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Five years to prepare the soil; what to do?  RSS feed

 
Jim Aldridge
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My wife and I just got a contract on 12 acres (6 of it open) to retire on in Middle TN on the Cumberland plateau. The thing is, I don't retire for another 5 years and I live 5 hours away from the land. I am going to have it tested, but judging from the broom sedge on it, I would imagine that the soil is poor and pretty acidic.

Is there anything I can do over the next 5 years to improve the soil before we move onto it? Since we aren't going to be on the land and we live so far away, is there anything we can plant that will improve the soil and won't require our presence to work? Whatever we do needs to be a "set it and forget it" approach for the next five years. I was thinking about get someone to either get hay off of it or bushog it for us periodically since we aren't there. I will probably only visit the land 3 or 4 times a year until we move.

I am pretty new to this, so I am open to any suggestions.
 
r ranson
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What a wonderful opportunity!  This is great that you have years to observe and improve the soil before you start.  You are worlds ahead of us who move directly onto the land and start tinkering (me included). 

What times of year will you be visiting your land?

What do you want it to be like in 5 years?  An orchard? Fields for planting?  pasture for animals?  Trees for building?  Mixtures? 

Learn what you can now about your local watershed, rainfall patterns and growing season.  Is it somewhere that gets winter and frost dates are important?  Can it over winter?

Will you have access to any equipment like renting a guy with a tractor to till or will you be doing everything by hand?  Do you like till or no till, or low till?  Maybe these ideas are new and this is something to learn about.

There are lots you can do, much of it depends on where you are starting from and where you what you want the land to be like in 5 years.

You could, for example, do a green manure cover crop (either till or no till) twice a year, for five years to improve the soil.  Or you could rent out the property to a local sheep farmer and have their sheep put fertility into the land in the forum of poop while you get a break on your property tax.  Or, you could grow some coppice woodlot that would be ready for harvest in 5 years for building with.  Or... so many different ideas. 

Tell us more about your dream, we can help brainstorm some ideas for you.

 
Jim Aldridge
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Actually, we aren't 100% sure what our dream is. Right now we have 4 acres, a garden, chickens, a couple of goats, a cow my wife milks every morning, and a couple of beehives that are in desperate need of attention (I am a fulltime firefighter who is also a fulltime nursing student, so some of our endeavors are "behind the curve"), but I suspect that those elements (and more) will be incorporated into what we do in retirement. I am really, really interested in the idea of a food forest, but again, I am new to this and have no real idea how to pull it off.

A couple of things:

First, in the interest of full disclosure, my wife is not as "on board" with the permaculture stuff as I am. I am trying to convince her that "no till" gardening without chemicals is actually possible, but that's not the way her father (or anyone in our area, for that matter) does it, so she is skeptical. I am hoping that maybe improving the land in our absence may show her what is possible.

Second, I forgot to mention that the property we are buying has a 1/2 acre, spring fed (sulfur spring, I think), stocked pond (bass and bream) in the middle of it and a well on site, as well. It is fenced on two sides, fairly level, and has about 6 acres of woods on it.

 
r ranson
master steward
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Sounds like a beautiful property.

I am trying to convince her that "no till" gardening without chemicals is actually possible,


This is a great inspiration for how to improve the soil.  Maybe set up a five-year experiment.  Different plots, different levels of till.  use this as an opportunity to see what the land likes best?  Maybe the land like no-till best?  Maybe it likes partial till?  Your bit of land is unique.  There is nowhere else on earth the same as your land, so it's up to you to discover what works for that location.  If you set up some sections as till and some as no-till.  Maybe some as Fukuoka Natural Farming method.  5 times a year, if you time it right, should be plenty to get a basic harvest of grains and/or pulses while improving the soil and testing your hypothesis. 
 
Jim Aldridge
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R. Ranson, thanks for the encouragement. What sorts of cover crops work well in acidic soil? Do you have to "chop and drop," or can you just let it die in place?
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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Jim, my experience is that acidic soil is generally soil that is depleted of calcium. You should get a soil sample done and find out for sure.

