops to plant to repair the compaction and begin building quality soil?
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Hans Quistorff
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Are arborist chips available in this area? Covering the clay with chips will allow soil to grow before you try to get plants to grow.
broadcasting white clover and covering it with a light layer of old hay often will work.
It looks like the rough surface of the exposed clay is holding water but you want to cover the surface with organic material as soon as possible to stop the puddles from overflowing and start erosion.
 
M. A. Carey
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We used to live in North Central Missouri, (a  rural area between Huntsville and Higbee in Randolph County) so I know where you're coming from with the clay soil.  We prepared a garden and did everything to try to break up that darned clay.  My grandmother suggested that we gather the oak tree leaves from around our trees and place them in the garden spot.  We did this in the fall, and snow covered it during the winter.  Lo and behold, we tilled it up in the spring and had a wonderful garden.  We continued to do that all the years that we were there, about 22 years, and every year we had a wonderful garden and it was so easy to till up and grow many crops. 

I'm not sure if this information will help you or if you have access to lots of oak leaves, but it worked for us for gardening.  Good luck.
 
John Macgregor
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Location: Cambodia
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I have about an acre of gently sloping clay land (southern Australia), which was eaten back to nothing by goats 40 years ago - & nothing has grown since.

Erosion has been happening for a few years, & some gullies now run 100m down to the creek. I filled them with Bill Zeedyk-style weirs & fences, & laid branches & logs across the slope (along the contour), across the expanse of clay. Both have held up fallen leaves & debris, & water, very nicely. I have also been collecting everyone's garden waste from the nearest town, & dumping it all over the clay.

Nine months on, topsoil is forming & things have begun growing in it. It'll probably take 5 years before it's all fixed.
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Brandon McGinnity
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Location: Winston-Salem, United States
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John Macgregor wrote:I have about an acre of gently sloping clay land (southern Australia), which was eaten back to nothing by goats 40 years ago - & nothing has grown since.

Erosion has been happening for a few years, & some gullies now run 100m down to the creek. I filled them with Bill Zeedyk-style weirs & fences, & laid branches & logs across the slope (along the contour), across the expanse of clay. Both have held up fallen leaves & debris, & water, very nicely. I have also been collecting everyone's garden waste from the nearest town, & dumping it all over the clay.

Nine months on, topsoil is forming & things have begun growing in it. It'll probably take 5 years before it's all fixed.


I'm surprised that with all those trees there's no leaf litter covering the ground. Though I'm not familiar with the tree types of Australia, perhaps they're not deciduous? Good work nonetheless.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Shawn, you might want to seed that area with a blend of sweet yellow clover, white Dutch clover and perhaps soft red winter wheat or oats or barley and some alfalfa (lucern) and let that grow for the summer then chop it and drop it.
If you do use any of those grains I mentioned, just cut them down to rot once the seed heads have formed. This will give you deep roots to loosen and then nitrogen to enrich along with the exudates from all those plants that will call to action many bacteria and some fungi you want.

For john, try to get lucern going in that area and if you can get it any of the clovers, sweet clover (yellow flower) will get established while the lucern is growing then when you cut that down the sweet clover will take off.
Building clay can take a year or two, the most important thing to do is always have something growing and something rotting, this will quickly enrich the soil and create a huge amount of biota which is what you really want going on.

Check out my thread "what we need to know about soil", I have lots of information that pertains to both of your situations.
If you find you need other help, let me know.

Redhawk
 
Dan Kline
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Location: Virginia, USA
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Good for you for first thinking of soil! You are in for an illuminating and rewarding challenge!
Building great soil must include cleansing, and not just amending.

Old home sites have hidden dangers. The chief one is lead contamination. Exterior paints prior to the late 1960's contained lead, and this paint was applied to homes and out buildings. This paint was rained on and the lead was washed into the soil, and it does not easily go away. Painted boards may have been left on the ground to rot and leave the heavy metal contamination behind. If you grow food there, many plants take up the lead and poison your child at the point of conception and pregnancy. This is the hidden danger of all soil contaminants like glyphosate (Roundup), and the use of arsenic based chicken medicines. If chickens were there and medicated, arsenic levels may be high.

