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Building soil through the process of punctuated equilibrium, or Why laziness sometimes works.  RSS feed

 
Samuel MacHay
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Location: Zone 7b; West of the Great Dismal. On top of the Scarp
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Firstly, please excuse the large multi-syllabic phrase, punctuated equilibrium, however,  it is the best term I could use to describe what I observed.
So, let's define it:  From Dictionary.com
noun 1. theory of, Biology. a hypothesis holding that the evolution of species proceeds in a characteristic pattern of relative stability for long periods of time interspersed with much shorter periods during which many species become extinct and new species emerge. Also called punctuationalism.
  webpage  Now, while most people limit the concept to evolutionary biology, I see the process occurring everywhere all the time.  (Silly geologist, always got my head in the ground.)  If we remove the  new species evolutionary aspect and replace it with any other natural process, well this is exactly how Nature works.  Nature wants a balance, an equilbrium, until there is a disturbance, which induces a little chaos until a new balance is found.
SO, how does this relate to building soil and laziness?  I've been converting my garden paths to sawdust paths, to help deal with the crabgrass that ALWAYS invades the garden beds.  I've been piling on sawdust 6-8 inches thick in the paths, yet eventually the crabgrass grows through. So I got fed up, broke out the hoe and commenced to chopping out the paths and pulling up the crabgrass and as many roots as I could find.  Then the rains came. I didn't get back to weeding the paths for two weeks. The crabgrass had started to re-root by the time I got back to this chore and I was kicking myself.  Now granted, chopping and hoeing a path certainly is not lazy work, but I was upset that so much time had passed that I had let my efforts go to waste. The roots were starting to hold fast to the dirt again and I kept degrading myself for being "lazy" and not finishing this task and now having to start from scratch.
But I noticed I was re-chopping these areas, the soil texture was amazing, and the worm population had exploded! 
Now, I was trying to overcome an old equilibrium.  The crabgrass has been growing there for years, and proved it was going to keep growing there, it grew through 6 inches of sawdust! When I broke out  the hoe and chopped out the roots and subsoil, essentially mixing it all up, that was a major disturbance, yet because those weeds were allowed to stay there and start composting, I think the worms came and feasted, made babies, and tipped the balance  to a new equilibrium, one that hopefully doesn't have as much crabgrass!
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Crabgrass re-rooted after being chopped once, and the rains came.
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Re-Chopping the weeds, noticed a big difference in soil texture
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Worm explosion!!!
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Building pathways of sawdust
 
Wendy Wagner
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Location: Pacific NW
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Hey, what a neat surprise success!
 
Alexandra Clark
Posts: 40
Location: Long Island, NY
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food preservation forest garden hugelkultur
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Want to be even lazier? Want to completely eliminate the crab grass?

Mounding saw dust, no matter how deep is a soft and easy thing for tough crab grass rhizomes to sprout through.  My suggestion which I have used successfully to address invasive plants in the garden is to lay down dry cardboard on those paths, then wet the top a little and add leaf litter and then wood mulch or saw dust. Water down well. Whenever you see a patch breaking down, simply add another layer of cardboard (sun/heat/moisture barrier) and you should be good to go.  YOu may have some side growth of the plants but that can be easily taken care of by running a flat spade into the earth, cutting the rhizomes and flicking the shoots upside down. 

You could also do a two step process where you lay black plastic over your paths with rocks to weight it down and leave it like that for 6 weeks. It will solarize the ground underneath and you can then build your cardboard paths.

I have about 28 large brown cardboard pizza boxes stacked in my garage waiting to go into paths in the back yard. I am dealing with a big patch of poison ivy first..yeck!

And your worms look so happy! Good on you!
 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I like the way you are looking at things!
Maybe you could introduce clover to crowd out the grass?
Sawdust and wood chips mixed with soil are said to lead to nitrogen deficiencies. I had a thought a while ago to do this on purpose to advantage nitrogen fixers like clover,seeing as every clover patch I start us overwhelmed by "weeds"
 
Samuel MacHay
Posts: 9
Location: Zone 7b; West of the Great Dismal. On top of the Scarp
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Wendy Wagner - Hey, what a neat surprise success!
   Wendy I agree, Thank you! 

