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my personal quest for super soil

 
gardener
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So I just read Redhawk's the quest for super soil post in the thread he started and it sparked a fire under me to share my experience thus far in soil building & remineralizing and include some pictures, which I have been meaning to do but dragging my feet and been busy with life. I wanted to start a new thread instead of include this in his thread as I do not want to distract from what he's sharing. I really admire and respect Redhawk and what he has shared with us, and I've learned a lot from his posts. I had read in books about having healthy plants that don't exhibit disease symptoms and aren't bothered by pests and I all but didn't believe it possible. I was of the notion that bad bugs fly around everywhere and come to feed on and lay eggs in gardens and that's just what they do, and that diseases are everywhere and having to spray to treat disease was just a part of gardening. I kept reading over and over in different books this repeating conclusion that if soils are healthy, balanced, full of minerals and teeming with microbial and fungal life, that the plants grown in them will be so healthy that they can defend themselves and be unfazed by diseases, and parasitic pests that come to eat my crops won't bother with them. The science behind it started to make sense, so I started to build my soils with compost and leaf mold, I took steps to remineralize my soil, and I did the important and so simple step of mulching my raised beds. Soil life needs the same things we as people need to live: food, water, shelter and air.

This year (2017) is the best garden year I've had so far. While I still have work to do with my soils, I am experiencing in my garden what I had only read about. I have plants that aren't infested with pests or sick with disease. Do I have pests? Yes, a few here, a few there in most cases. My kale this year did not do well, it was covered in worms feasting on them. My tomatoes are exhibiting some disease symptoms. My musk melons are growing at glacial speeds. What has done remarkably well are some of my squash, potatoes, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, and strawberries. Beans are doing very well also. I did and still do a daily check for squash bugs, and on average I find two clusters of eggs and just roll them off and squish them. Interestingly, I've only found a total of 6 squash bug egg clusters on my yellow squash and zucchini combined since the beginning of the season but I find an egg cluster or two daily on my spaghetti squash. My beans look great so far, last year I had major mexican bean beetle problems, this year I've seen two adults (there's likely more that I don't see) but the bean leaves look fantastic, not riddled with holes and I don't see any orange bean beetle larvae having a field day. I've never had potatoes look this good. I grew my first ever cabbage this spring that didn't have any holes either in the head itself or in the giant broad leaves. The spinach and lettuce looked like something out of a gardening magazine.

I'm not trying to boast here, I just want to share with others, especially those new to gardening, that this is possible. I used to use OMRI listed controls to spray my veggies that had problems. This year I haven't used any. The only pest control I've used is my fingers. I told a few folks last year I was planting strawberries, and they hemmed and hawed about the problems I would face and the bugs would eat holes in all my berries. That has not been my experience at all. I'm harvesting pristine strawberries that don't have any holes in them and haven't sprayed anything. The soil biology and chemistry that I've read about from Redhawk and various books is proving to be true. I'm making it happen in my little garden. Focus on the soil, nurture it and everything else seems to fall into harmony.

Here are some pictures I just took.





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James Freyr
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more pics.
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pollinator
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I like that line, like something out of a gardening magazine. Several of your photos qualify.

I have known people who put hours and hours into diagnosing and treating pest issues.

Just imagine if they put all of that time into improving their soil. They'd have so much spare time, they could create habitat for the snakes, lizards and frogs. Then they could make a spot for the swallows and bats to live.

I like the idea of planting lots of different things. And then no matter what the weather does, or the bugs do, some things will find suitable conditions and give you a good crop. That's one of the benefits of intercropping. When something dies or is eaten, you're not left with a gaping hole. The crop that thrives can move into that space.
 
gardener
Posts: 5947
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Outstanding James, I would like to applaud you on your efforts and sharing the outcome.

Redhawk
 
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Just imagine if they put all of that time into improving their soil. They'd have so much spare time, they could create habitat for the snakes, lizards and frogs. Then they could make a spot for the swallows and bats to live.