I am likely in a similar climate, and have been rehabbing some fields. I have not tilled, although there is one area I probably would be ahead if I had. The rest have come alive with 1) stopping the cycle of fertilize/mow/curse and just letting the native grasses take over by growing them tall and adding some n-fixers, both perennial and annual. If you have a lot of bluestem, that is not the worst thing, it should be native there. You probably just need some n-fixers and a way of getting it in the soil. I love Ranson's idea about the sheep. I am working hard to clear the lot to put in fences so I can get them. They will really speed recovery. I currently am mowing about every 3-4 weeks to try to stimulate deep rooting but herbivores are superior. If you have fences you might well be able to get someone to run sheep, goats or cows on the property.

Once you have organic matter in the soil the minerals will not leach out quickly, and adding calcium or other minerals as required will be cost effective. Some species that have germinated in my field and tolerate acidic soil-
N-fixers- Lespedeza -several varieties, for a 5-year plan maybe disc strips and plant bicolor, assuming till-in later; Korean will naturalize but has low germination.  Vetch- Hairy is annual/biennial and has established easily. Crown is perennial but I have not found a cheap source. Crown is not a true vetch and sounds very hard to eradicate if you hate it. I would look the next time you are out there and see what is growing nearby. I wasted $100 on trefoil, you really have to prepare the soil bed but if you till this is magic in Missouri (used to live there).

Biomass- I am very much of the opinion that generally you don't need to plant biomass, you have seeds that work right there. I am planting specific plants for deep taproots due to impaction and in a few areas I am planting turkey food to try to entice a flock to eat my ticks.  Otherwise I am looking to build soil- that is the endgame.  You are lucky to have some time to sketch it out. I wish I had a pond.

Bryant Redhawk has done some heavy lifting on soil building. He has a whole thread that is worth your time. Once you understand building soils, the other stuff comes easily. I feel you about the less-committed spouse, mine is pretty supportive but it is a challenge. Small victories help!

 
Jim Aldridge
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Thanks for the reply, Tim. I started reading Redhawk's post on soil, but I have a nursing exam to study for, so I will try to finish it Wednesday (when I am out of school for the summer)

It just occurred to me that I only asked about the soil because I made the assumption that working on the soil quality was the only thing that could be accomplished in my absence. Are there other things that could be "done from a distance" as well?
 
Genevieve Higgs
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I hope you did well on your exam! Was it "the big one"?

A quick search of broom sedge suggested that it takes about 5 years to address the underlying soil fertility issues.  So you're starting just in time

Does your wife have any favourite perennials?  If she has a soft spot for some flower/food/shrub maybe plant lots of that.  It's a romantic gesture, could help soil fertility and will defend some portion of the land from mowing/spraying.

For example last fall I put in a bunch of daffodils in the lawn - mowing for the first time has been put off until next week at the earliest no debates needed. 
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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I would do some intellectual labor. Get some contour maps done, they are cheap. Figure out how to Seppify your place with earthworks, and plan your roads/buildings and assets like wells and maybe outbuildings and solar if you want it. This is best done sometime when you can go there once when it is saturated and still raining and once when it is dry. Actually walk around if you can, it will make more sense. Where is water pooling (another pond is almost never too much) and where it tends to dry out and compact. I know when you are hours away this is tough. You might be able to have a local do it? If you can have earthworks done and let them heal for a few years (and make tweaks) you will be far ahead. Honestly my earthworks were nothing to write home about but they have created a biomass problem practically, I now have to mow more frequently. A very good problem! I am going to get a scythe and try my hand at it, doing research on them and hopefully start out with one I like. I am thinking about getting a left-handed one to prevent overuse injury as well.

The idea is to have basically a growable living soil all over, unless covered by water. Then retain vegetative cover for armor on the soil (reference Gabe Brown and others) and start planting the trees you want to be more mature when you arrive! If you have this luxury, you should be able to step into a much more productive environment, which will make those small victories more frequent. I am particularly planting for increased birds and pollinators, I am shocked at the lack of both when we moved here, and now we have tons of bees but still trying to encourage big birds that eat ticks. And my only herbivores have antlers and I can only harvest them certain times of the year.  There is always another project!