Alexandra Clark - Mounding saw dust, no matter how deep is a soft and easy thing for tough crab grass rhizomes to sprout through.  My suggestion which I have used successfully to address invasive plants in the garden is to lay down dry cardboard on those paths, then wet the top a little and add leaf litter and then wood mulch or saw dust. Water down well. Whenever you see a patch breaking down, simply add another layer of cardboard (sun/heat/moisture barrier) and you should be good to go.  You may have some side growth of the plants but that can be easily taken care of by running a flat spade into the earth, cutting the rhizomes and flicking the shoots upside down. 
You could also do a two step process where you lay black plastic over your paths with rocks to weight it down and leave it like that for 6 weeks. It will solarize the ground underneath and you can then build your cardboard paths.
I have about 28 large brown cardboard pizza boxes stacked in my garage waiting to go into paths in the back yard. I am dealing with a big patch of poison ivy first..yeck!
 
Alexandra, Thank you, I agree and actually currently use your advice.  I do the cardboard under-matting and the black plastic overlay in areas, I'll probably start another thread about the black plastic project, it involves tillage radishes. For this pathway, I was simply out of cardboard and had a surplus of sawdust for this round, and was trying to stop the spread of the crabgrass as quickly as possible. Once the spring rains hit and the temperature climbs above 65 degrees F, crabgrass seems to grow like a horizontal bamboo around here   Our property is slowly evolving. When I bought it 2 years ago, there were no gardens or flower beds or animals, the cleared area was just crabgrass over poorly drained, compacted, clayey loam. We've been working hard to improve that.  My plan now is observe this path compared to the others that do have cardboard below.  I was surprised to see how quickly the sawdust had started to compost in this path after it had been chopped up with the soil and the crabgrass. I'm not sure this is a process I'll repeat, because the chopping/hoeing WAS A LOT OF WORK, but it appears to have kicked off a soil rendering bio-machine beneath my feet.  If it continues to compost and grow worms this well,  I'll probably pull off the sawdust covering and spread the newly formed composted soil over the garden beds late in the fall.  I was just so giddy about all the baby worms, I had to stop and grab my camera!  My "laziness"  in allowing the soil disturbance I had created to "steep" for a couple of weeks allowed those worms to flourish and reproduce like crazy, I haven't observed life erupt like that EVER on my property!

William Bronson - I like the way you are looking at things! Maybe you could introduce clover to crowd out the grass? Sawdust and wood chips mixed with soil are said to lead to nitrogen deficiencies. I had a thought a while ago to do this on purpose to advantage nitrogen fixers like clover, seeing as every clover patch I start us overwhelmed by "weeds"
 
William - Thanks!   I'm not too worried about nitrogen deficiency, as these are the pathways, maybe that will help kill/weaken the crabgrass? Who knows?, time will tell!  I've been playing with seeding clover patches and various cover crops in areas that are planned for future garden beds/orchard yards. I had thought about clover in the garden paths as well, it would certainly make my bees happy, but since I don't have to mow/chop the sawdust at all and it still composts and improves the soil... Then the sawdust path fits my groove better     LOL!


 
Wendy Wagner
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Location: Pacific NW
books cat urban
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Alexandra Clark wrote:I have about 28 large brown cardboard pizza boxes stacked in my garage


I think every bed in my garden started with pizza boxes!
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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A quick and easy alternative to cardboard boxes is builders paper.  It comes in 3' or 4' widths, 165' long for $8 or $9 a roll.  I'm doing a large area that way right now.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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The problem with crabgrass rhizomes is that they can remain dormant underground for YEARS waiting for the next opportunity to send up a shoot.  So the day you remove the sheet mulching, or it decomposes just enough... Your old friend will be back in business.
 
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