First, GREAT stuff James, you're officially venturing into the world of permaculture. =)
Dale is very correct in asserting that instead of trying to FIGHT something, working against, work to create what you DO WANT. And good soil is definitely what we want!
When land is cleared, there is nothing left to protect the topsoil which erodes away, or is baked into the atmosphere by the sun. Land is naturally full of life and abundant in a wide variety of nutrients, the goal is to simulate and accelerate the process of building these things back up. A growing number of folks use the "Back to Eden" method of gardening in a deep, broken down, mulch layer. Others meticulously layer "brown" and "green" matter, while some develop forest or semi-forested ecosystems for their own use.
All of these things work, and they all work better together in my opinion.
Seriously, that garden looks IMMACULATE. It obviously appreciates the care you've put into learning and applying it all. Other than that layer of mulch, what have you done to build topsoil?
 
James Freyr
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Hey thanks Redhawk! The soil is certainly improving and I'm seeing results in tasty veggies and happy plants with less disease pressure and pest problems. I still have some work to do but it's satisfying to see some results. I still have a few problems, but much less than last year.

Wyatt- I garden in raised beds and haven't necessarily done anything to build my topsoil. I have very clayey soil that drains poorly and on top of that I live in an area with a high water table and ponding water is common after rain. 8 years ago when I moved in my wife and I tried a garden in the ground with dismal results. Back then I didn't know anything about soils and soil building techniques. So I built raised beds and filled them with a soil blend from a local nursery. It was a mix of topsoil, compost, sand, and wood chips. I did have the wherewithal to amend each year with whatever organic matter I could get my hands on. One year it was earthworm castings. Another year it was leaf mold. All those amendments are good and well, but I still hadn't learned the science of chemistry and biology behind soil, soil life, the soil food web and how everything is connected. In two short years I've had big improvements with few simple changes, like abandoning certain practices. I quit turning in soil amendments with a shovel like the leaf mold mentioned above, I just placed it on top and let it be. I quit pulling dead plants at the end of the season, and just cut the stalk at or just below the soil surface, leaving all the roots in place undisturbed to decay. Those two simple things, along with the straw mulch on top, and suddenly the earthworms appeared so no more buying earthworm castings.

As far as adding minerals, I focused on trace minerals. Last fall when I was amending beds and covering them with straw I added some granular kelp which I had bought as a supplement for my chickens. Early this spring I sprinkled on some azomite, and later on I chose to add some sea-90. I applied the sea-90 at half the recommended rate, as it looked like a lot and I thought to myself that I can always add more later. The kelp had all winter to break down and the sea minerals dissolved readily in the next rain so I believe some improvement I'm seeing is from those. Azomite is a mineral ore and takes a while to break down, so I believe it will gradually have an effect over the course of twelve months, maybe more. I did also add a small amount of calcitic lime, like a handful, to maintain the pH where it needs to be, as pH's can gradually decline over time from rain and the act of mineral/hydrogen exchange by plant roots.
 
James Freyr
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The weather has been fair and there was a break in the rain this morning, and I’ve been meaning to add compost to my raised beds while they’re empty. There’s no better day than today, right? So my compost has been a long time coming and I’ve included some pictures below to show what I’ve done and how I’m using it. I figured what I’m doing certainly pertains to my never-ending quest for super soil and I thought I’d resurrect this thread and add a little update.

So it’s feels like spring, it’s been in the 60’s and even 70’s for several days, but is still very much winter according to the calendar. Today is February 22nd. The last few years I’ve been sowing seeds in my garden in march and planting my indoor started plants in late march, so I need to get busy getting the garden ready. Spring seems to come earlier now than it did twenty years ago. Our almanac last frost date for my area is April 15th, but the last frost date has been coming in March for a number of years now.