So... wisdom is doing a soil test to look for heavy metal contaminants. Then you will be more sure of your long term health.
And do agricultural soil testing. I like Logan Labs in Ohio. They give a full spectrum mineral test for about $30, and is well worth it so you can truly know what your soil needs to be able to grow your medicine, for if our food plants are fully supported, they support us to health and vigor.

The good news is we have a remedy for lead contaminated soils. Sunflowers take up lead and can be grown to 3/4 maturity (most plants in bloom) and the entire plant removed and taken to a landfill. They contain your poisons. Save nothing, feed nothing from this crop, not even seed to birds.  Two successive crops have been shown by scientists to bring heavily contaminated soils to below legal guidelines. The only way to be sure of this is to do extensive testing repeated over time. But most of us just adapt a proven method that ensures a remedy and do it. That is what I would do. In the second crop of sunflowers you could under-plant your cover crop to build soil while the the sunflowers cleanse it. If you pulled them just as they started to bloom, the cover crop would have more sun to collect more nitrogen, etc. and fix it in the soil. Note that these measures are most critical in the limited areas of the former buildings and the family dump sites and downstream from them in sediment basins.

I have looked in vain for the scientific paper on this. Someone else may have the link.

There are many websites dedicated to soil repair. My personal favorite is http://bionutrient.org/ ; where the latest broad scope sciences drives simple non-technical solutions accessible to all of us who want to escape the chemical companies and return to what I call Creation Farming. This is all offered completely free with no sign in required! Hurray for the Bionutrient Food Association (BFA). If you go to the BFA site, check out the LIBRARY tab and listen to some of the speakers. Plan to be astonished! You can also find many videos by BFA at their YouTube page.

One of my favorite gurus is Dan Kitredge who started BFA, and he led me to such brilliant consultants as John Kempf who consults with farmers all over America. His lectures are at the BFA site and you can find him on YouTube. Also, if you will have grassland pasture, you will want to listen to Fred Provenza's YouTube channel.

All the best to you as you go down this wonderful journey! Get out there and do some good!

 
Dan Kline
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Location: Virginia, USA
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One more item to check: When the buildings were removed, were they demolished? was the debris buried on site? If it was, was the area marked? This is important for future wells and tree crops, for food should not be grown over such a landfill for many years unless a raised bed system with root barrier underneath is used.

It is so sad that we have to think about such things when our place might some day grow food that we or others or our meat animals might eat.
 
Tom Turner
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Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Here in the high desert we have serious clay. It turns to concrete in the dry season and in the wet season it becomes slime, yet very sticky slime. In 15 min of hiking each boot can gain 10 lbs. Here they say that Gypsum breaks the bonds that glue the particles of clay together. Anybody ever hear that?

In Idaho we are very alkaline so I find that adding sawdust and wood chip does a nice job in adding amendments, loosening the soil and not driving the PH very acidic - as it would in New England where lime is a necessary counter to wood chip and oak leaf.

Is it fair to judge a man by the quality of his soil? I think it is.   
 
Dan alan
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Location: Tyler Texas
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Having had heavy subsoil to live in I can share what has worked for me.

1) Go to greencoverseed at get a mixture on no less than 8 species of broad and narrow leaf plants aiming for carbon, but add lots of tiller radish. Put out the seed at twice the rate you think you need. Cover with a thick layer of hay or straw.

2) When the summer heat breaks, broadcast clover, rye, kamut wheat, iron and clay peas, and vetch. Let this grow until next spring when it get shoulder high then roll down the area or use a step bar.

3) Broad cast 50 pounds per acre agricultural molasses over rolled cover.

4) Late spring or early summer broad cast another high diversity seed mix with lots of tiller radish, turnips, and a tall summer grass, including some corn and sorghum. Add more molasses to the seed mixture to be broadcast. You want as much bio mass as possible.