I guess I would not be too concerned with the broom sedge. I have it, and I consider it a decent biomass producer and better than some of the competing grasses, especially the C4 grasses and prostrating grasses. In my field it is making a contribution for sure. Like I said, it is a native grass and the main issue seems to be the near-monoculture rather than the particular species. One word of caution- I would avoid seeding fescue- even the endophyte-resistant variety. If you have it, fine, but not at the top of my list, it is not native and there are other good options that are better forage species. I have seeded perennial rye and bluegrass in preference. It is more expensive but the big blades are superior cover and seem to promote some deep-digging large caliber worms. The holes are almost 1/2 across!

You are smart with your education, that is a very transferable degree! Well done! Feel free to contact if you have any questions. I am about one year in, and I have the blessing/curse of living in the disrupted environment. I also have no ability to change locations of buildings or roads, so it is a little bit of three-dimensional chess. Starting from a lower point you have different headaches but it should be a riot of diversity and life pretty soon.

!Sorry for the edits) One other idea I am testing is to plant alleys, most state extension services have data on what distance apart you plant trees to provide partial shade in summer and sun in the winter, which allows you to generally have the same species growing all the time. This is fantastic as you don't have a die-back at the end of summer when the hot weather stuff has smothered your fall/winter species. Around here it is about 30' apart, although I have planted a schema of very big stuff (mostly thornless honeylocust) about 40-50' apart and then shorter species like fig, plum, redbud, hazelnut and medium species like chestnut, mulberry, holly to create alleys with dappled sunlight. I planted closer than the recommendation because I will thin later but it gets me to the partial shade faster. I got almost all these trees for <$4, most for $1, put 5' tree tubes on them to keep the deer off them, and other than that they fend for themselves. I basically built the diagram based on my contours (which are very minimal, too flat to bother with formal earthworks there) and over the fall I plan on making hugels in between the alleys which will be on contour-ish since there is <4' of elevation change in the whole field. So I will have a 5-6 years of nice hugelplanting and then it will revert to alley. Just an idea.
tree-schema.jpg
[Thumbnail for tree-schema.jpg]
what is this crazy guy talking about
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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hau Jim, congratulations on your land acquisition and the forethought to improve it prior to moving on site.

The first step to take on such a piece of land is to observe the water flow during a rain event or by looking for signs of where water flowed (bent over grasses, sediment flows, etc.) this will let you know what type of runoff you will be dealing with.

Once you know the way water flows over this land in a rain, then you can plan out your water controlling earth works. It is always better to have this work done before you do much of anything else.

The easiest way to improve soil is to keep things growing on the land all the time. You can chop and drop, let it do as it will, or you can light till. I personally prefer one and two over the third option, just because it is less work and less fuel.

If your wife likes to read, some of the books out there should help her see that there are alternatives to "normal" methods that she is used to.

One note about the fescue grasses, all tall versions are poisonous to animals that graze, there is a fungus that grows inside these that produces a toxin. The short species do not have this issue.
I personally use Bluegrass, Bermuda and rye grasses in a mix. If it isn't going to be pasture, I leave out the Bermuda since it can be a problem around gardens.

Redhawk
 
J.D. Ray
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I have virtually no expertise in permaculture, though I have a strong interest.  However, I've done a lot of reading about crops and livestock, and am a systems analyst by trade, so I've got a certain sort of perspective on the whole thing...

Someone above asked what your goals are for the property.  Decide that before you dive into making changes.  Your goals may change as you do research, so be prepared for that.  But ultimately, make a plan, work a plan.

Start by figuring out what resources the land provides.  You have acidic soil.  Some market crops, blueberries for instance, love acidic soil.  And they take seven years to go from seedlings to fully-productive plants.  They take a little maintenance annually, but not much.  So, for instance, if you want a market garden, consider planting some blueberries.  This is not to say you should plant them, but (with the limited amount of information I have) they seem to be a good fit.