To get ready for the new growing season, yesterday morning I sprinkled Sea-90 on all my beds, and we got an inch and a half of rain yesterday and overnight. All the sea-90 has been dissolved as I couldn’t see any little white particles today. With the break in the rain this morning, I headed to the compost pile and figured I’d add a 5 gallon bucket of finished compost to each bed. You’ll see in the pictures my compost bin setup with my supervisor overseeing my work this morning. I use pallets stood up on end and screwed together, as they were free and took about a half hour to put together. So the bin on the right is where I started in about January/February of 2016, dumping chicken coop bedding, food scraps, autumn lawn mower clippings full of chopped leaves and grass (when I happened to get around to raking) and garden debris. That pile grew and shrank as I added to it over the course of that year and then I stopped adding to the right side in November of 2016, and proceeded to start filling up the left side. I utilized the dreaded big blue tarps to cover the piles occasionally during excessive rainy periods. I also left the right side essentially covered for a good portion of 2017 and even so far this year, but I would pull the tarp away and fluff the aging compost about once a month, just to keep oxygen in there. This pile shrunk at glacial speeds from what it was to what it is today. Today it looks dark, has a crumbly texture, and smells really good and earthy. This is what I’ve been waiting so long to achieve - a finished compost, with hardly any identifiable pieces of what was originally put in there. I’ve read this can be achieved faster, but I’m a sort of lazy composter, with compost being on the back burner so-to-say, just letting it go at it’s own pace in the background. The pile on the right looked like the pile on the left in November of 2016, and now I’ll spread it in the garden, and stop adding to the pile on the left, start a new pile on the right, and leave the pile on the left untouched to slowly finish at natures pace for a year (though I’m moving this fall so it will be the next guy’s small pile of gold).

The picture with the fork in the compost tries to show something that I was not expecting. I have terrible, dense, hard clay soil here. Even with all the soaking rain we’ve been getting it's still very firm and I can not push that fork into the soil out in the yard. Beneath the finished compost, that terrible soil turned into something completely different. It’s soft, somewhat crumbly, even after all this rain, and I was able to easily with minimal effort push my fork into the earth. The tines are in the native soil about 4 inches deep. This was a surprise for me this morning. It’s a great example of how adding organic matter, not even working it into the soil but merely having it on the surface, will with time, improve the soil beneath, just like how adding wood chips on top of soil will, again with time, improve the soil beneath.

The picture of my raised bed is how I’m applying my compost. In fall of 2016 I mulched my raised beds with straw and I sowed and planted in that straw spring of 2017 (as seen in the pictures above). Today I’m sprinkling a 5 gallon bucket of finished compost right on top of the straw (which is really beginning to break down now), and over the course of this coming week, I will cover this straw and compost sprinkling with wood chips from the giant pile that I got the other day by virtue of the tree trimming guys happening to be working down the road and stopping to ask them if I could have the wood chips when they finished for the day. They were more than happy to give them to me so they didn’t have to pay to dump them, and I was more than delighted to get 30+ yards of wood chips that the guys said was mostly red & white oak with a little sweetgum and a bit of hackberry and pine.
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Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Woo Hoo ! look at that awesome soil your building kola.
simply outstanding proof that microbes work the wonders we see in nature.
I am so very happy for you James, your veggies will only get better and better for you and your family.

Redhawk
 
James Freyr
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Thank you Redhawk! Your kind words mean a lot! and a lot of what I'm doing is taken from what I've learned from your writings in your awesome threads here on Permies.
 
gardener
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That's great looking compost & soil from this TN clay. Should be able to produce a lot of food in the gardens. TN Valencia peanuts will grow in the clay & help improve the soil. It appears the weeds are under control on that part of the pavement too. Good job.
 
pollinator
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Awesome James!   Thanks for taking the time to document your progress.   Now I'm full of envy and admiration and heading right over to Amazon to buy Sea90 which Bryant had recommended but I procrastinated :)
 
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Wow those are some amazing strawberries and the leaves look huge!. I too am working on the soil and adding minerals. This coming year will be the first year with adding minerals according to soil test. Last year I had major issues with root knot nematodes. They were probably in just a couple of beds years ago but over time, not knowing what was wrong with the plants, I spread them around through the compost. Really hoping that minerals and mycorrhiza help!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Mary, yes indeed the mycorrhizae along with other mycelium will take a big bite out of destructive nematodes, the minerals will help both your plants and your fungi and bacteria.
 
pollinator
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On Sea-90, check with your local (not chain) feed and seed. They may be able to get it without delivery fees. There is an animal feed version and a soil amendment version. They seem like the same thing with slightly different granule sizes.

The big win is when you have animals doing your spreading for you! Thats another big advantage from browsers.
 