5) spray on raw milk(5 gallon per acre) mixed with compost tea or quality broad diversity inoculation of fungus and bacteria.


Repeat as many times as needed.

It can take 2 years to turn sticky clay into nice brown soil. You know that you have arrived when a shovel turns up earth works anywhere you dig.  It really is amazing how much work the soil life can do for you! Keep a living root in the soil at all times and keep the soil covered at all times.

The first year we did this it was slow to get rolling giving us some supplemental chick feed, but by the second year we got 15 pounds of wheat & rye(beat out on plant into 30 gallon trash drum. So it's nice to get some immediate production. This year is edable wild weeds which are being eaten, but will soon be rolled and using and electric chain saw I cut grooves in and push a walk behind seeder through to seed kamut, sun flowers, and sorghum, the cover suppresses the weeds and each year the cover gets thicker, but the soil life consumes it all in a season!

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Red soil 3 years ago now productive and lines with fruit trees
 
Marco Banks
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Wood chips.  Lots and lots and lots of wood chips.

Find a source for free loads of wood chips, get them delivered to your property and spread them evenly across it.  8 inches of chips is perfect, but you might even want to spread them deeper, as they will break down quickly.  Carbon makes up all living things.  Every plant, every earthworm, and every fungus is a carbon life form critical to soil health.  Plants pull carbon from the atmosphere as they photosynthesize carbon dioxide (with light and water) and turn it into leaves, roots, fruit, and branches.    Bugs, also made of carbon, eat the plant, and move it through digestive tracts filled with other carbon life forms—bacteria, enzymes and other microbial digesters.  Worms tunnel to the surface and devour rotting leaves (again, being rotted by microbial herds of compost-making bacteria), and in turn leave their castings above and below ground.  Earthworm humus (vermicompost) is considered to be some of the best organic manure there is.  Roots feed on those castings, push deep into the earth in search of nutrients and water, and when the plant dies, leave that carbon throughout the soil, where biota continue to feed upon it.  The whole system, biological, chemical and physical, is designed to work together in harmony.

The process of humification occurs naturally in soil or as you intentionally pile organic material and encourage its decomposition to make compost.  When organic material decomposes, carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere and the majority of the plant or animal material rots away.  However, some residual matter remains and become stable at a point where decomposition slows or stops. Stable (also known as inactive or passive) humus consists of humic acids and humins, which are so tightly bound to clay particles that they cannot be penetrated by microbes, so they are resistant to further decomposition.  Research on ancient soils show that stable humus can last for thousands of years.  The most stable humus is found in the form of charcoal particles, which are slowly oxidized black carbon pieces, which are then incorporated into soil.  Intentionally creating this kind of charcoal soil amendment is known as creating bio-char.  Stable humus does not add many nutrients to soil, but plays an essential role in improving soil structure, contributing significantly to tilth through soil aggregation. That's what you are fundamentally asking about: compacted soil is disaggregated and de-carbonized soil.

There are three primary principles to creating healthy soil:
1.  Minimize (or completely eliminate) disturbance—don’t till the soil.
2.  Keep it covered—armor the soil surface.  This is in the form of mulches and cover crops.  Cover crops are soil health primers.
3.  Keep the living roots of a diverse plant profile in the ground as long as possible—fill the soil with roots and the chemicals (exudates) that they pump into the soil profile.

Clay is a wonderful starting point for a garden, but clay has both good and bad characteristics.  On the good side: clay has a negative charge, so clay molecules "grab" nitrogen and other nutrients, holding them from washing through the soil.  Thus, clay is generally very fertile.  But not so good: clay particles are very small, and because they are negatively charged, they link together and form long chains.  This is why clay is wonderful for making pottery.  But the quality that makes a good coffee cup is NOT a good thing in the garden, when you want water to flow through your soil profile.  Think of clay like a tall stack of paper plates.  Air, water and plant roots have difficulty moving through such a tightly stacked bunch.  But if you can integrate carbon down through the soil profile, it breaks up the tight carbon chains and allows for water and air to pass through.  That brings us back to carbon: mulch like your life depends upon it, and let the worms, fungi and other soil biota break up the clay.