As someone else said above, water management tends to be important on any land; you want the water where you want it, which isn't necessarily in line with where nature wants it.  So figure out where it goes and make a plan for encouraging it to go where you want.  Go into this effort realizing that you're encouraging the water, not forcing it.  Water tends to do what it wants.  You can force it, but it requires a lot of energy input.

Having that much forest is a boon.  What are the trees?  Maple, alder, and other such trees can be coppiced and their output managed to provide you with solar energy capture and consumption that's sustainable.  If you haven't already, read up on rocket mass heaters, but also other wood-fired energy transformation schemes (the term energy is often misused; trees store solar energy, fire transforms it to heat.  Apply this mode of thinking to other energy issues).  Five years is plenty of time to get a good coppicing operation started.

If you want to till some soil, get some pigs.  Of course, with livestock, you have to be onsite to tend them.  Well, you don't HAVE to, but it's best for everyone concerned.  Pigs rotating around large paddocks will tear them up and pump resources into the soil.  For deep soil transformation, plant some alfalfa.  As a bonus, pigs love it.

I've probably told you 40% more than I actually know about the subject of permaculture; I'll be interested to see if anyone with more knowledge challenges my advice (I welcome challenge, as it's a way to learn).  The one thing I know for certain is that, with any project like this, infrastructure saves you in later efforts.  So, if you want to plan on relaxing some in retirement, start building infrastructure today.  In five years' time, with a little effort, you should be in good shape.

Best of luck.

JD
 
James Freyr
pollinator
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Howdy Jim- Congrats on the land contract! My wife and I are looking for land too, but we're several steps behind you in regards of the process, but it sure is exciting. One thing you might look into is having the tree trimming/removal companies dump their truckloads of wood chips in a spot on your new land. Usually they have to pay a fee to dump those chips, and often times they will be glad to bring them to you for free, if you're not too extremely rural. I live outside of Nashville and those companies are more than happy to offload their "trash" which is absolutely treasure to me when they're working in the area. Maybe things are different in more sparsely populated areas and they already have dumping grounds that don't cost them any money. It's definitely something you can do from afar, and if they are willing to dump chips for you, limit the number of dumps they make and don't leave them with the impression that they can just keep on dumping as you may come back in a few months to your ~6 acres of unforrested land completely covered in small mountains.

Edit: I got sidetracked and didn't even mention a suggestion of what to do with these wood chips. You can either spread them at your leisure in areas where your future garden and maybe an orchard may be, or the beautiful part is, do nothing and in five years when those piles of wood chips are a fraction of there original size there will be lots of black fluffy organic goodness ready to use in your garden.
 
J. Adams
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We had a similar situation years ago. Here's what worked, what didn't work, and what sort of worked.

The open fields had been gorgeous, healthy, organic hayfields in years past. We wanted to keep them that way until we moved there and lived there a while and made a decision after having lived on the property.

1. In the first years, we had someone come take the hay off once a year as had already been done in years past. This kept the hay crops (some grasses, a bit of clover, a bit of alfalfa) healthy and growing beautifully. They seemed to thrive on a once a year mowing. The downside is that when the top growth is removed as hay, none of that vegetation is returned to its own soil as nutrients. Nor is the top vegetation eaten by herbivores and returned to the soil as manure while they graze.

2. In one following year we allowed a neighbor with horses to board horses there. Not as familiar with rotational grazing and the importance of timing way back then, we allowed it, and believed the horse owner who said the horses would mow it down for us while adding the bonus of horse manure to build up the soil even more. As many here who are familiar with rotational grazing may be guessing, the horses ate down the beautiful and delicious pasture crops, biting them down over and over too many times to allow them to regrow. This allowed unwanted weeds to flourish and take over, such as swamp grass and thistles the horses wouldn't touch. The entire field is pretty much ruined as a haycrop field. The horse manure wasn't spread evenly so I'm not sure about much of any benefit to building up topsoil.