James Freyr
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Chapter 2

I want to mark this post as a new beginning. All my posts above and those raised beds are from my old garden. That house is on the market and my wife and I are moving to our new farm here in a few weeks. Someone else will inherit my former soil building efforts.

My new farm. I'm trying to get a little cabin ready to move into and also get an area ready for our new garden, and try to get some more soil improvements done. I've attached below the results of the soil analysis I had done back when we closed on the land purchase. In about november of 2017 we had the entire farm limed. The pH average of the soil was 5.3ish. In the spring of 2018 before I got busy building a cabin, my wife and I chose our garden area and I broadcast some Sea-90 and gypsum with a push style spreader.

Here's my approach. I believe in chemistry and biology, but I don't want the word chemistry to be misleading here. I am not about to go applying ammonium nitrate or di-ammonium phosphate or any chemical fertilizer commonly used in conventional agriculture. What I mean by chemistry is elements in the soil, the anions and cations. I had a soil analysis done, and I am targeting the addition of three select micronutrients: copper, zinc and boron. I want to give the soil a minor boost with these which I purchased from the co-op. I don't need much of each of these, just a few ppm. I need to be very careful with the copper sulfate, as copper can be an anti fungal and anti microbial in high enough concentrations. The last thing I want to do is kill any soil biota, after all I'm trying to nurture my soil, so the copper sulfate will be applied several times in very weak solutions. When I make soil additions using things like this copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, and boron I like to apply them right before it rains. Since I mix them in a pump sprayer, and I'm applying 2 gallons volume of mixed solution over almost a quarter acre, I essentially have droplets landing on all the dormant grasses, forbs, and mowing clippings so I need the rain to further dilute my applications and also wash these solutions into the soil. Aside from these three select micronutrients, I am also using two other sources for more micronutrients: Sea-90 and kelp. I think my soil could also use some phosphorus, and I will be getting this from rock phosphate. I hope to go get some Tennessee brown rock phosphate later this spring and apply it with a push spreader.

The biology part: Without the soil biota, the bacteria and fungi to mention the two big players, the chemistry is nothing. My main focus is building soil life, the chemistry is just a side act. I had my farm mowed twice in 2018, once in June and again in October after the first frost, so a lot of organic matter was cut and left in place via my neighbor who I hired to mow with his tractor pulling a 20ft cut bat wing bush hog. Before he mowed, he asked me if I was interested in him cutting hay, and I politely declined and I told him I'm interested in building organic matter and having all the grass and weeds cut and left in place. He commented to me how he thought the liming I had done must have helped since he thought the pastures were thick. It was an observation from a lifelong farmer that I noted. That was last year, and just last week, I started my first biodynamic preparation, a-la Redhawk style, found here: https://permies.com/t/75940/Redhawk-methods-making-biodynamic-preparations#628039 I am making horn manure, but I don't have cow horns or ground quartz crystals handy, but I do have mason jars and diatomaceous earth to supply the silica in lieu of quartz. I believe in the biology of biodynamics, I'm unsure about Steiner's (the guy who invented biodynamics) claims of the preparations harnessing cosmic energies from the universe. If they do great, if they don't great, I'm in it for the biology. I want to grow microbes and fungus. I went to my neighbor back home who is a grazier, and has a small herd of pastured cows. I scooped up and filled four quart mason jars with fresh cow poop while mixing in some diatomaceous earth. I then took these jars to my new farm, and armed with my small spade I inoculated each jar with soil from four different areas. Three were from the woods, and one of those three was inoculated with soil from beneath my mightiest old oak tree. I measured it, and the tree is 40 inches diameter breast height. The last jar I inoculated is from an area where my neighbor (the same one who mowed) had a hay ring where he fed his herd of cows for many years each winter. The soil in this spot is dark, soft, smells good, and I can easily push my little spade shovel into the soil 5 inches with little effort. Why scoop soil and inoculate from 4 different areas? Because I want biodiversity. I want to encourage and grow as many different kinds of good bacteria and fungi as I can. With some time, the native microbial and fungal life will essentially compost the cow manure in the jars. I can then mix some manure with water, and apply it to my garden. While I don't have a compost pile started at the new farm yet, I do at the old house, and I'm bringing a bucket or two of finished compost to make some compost teas to apply to my garden area as well.