Transform dead matter into living.  Fungi transforms woody debris into food (mushrooms), builds soil, and feeds nutrient cycling systems.  Composting and sheet mulching transforms biomass into a medium for billions and billions of bacteria and microorganisms to work symbiotically with plants and fungi.  Humus is a “dead” material that forms the basis for healthy soil—the living space for fungi, bacteria and biota.  Carbon feeds the entire system, so introduce as much of it as you can and you will see the transformation of that compacted clay soil within 2 years.

Best of luck.  Make sure you take lots of before pictures so that you'll have something to compare it to after.  Also SAVE SOIL SAMPLES along the way.  Just scoop it up and keep it in a jar.  You'll be amazed with the transformation after only a couple of years.
 
Dan Grubbs
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Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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Shawn,

As a fellow northern Missouri permie, I feel ya. We joke that our county wasn't named for the president, but because of the clay content (Kearney, Clay Co., Missouri).

I didn't read everyone's response, but I do have some principles that I'd pass on to you as factors in decision making for what you put in the space. Your desire to get something growing there covers the first principle.

1 - Keep the ground covered as long as possible. Your choice of cover crops will be depending on what you're trying to do for the soil and what you want to do later on down the line. Different cover mixes for different purposes.
2 - Disturb the soil as little as possible. Not everyone agrees, but I feel tillage is bad for soil and exacerbates compaction as well as helps make a bad environment for soil biota. It also reduces water infiltration.
3 - Keep living roots in the soil as long as possible. Without roots, you have no rhizosphere where there is dynamic interaction between soil microbial life, fungi, and the plant itself. No glomalin either that helps provide a structure to soil clotting.
4 - Encourage biodiversity in plants and other species. Different plants invite different soil microbial life and encourages a healthy ratio of beneficial insects to pest insects. Different plants also have different root structures which draw from different depths and different needs.
5 - Leverage animal impact on the landscape (or biomimic the impact). What animals do for a space is diverse, but you can mimic some of what is happening when animals graze a pasture, for example. Adding nutrients and organic matter via manure is just one way.

I feel these are important principles to apply no mater how large or small the space is. It may give you a framework of principles through which to made decisions on what you do on that piece of ground.

Hope that was helpful.

Just read Marco's response ... much the same advice.

Oh, I can also vouch for the folks and products over at Green Cover Seed in Hastings, Nebraska. Good people who know their stuff and can answer your technical questions.
 
shawn dunseith
Posts: 59
Location: mo
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Wow! Thank you everyone for all the great advice!

The house was demolished and all debris was removed from the site. The house was built long after the use of lead paint had already stopped so this shouldn't be an issue but will likely get the heavy metals and agricultural soil test done anyhow. You can't ever have too much information.

I'm currently contacting all the local tree trimmers and letting them know they can dump all the wood chips they have here 24/7 so hopefully over time I'll get quite a bit and am also on the search for old rotten or just unwanted hay and straw bales that local farmers want to get rid of.

Plan on mulching as much as possible and inoculating it with good fungi and also cover cropping with the various plants which have been suggested.

Will try to take plenty of pics for future updates.





 
Mary Leonard
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Location: Jackson, United States
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Sorry, I just had to smile when you said fairly sloped land...your picture shows something akin to what the closest to level parts of our property look like. Our hill is about a 45 degree slope.

For our clay soil here in California, we keep it covered with either the leaf litter from both deciduous and coniferous/evergreen trees and used animal bedding. We've built berms across the slopes with all the dead wood we've cleared from the woods...heavily wooded property here. These are collecting what's washed down the hills and creating a haven for the bugs which brings in the birds. LOTS of mushrooms growing in the berms now as well. Too bad my family doesn't eat mushrooms or I'd be into identifying and harvesting them.