3. After a time as a weedy field, we bush hogged it one year. This disrupted the weed growth while what remained of the struggling hay crops seemed to like this. With this method the top growth chopped debris was returned directly to the soil instead of being removed as hay, to slowly return as soil nutrients. Although a family emergency made us have to stop all work on that field for now, our choice when possible would be to bush hog it once again, then overseed with various legumes such as red and white clover. The next year, we'd possibly do the same until weeds backed off and the nicer field crops such as the clover -- which make great green manure -- took over. Once more legumes and grasses were thriving again, we'd mow it yearly with a mulching mower instead of bush hogging to return the nutrients from the chopped legumes and grasses right back into the soil year after year.

So, after saying all that, one possibility for you is to overseed once with legumes that grow on their own in your area, let them get somewhat established, then have the field mulched mowed once a year to put green manure right back into the soil while helping the desirable plants thrive and keeping away weeds.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Jim,  It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.  About your wife not being that interested in organic sustainable permaculture practices:  I live in a fairly conservative rural area with lots of farming.  There is a progressive region a couple of hours away, and there are two annual conferences which people attend from at least a couple hundred miles around.

How the ideas of soil improvement and cover crops are being pitched is from an economic standpoint.  You might be on a sort of fixed income when you are retired.  I've been there for awhile, have goats and make cheese for shareholders to supplement my retirement.  Though I am fine, costs are worth watching.  The cover cropping and no till saves time money and resources.

A great book that puts forward this philosophy is Mark Shepard's "Regenerative Agriculture".  It tells about the process of reviving spend corn ground in Wisconsin.

If you wife is at all "green" the soil practices that restore the soil also sequester carbon, which is related to climate change global /warming, as well as the more violent storms, and the increasing occurrances of drought and flood.

Forgive me if you are already aware of all that... I have increased the carbon content of my soil more than 8 fold in the last 5 growing seasons.  For me it is a deep source of contentment, something I feel happy about, something that connects me to the cycles of life here on our beautiful home suspended in the cosmos in just the right place to support all earth's indigenous life forms.

Best luck to you both.

 
Andre Lemos
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Location: Castelo Branco, Portugal
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Jim,
you already have broom growing so let it grow and spread for 4 years and chop and drop them on the year 4.
In Portugal we used to use broom as fertilizers.

Good luck!
 
Edna Fortner
Posts: 2
Location: FL Native - bought land in NC and on Lookout Mountain in AL
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Jim,
I wrote a big response that has somehow disappeared!
So, short and sweet:
You need to consider the Sun and water; 2 things you can't control.
(See my bio)
It's easier and cheaper to educate your self and figure it out on paper, first!!
If you are going to go Solar or at least Passive Solar for your buildings, you will need to figure out first. I can recommend books.
The Sun goes where it goes. And you need to have a site plan; you can do it yourself, just take your survey. Mark your boundaries and pace off where things like ponds, forest, big lone trees and compass directions on your plan.
Water flow is also something you can change somewhat, but it's expensive and hard to do, so why not just work with the way your land is. So, note that on your plan too. Only improve your soil where there will not be buildings or ponds. Orient your home/barn with long axis facing south with windows there and solar PV units can also go on that side, too.
I planted nut and fruit trees first as the basis for my food forest, that way you give the trees time to grow up. Most bear well at 5-7 years with others to cross pollinate. Then when you are there you can add perennials, and vines, herbs and vegies. On open pasture you can go ahead and add legumes, etc to sweeten the soil, and I am also considering away of pasturing chickens in around the food Forrest areas to fertilize, cut down on bugs, and vary the diet for the chickens, so less/no feed and healthier birds. I have more info on that too.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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You have a wonderful opportunity to slow down!

People systems are usually the most challenging, because people don't take time to focus on holistic context.
Maybe improving soil is not the most important thing for the benefit of the land you own and manage and for your life in general?!