It's february of 2019 as of this writing, and earlier in the week I mixed a very mild solution of copper sulfate, and also one of zinc sulfate and applied it to the garden area with a pump sprayer. I hope to get some boron applied this week. I'll make a few more additions, and hopefully some brown rock phosphate is in the budget and I can get that spread along with a bag of kelp. I will retest my soil and share the results later this year.


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Tj Jefferson
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James, this is a great summary of your project! I think it is valuable how you laid out your starting point, then initial goals, leading to proposed interventions. The interventions include the mowing/nonhaying I would say.

I am reading with interest, we didn't move, but are converting several acres to silvopasture and have remarkably similar soils (with the exception that it looks like you limed a huge amount, I would be interested what that costs per ton out there).

I do the same with electrolyte application, although since I don't have access to a large sprayer, I have been going out when it is windy and throwing the dust allowing wind dispersal (same minerals zinc and copper sulfate and borax). I am trying to get the levels up over 3-4 years with 3-4 applications per year, preferably just before or during active growth- so avoid middle of winter or middle of summer. I also decided to apply some phosphates, apparently it can be done without destroying fungal growth provided it is a slow increase (I think that was from Dr Redhawk). Running the chickens in their paddocks across it also aids in both nitrogen and phosphate improvement, but both of those are imported from outside in the form of chicken feed, so I am stealing them from someone else's soil. The chickens also have a DE bath in their paddock, so that is my application of silicates. I probably get 2-3 lbs per 1000SF that way, since they are so messy.

Adding animals I think will be a big assist, but the infrastructure and systems are critical. The pH should come up as the aluminum gets more organics to buffer it, but functionally at the roots Dr Redhawk's writings are pretty convincing to me that if stuff grows well, it shows the soil is alive and robust where it matters.
 
James Freyr
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Hey thanks TJ! The liming was a little over $1700 for 68 tons spread over about 34 acres. It worked about to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 a ton.

My garden area is my current primary focus. I have desires to remineralize the 34 acres of pasture, but like a lot things it's just time and money. I want to broadcast brown rock phosphate over the pastures, along with Sea-90 one and some kelp. I'm fortunate to live in the same state as where the brown rock phosphate is sourced, and it's a three hour drive away. It costs more than limestone lime, but if I recall correctly it's in the neighborhood of $80 a ton. I figured I can hire my neighbor (same mowing guy) who owns a dump truck, to bring 18 tons, which is the trucks capacity, and have him spread that over the pastures at about a half ton an acre. I want to start there, maybe it will need a second application. I'd also hire him to broadcast the Sea-90 as well. I really want to start growing some nutrient dense grass and forbs prior to bringing cows onto the farm. We can't afford cows now anyway, and I really believe that soil is the most important part of any farm. If feel like if I can hunker down and find a way to pay for these expenses on the front end over the next two to three years, that it will pay dividends in the future and be well worth the investment now.

One challenge I currently have with my soil is the low cation exchange capacity. I know that number isn't static, and I can increase it by building soil humus. My approach for this in the meantime is to keep mowing twice a year and leaving all the biomass in place and with a little help from my fungal friends I think I can start building soil humus. I know that things will really start to improve once I do bring cows onto the farm and begin rotational grazing, with the chickens following behind them every day or two or three, however often the cows get moved to a new paddock.
 
Tj Jefferson
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The liming was a little over $1700 for 68 tons spread over about 34 acres. It worked about to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 a ton.



Lucky! We pay well over $100/ton. There aren't any truly local sources I have found just due to geology. Same with the phosphate.

You are smart to think about the orderly introduction of livestock, nothing is more expensive than livestock with problems!

One little tip I will give you to get your organic matter up fast- I spread partially decayed woodchips with a manure spreader during the wet and hot part of the year. They decay very quickly and have made a big difference. I found out I can put down about 10 yards per acre three times a year and the soil just eats them. It has meant an increase in clovers and a decrease in grass, but I think the overall incorporation of biomass is huge. I spread lime or rock dust by putting it on top of the mulch so it doesnt gum up the spreader. If you can get lots of chips, it could pay off.
 