Cover it with wood chips or straw, used bedding from a neighboring farm or something that you can easily find in abundance. If it's straw, then you can probably seed something like the clovers and other stuff mentioned above immediately. For wood chips or used bedding, wait a few months before spreading the seeds. Make sure those seeds are hidden and have firm contact with the ground though or your money is wasted. If you've got any hay eating livestock and don't mind the pasture grasses in that area, spread the waste hay over it. You'll mulch and seed at the same time. That's what we do with the waste hay from our goats in order to get grasses to grow underneath our trees. We still have lots of thinning to do for the canopy but the grass is starting to take hold.

Good luck!
 
Tom Turner
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Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Dan Grubbs wrote:...
2 - Disturb the soil as little as possible. Not everyone agrees, but I feel tillage is bad for soil and exacerbates compaction as well as helps make a bad environment for soil biota. It also reduces water infiltration. ...


I'd like to hear the arguments on both sides of this issue. Is there a thread here on permies that hashes out that debate?
 
Mary Leonard
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Location: Jackson, United States
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From what I've read and watched, an initial till can be beneficial to kick start the revitalization of the soil but tilling should, ultimately, be done rarely and shallowly.
 
Marco Banks
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Yes, the initial till "lightens" the soil by introducing a lot of air into the soil profile.  But it's an unnatural way of pushing that air into the soil, and it quickly compresses back to an even more compacted state because there is nothing present that holds the soil structure open.  Further, all that extra oxygen artificially pumps up the microbial activity, which in turn eats up the soil carbon.  Within a couple of months, you've burned through the soil carbon, leaving just mineral soil --- and that compresses like a punctured basketball.

Soil aggregation and aggregate stability are not a result of mechanical processes (running a plow through the soil) but chemical and biological processes.  Well-aggregated soils are crumbly and “open”, allowing water to easily infiltrate rather than run off during heavy rain events.  They will have the texture of cottage cheese. The exudates produced by plant roots are the glue that binds soil into the crumbly texture.  Root surface fungi also produce aggregate glues, further enhancing aggregate stability.   Without these glues, no amount of tillage will permanently "lighten" the soil because it all goes back to an even tighter formation.

The name of these fungal glues is glomalin—a chemical produced by Mycorrhizal fungi that increases microporosity (creating empty space within soil for water and air to flow through).  Glomalin hangs around for about six months after the root dies and the fungi are no longer present.  But it eventually breaks down, and the soil aggregates turn to powder.  Every time you till, you rip those fungi to pieces, and thus hinder the production of glomalin.  If you want your soil to remain aggregated, you've got to have a continual supply of glomalin being pumped into the soil ---- a living root with attached fungi, preferably, 12 months a year.

So I'd argue that its best to never till --- even the first time.  If you can establish a cover crop without tilling, you'll be much better in the long run.  If you can innoculate your cover crop seed with a fungal starter, all the better.  But even if you don't, there are enough fungal spores floating around out there (and already present in your soil), fungi will eventually colonize your soil.

Best of luck.


Here's a link that talks about soil aggregation.

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_052820.pdf


 
Mary Leonard
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Location: Jackson, United States
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I agree with you Marco. I would only till if I were going to immediately plant, cover and not walk on it. I've only read that some think it's okay to do it once then not again.

For us with our clay soil, we're not intentionally tilling but we are moving literally tons of soil by shovel, in order to widen a road that goes towards the back of our property and lay the first row of terracing for our garden hill. The terraces after the first run will all be dirt added to the hillside instead of cut into. The other area where we're disturbing the soil is where we're leveling off to build a larger coop and run. This soil will be moved down the hill to the terracing.

Unfortunately, our only real option for building is cutting into hillsides so we're making use of that dirt in the MANY terraces we need. Not doing buildings on piers. It's building back where erosion has worn down the hill in some spots then holding it in place with proper structure and management.

For in the woods, the only way we're really disturbing anything will be to move that dead wood into the berms. The covering is only disturbed by the goats and chickens as they go over it. Once we get fencing we'll be able to rotate the animals so less overall disturbance.
 