1. Study Holistic Management and take time for the first  most important step - setting the holistic context.
Introduction to Holistic Management : https://holisticmanagement.org/free-downloads/

2. In terms of the land, you need to manage water first - keyline desing will help a lot.

I love Regrarians platform as it takes both of the above and gives you a wonderful frame to work with.
http://www.regrarians.org/regrarian-handbook/
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 547
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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If a soil test shows that your soil is acidic, I'd have lime spread on the open areas. it's not expensive at all here. Price depends on how far away the quarry is.

I would get some berries planted soon, if you don't have wild ones. They can usually take care of themselves.

I'd try to ID as many plants and trees as you can to see what you have and want you need. Hay fields often have some tree sprouts growing in them. You may find some you want to protect from mowing.
 
Jim Aldridge
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Thank you all for your replies. I just now got to read them (I have been studying for a nursing exam I just took), and it is a lot to process. It is clear that I have a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed. Thanks again for helping me towards that end.
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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I recommend reading this post first Redhawks post on not trying to apply everything.
Print out a bunch of Google earth maps of the property to take with you when you visit the property.  That includes satellite view, topography view and map view. Take notes on the map with date, recent weather, plants and soil moisture in marked locations.  Start drawing your dream locations for different features but leave that map at home and start anew one when you get to the land then compare them when you get back. Unlike the test you just took There are no absolute answers at the end of the upcoming 5 year course. Just as you will find in applying the knowledge in that test in health care was an absolute answer on paper is very nuanced in real life. Based on palpating people for 22 years and over 70 years of homesteading.
 
Kirk Schonfeldt
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Location: South-central Iowa
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Andre Lemos wrote:Jim,
you already have broom growing so let it grow and spread for 4 years and chop and drop them on the year 4.
In Portugal we used to use broom as fertilizers.

Good luck!


Be aware, broom or Spanish broom is a perennial leguminous shrub that fixes nitrogen, however, broom sedge is a completely different plant, a weedy native grass typical of worn out pastures. It is pretty unpalatable to livestock, spreads rapidly in poor soils and often outcompetes other natives due to allelopathy. I *think* the best way to keep it in check would be periodic heavy grazing and other general soil improvement measures (to give the less hardy, more palatable grasses/legumes a better chance). Also, I would *think* that this  area would be considered a "non-brittle" environment where enough precipitation and humidity exist to decompose biomass without the benefit of ruminant animals. This would mean a 2-4 time/year mowing regime would provide mulch that would decompose and improve your soil over time, improving SOM and increasing biomass production.

I would also recommend reading Steve Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener for details on how to balance your soil for productivity and nutrient-density (be your own soil analyst!). A $25 annual soil test and a judicious use of lime (cheap) and perhaps soft rock phosphate (less cheap but often lacking) and other trace minerals can do a tremendous job at unlocking the potential of your soil. If you have a bit more resources to spend (and this can address both soil improvement and water management) look into keylining the property. Keylining essentially involves ripping the soil on contour (more or less - it typically is done so that it is slightly downhill towards the ridges thus spreading precipitation more evenly across the land). Once you measure out the contours, renting a tractor (or hiring the job out) with a box blade or ripper (I've heard of lots of people that have had success without using the hard-to-find Yeoman's plow) and ripping the soil just 3-6" initially could have a major, lasting positive impact. Again, this is an oversimplification, but consider looking into Keyline design and keyline plowing if you want more info.

Cheers!
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
Posts: 1840
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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I second the recommendation of Steve Solomon's "The Intelligent Gardener".

A comment on mowing/grazing.  I am in a brittle environment, and I have ruminants, and practice rotational or strategic or planned "grazing".  Even with that the goats eat some plants and not others, and in your area it might be reasonable to think that deer or other herbivorous animals are grazing your future ground.

I mow after the goats have finished eating what they eat first.  In that way, the non desirable plants face the same grazing pressure as the desirables.  My theory is that will keep the non desirables from taking over, or gaining ground.  It also helps with the care and maintenance of soil micro-organisms, especially the mycorhizeae.