James Freyr
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Tj Jefferson wrote:

One little tip I will give you to get your organic matter up fast- I spread partially decayed woodchips with a manure spreader during the wet and hot part of the year. They decay very quickly and have made a big difference. I found out I can put down about 10 yards per acre three times a year and the soil just eats them. It has meant an increase in clovers and a decrease in grass, but I think the overall incorporation of biomass is huge. I spread lime or rock dust by putting it on top of the mulch so it doesnt gum up the spreader. If you can get lots of chips, it could pay off.



Yes, I totally want wood chips. My new farm is very rural, and there really aren't chipper trucks in the neighborhood pruning trees by the roads once or twice a year like I've seen back home and inside Nashville city limits. I'm still on the hunt for free wood chips from a source such as the power company, but again, it's proving challenging. I one day want to buy an old used chipper, a big one like the utility companies tow behind those covered trucks, the kind I can feed a four inch limb into and it'll gobble it up with no problem, so I can make my own chips whenever I choose from trees I have growing on the farm. But that's a ways off into the future. One alternative I have found, is a mulch company, and they have oak wood chips and will deliver them, but again it costs money. The nice thing is I know exactly what I'm getting, 100% hardwood oak. There is not a question of what sort of wood is in it, though that's never really been terribly important to me. Like everything else, it costs money. They'll deliver 25yds for about $700. Or, I can go big and get an 18-wheeler load, 90yds, for $1700 delivered. I still prefer free if I can find it, or look more closely at a used chipper, and apply that $1700 towards one and start making my own chips sooner than later.
 
Tj Jefferson
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James, not to turn this into a mulch conversation, but it you have scale like it sound you do, they will be interested. One of my suppliers drives an hour to get here (which makes me sad). This is a power company truck. Unfortunately their tipping fee is $80, and they pay three guys x$10/hr and expense the fuel against their taxes, so they make $20 a load. If you can accept a big truck, you have marketability. Are there sawmills in your area? They always have a big pile of scraps and chippy bits. I could get hundreds of yards, they are looking for a place to get rid of the piles. It takes longer, but I believe in Travis' rule of 2s- 2 inches diameter within two feet of the ground will degrade in 2 years. In your area there may be someone looking to offload moldy hay in round bales that got screwed up. That would be wonderful stuff. Those were my backup plans before I got into the chips big time.

This isn't a competition and I want to emphasize that. But it could be.... Hehehe The Carbon Games, new this summer. Plus I got a line on 100 tons (!) of pond settlings from a quarry, free. I will have to split the delivery but they want to get rid of it and I want it. BOOM! Economic love story. My next goal is to get people to put my fencing in for free. Any ideas? Travis suggested grants because I am doing silvopasture from USDA or NSCS but the process is geared toward the big boys that don't need the grants but are happy to take free money. I don't have time for that, or knowledge.

I'm interested in your preparations. Its on my list of things I might try, but its behind making hundreds of gallons of compost tea this summer, and I can only make 12 gallons at a time. So thats going to take me a while.
 
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My parents lived in town when I was growing up, and waited until the kids moved out to move to the country. That was unfortunate timing on their part from my perspective, as of their kids I was the one who longed for the rural life and who chafed at city life. But I did learn how to build soil fast, from watching what my dad did, and helping when I would visit.

They moved 25 miles from town. But in the autumn my dad would hook up the trailer to the truck and drive to the city. He would make the rounds of neighborhoods with lots of big old trees and collect bagged leaves. He checked for the collection schedule first and also cleared it with authorities so he wouldn't get in trouble for "stealing" leaves.

He collected vast, vast quantities of leaves. He ran them through a large chipper shredder, moistened them, and let them compost over winter. He did not try to balance green and brown. He had tons of leaves so just shredded, wetted and let rot. He then spread it liberally on their very poor sandy soil and within a few years he had some of the finest, most productive soil I have ever seen.

This was not exactly free, as there was gas involved to drive to the city and collect them and in shredding the resulting haul. And, there was an investment in the shredder. But it was cheaper than many inputs, nonetheless.
 
James Freyr
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Tj- Thanks for broadening my views. I need to do a little research on who's running chipper trucks and make some cold calls or send some emails, maybe one will bite if I offer a place for them to dump wood chips for free. I have an acre or two I could let them dump to their hearts delight.