Francis Graf
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Ive heard of people using Korean Natural Farming methods to break up dense mineral soils.

Namely JMS.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_natural_farming

 
Tom Turner
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Marco Banks wrote:Yes, the initial till "lightens" the soil .........


Thanks for this. It is very interesting. As a mechanical type I need help in the biochemical area.  I started a new thread: To Till, or Not to Till, and WHY. I hope I didn't presume too much but I copied your post to it.
.
 
Kit Veerkamp
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Location: Cool, CA
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I addition to some of the other good advice posted, I'd recommend deep ripping the entire area before you do anything else. Compaction is one of the most difficult aspects of soil to ameliorate because getting pore space back so that air and water move through it properly is exceptionally difficult. Ripping will give you a huge head start on that, then, with getting as much organic matter, Mother Nature will take it course to build the soil as the Soil Food Web grows and improves.
 
Jack Tassoni
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Wood chips do NOT decompose quickly, being as they are high in carbon and carbon needs nitrogen to decompose. Yes, the layer that is in contact with earth may decompose quicker but nitrogen is necessary. I suggest clover spread over chips that were spread, a nitrogen fixer. Clay is also high on the ph scale.

Gypsum is usually a neutral ph and is also well documented as used as an additive to break down clay soils. Repurposed Sheetrock works great for this and can be found and welcomed for removal at any jobsite if you relieve them of their scraps. Is it as pure as the wind driven snow? No, but the additives are negligible unless you are want to certify "organic" and even then government testing would show nada containments.

You did not mention if you have a tractor (I think....). If you do, use the rippers on your box scraper To disturb the soil an inch or so before spreading gypsum another pass or two with the rippers, then chips, then clover or another "green mulch" to add nitrogen to the mix. This will build you soil! If you have pines on your property anywhere use the needles to raise ph as they are a high ph.

JackT
 
Todd Parr
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Jack Tassoni wrote:Wood chips do NOT decompose quickly, being as they are high in carbon and carbon needs nitrogen to decompose.
JackT


Ideally the chips used are chipped green branches under the size of your thumb or so and include the leaves and needles, and they do indeed break down quickly.  As your soil life improves, they break down even more quickly and I have areas where regular old wood chips without any green material break down before the end of the season.
 
Marco Banks
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Jack Tassoni wrote:Wood chips do NOT decompose quickly, being as they are high in carbon and carbon needs nitrogen to decompose. Yes, the layer that is in contact with earth may decompose quicker but nitrogen is necessary. I suggest clover spread over chips that were spread, a nitrogen fixer. Clay is also high on the ph scale.

Gypsum is usually a neutral ph and is also well documented as used as an additive to break down clay soils. Repurposed Sheetrock works great for this and can be found and welcomed for removal at any jobsite if you relieve them of their scraps. Is it as pure as the wind driven snow? No, but the additives are negligible unless you are want to certify "organic" and even then government testing would show nada containments.


JackT


Perhaps in your experience they don't break down quickly, but in my system, I put down 6 to 8 inches of chips annually and they are gone within 12 months. 

A key question to ask: How are the chips breaking down?   Mechanical decomposition?  Chemical decomposition?  Bacterial decomposition?  Fungal decomposition?  Each one of these is unique.

Mechanical: that would be something physically breaking down the chips into smaller pieces.  I notice that some wood chippers do a much better job of chewing the branches into much smaller pieces.  I've seen goats picking through fresh wood chips and branches, chewing them up and eating them.  Chips that are less than a 1/2 inch will decompose much quicker than larger chunks. 

Chemical:  When trees are turned into paper, pulp mills use a highly caustic chemical solution to break down the fibers and turn a big vat of chips into a pulp slurry.  OK -- that isn't happening in a natural ecosystem, but the acidity or alkalinity of your soil does impact the rate of decomposition.  My clay soil is pretty alkaline (which means I can't grow blueberries to save my life) -- that alkaline soil is a contributing factor to the softening of the wood fibers that are in contact with the soil.  Once softened, the fungi tend to do the rest.