The one thing lacking from the mowing is that it doesn't get trampled into the earth, but it's way better than letting them stand in place growing undisturbed, becoming senescent while the the desirables are browsed repeatedly through out the year.

 
Gail Gardner
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Jim Aldridge wrote: I would imagine that the soil is poor and pretty acidic. Is there anything I can do over the next 5 years to improve the soil before we move onto it?


Contact the people contracted by the power companies to clear the power lines. They usually chip the trees that are in the way and need a place to dump them. Also contact landscape contractors and gardeners.

What you want is good sources of wild (not heavily sprayed) foliage that has been chipped. Choose a place to start and have them dump loads of it on the property. (Make sure you can trust them to ONLY dump clean chips.)

People have done this on properties that had zero topsoil and big rocks and in 3-5 years all that mulch broke down into beautiful topsoil. You will probably have to pay someone to spread it later, but you don't have to do anything to make that happen except give it time.

Some counties have active programs where they do this, but turn the piles with large tractors to speed up the process. In Mesquite, Texas, county residents could get x number of pickup truck loads of finished mulch and x loads of started chips to use as mulch between plants or around trees. (Sorry, I can't remember how many loads, but we got probably a dozen over a year or three.)

 
Gail Gardner
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J.D. Ray wrote:You have acidic soil.  Some market crops, blueberries for instance, love acidic soil.  JD


Yes, but they require irrigation even in our area where it rains regularly (about 46" a year).  Ideally, it would be great to plant fruit and nut trees, berries and grapes, so they get started. However, they would need to be able to make sure they get enough water at the right time to stay viable.

If they could go out there enough to make that happen, or find someone close by willing to water them, or even find someone to live temporarily there to take care of them they could get a 5 year head start on it.
 
Todd Parr
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Gail Gardner wrote:
J.D. Ray wrote:You have acidic soil.  Some market crops, blueberries for instance, love acidic soil.  JD


Yes, but they require irrigation even in our area where it rains regularly (about 46" a year).  


We average 34" of rain a year.  My father planted about a quarter of an acre of blueberries more than 25 years ago.  They still have bumper crops and have never had a thing done to them.  Not watered, fertilized, pruned, thinned, nothing.  The berries are harder to pick now because the plants are so thick you have to fight your way thru them, but other than that, they are doing great.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Gail Gardner wrote:
J.D. Ray wrote:You have acidic soil.  Some market crops, blueberries for instance, love acidic soil.  JD


Yes, but they require irrigation even in our area where it rains regularly (about 46" a year). 


It seems like 46 inches a year "should" be adequate moisture, especially considering the humidity there.  If the soil is not deep and developed, I can see that might not last the whole growing seasonor through dry spells.

What does a simple hole reveal about the soil depth and development.  If there is simply a layer of humus a few inches deep above impenetrable clay then the water is running off, even if the run off is not visible on the surface.

Swales would help some of the water soak in, but clay often seals water out.  Swale like excavations that trap water filled and do not spill it as run off, with mulch like material, not black plastic"mulch", or pieces of old carpet,  I mean wood chips or straw or grass clippings-- substances that soak up water and decompose in the presenceof moisture,while providing habitat for small life forms.. think pit composting, sort of.  That is likely to begin to develop the soil so that the precipitation IS adequate.
 
Gail Gardner
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Todd Parr wrote:We average 34" of rain a year.  My father planted about a quarter of an acre of blueberries more than 25 years ago.  They still have bumper crops and have never had a thing done to them.  Not watered, fertilized, pruned, thinned, nothing.  The berries are harder to pick now because the plants are so thick you have to fight your way thru them, but other than that, they are doing great.


That is really good to know. The farm I know had many blueberry and blackberry plants die when their original irrigation system failed the year they planted. Maybe the landscape cloth the plants are planted into prevented sufficient rain from getting directly to the roots.
 
Jim Aldridge
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supposedly, the average yearly rainfall in Crossville, TN is 55 inches. I would imagine that that would be sufficient, given what y'all are saying.
 
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