Bacterial:  Bacteria will penetrate the wood fibers and eat the sugars therein.  There's not a lot of sugar in a wood chip (as compared to a rotting piece of fruit), but some bacterial decomposition takes place.  Wood chips create a habitat for bacteria to live (particularly the very porous structure of biochar).  As such, the chips become a "reef" onto which bacterial life can attach.  Chunks of biochar in the soil create a home for rich and diverse communities of bacterial microbes to colonize.  Yes, THIS kind of decomposition needs a great deal of nitrogen.  But this isn't the primary way that wood decomposes.

Fungal:  Far and away, the majority of the decomposition of wood chips occurs because of fungal networks that feast on the wood fiber.  If you've been mulching for years, the fungal network grows more and more robust with each passing year.  The key is that the chips remain sufficiently moist.  Winter rains and summer irrigation create the ideal micro-climate for fungal growth.  The Fungal networks for a symbiotic beneficial relationship with tree and plant roots.  The fungi "eat" the chips and transfer the nutrients to the trees, who in turn supply the fungi with sugars.  Everybody wins. 

While most plants have difficulty fixing nitrogen from the air,  fungi don't.  That's why they are such a critical part of a healthy forest ecosystem.  They bring enough N to the party that everyone else benefits.
 
John Macgregor
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Location: Cambodia
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No, Australia doesn't have native deciduous trees.

Nonetheless these trees drop some leaf litter. However rain & wind generally move it to the log barriers you can see - it piles up against them.

So I have filled in the spaces quite a bit since these photos were taken.
 
Lorens Kulla
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Marco Banks wrote:Yes, the initial till "lightens" the soil by introducing a lot of air into the soil profile.  But it's an unnatural way of pushing that air into the soil, and it quickly compresses back to an even more compacted state because there is nothing present that holds the soil structure open.  Further, all that extra oxygen artificially pumps up the microbial activity, which in turn eats up the soil carbon.  Within a couple of months, you've burned through the soil carbon, leaving just mineral soil --- and that compresses like a punctured basketball.

Soil aggregation and aggregate stability are not a result of mechanical processes (running a plow through the soil) but chemical and biological processes.  Well-aggregated soils are crumbly and “open”, allowing water to easily infiltrate rather than run off during heavy rain events.  They will have the texture of cottage cheese. The exudates produced by plant roots are the glue that binds soil into the crumbly texture.  Root surface fungi also produce aggregate glues, further enhancing aggregate stability.   Without these glues, no amount of tillage will permanently "lighten" the soil because it all goes back to an even tighter formation.

The name of these fungal glues is glomalin—a chemical produced by Mycorrhizal fungi that increases microporosity (creating empty space within soil for water and air to flow through).  Glomalin hangs around for about six months after the root dies and the fungi are no longer present.  But it eventually breaks down, and the soil aggregates turn to powder.  Every time you till, you rip those fungi to pieces, and thus hinder the production of glomalin.  If you want your soil to remain aggregated, you've got to have a continual supply of glomalin being pumped into the soil ---- a living root with attached fungi, preferably, 12 months a year.

So I'd argue that its best to never till --- even the first time.  If you can establish a cover crop without tilling, you'll be much better in the long run.  If you can innoculate your cover crop seed with a fungal starter, all the better.  But even if you don't, there are enough fungal spores floating around out there (and already present in your soil), fungi will eventually colonize your soil.

Best of luck.


Here's a link that talks about soil aggregation.

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_052820.pdf


 
Andre Lemos
Posts: 62
Location: Castelo Branco, Portugal
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After 5 years of reading and testing, the best process to repair compacted land is.... do nothing.
Nature will sow hundreds of species on that particular spot of yours. Guess which species will survive and prosper? Exactly the ones that can brake that compaction.

About building soil, i  propose animal beddings or import cutted green plants but i would say to do what you plan, brush hogging. By doing that you will not rush and hence not make mistakes
 
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