Myrth- I love leaf mold! I think it is a most excellent amendment to use in a garden. My farm has approximately 24 acres of woods, and it's in a couple large-is chunks of 6-8 acres, with a bunch of small clusters of trees scattered about in the pastures, so there are a lot of leaves produced each autumn that fall into easily accessible pasture areas. My challenge is raking or somehow gathering the leaves among tall thigh-high grasses and other plants. I think my best approach is to collect some biomass from a fall mowing and build some piles of leaves & clippings to compost.
 
Myrth Gardener
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James Freyr wrote:Tj- Thanks for broadening my views. I need to do a little research on who's running chipper trucks and make some cold calls or send some emails, maybe one will bite if I offer a place for them to dump wood chips for free. I have an acre or two I could let them dump to their hearts delight.

Myrth- I love leaf mold! I think it is a most excellent amendment to use in a garden. My farm has approximately 24 acres of woods, and it's in a couple large-is chunks of 6-8 acres, with a bunch of small clusters of trees scattered about in the pastures, so there are a lot of leaves produced each autumn that fall into easily accessible pasture areas. My challenge is raking or somehow gathering the leaves among tall thigh-high grasses and other plants. I think my best approach is to collect some biomass from a fall mowing and build some piles of leaves & clippings to compost.



That’s why my dad drove to the city - let other people rake up and collect the leaves - it was less labor intensive. They had woods also. But how could they collect the leaves in sufficient quantity to amend several acres of poor sand? It was easier to haul in free leaves than it was to harvest leaves from the woods. Forest raking is a notion of more recent origin. 😸😹
 
James Freyr
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Here’s an update on where I’m at with my new garden. With delays and setbacks and curveballs we did finally move in about 4 weeks ago. Today is the last day of May and tomorrow I am finally going to transplant some poor, sad looking tomatoes and peppers that I started from seed some 90+ days ago.

I wrote a little about my strategy, and something else I’m going to do now is plant by the moon phases. I’ve never done this before, but I figure, why not? I’ve always transplanted and sowed whenever it was convenient for me. I was ready to plant several days ago, but according to the almanac lunar phases, they were poor days to transplant, but May 21st and June 1st are good days and I didn’t get to it today. I’ve never in my twenty years of gardening, in all my evolution and gain in learning have I ever started a garden this late in the season, or this close to the summer solstice. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes, but some garden is better than no garden.

So in preparation of the first years garden at my new farm where I plan to live out the rest of my life, I’ve added some copper, zinc and boron in very weak solution applied by a pump sprayer in several applications over the course of a few months. I also broadcast by hand about 150lbs of gypsum. A few weeks ago I mixed up some EM-1 (Effective Microorganisms) and another biological inoculant called Agro Gold which was a freebie. I’m working with neglected soil that is depleted in minerals. (I can’t remember if I mentioned above, but I’ll note it again that the entire farm including my garden was limed two years ago, and one year ago the garden area got an application of Sea-90 and a few bags of gypsum.) Just last week, on Thursday evening I hosed down the garden area since it hadn’t rained in a week and I also mixed up a small batch of biodynamic preparation and sprayed the garden at sundown. The following morning, I applied another application of EM-1 and agro gold and then promptly broadcast by hand a 50lb sack of fish bone meal and a 50lb sack of kelp. I immediately proceeded to move a 25 yard pile of oak wood chips I had delivered with a skid steer loader onto my garden. I also want to note I did not mow the garden. I dumped the wood chips right on top of tall grasses, with the cool season grasses having gone to seed. My garden ended up being 22x45 feet.

I think I’m off to a decent start trying to get some life and minerals into this garden and begin nurturing, remineralizing and rebuilding this soil. Since I didn’t kill any grass and some had gone to seed, my wife thinks I’m going to grow some great grass. The wood chips seem to be about 8 to 10 inches thick. I’m hoping that is enough to smother the grasses and have said grasses be a green manure. We’ll see, I’ve never done this technique before. If anything, I’ll learn what not to do next time

Tomorrow on June 1st, I’ll transplant my sad looking plants and direct sow seed such as melons, squashes, cucumber, and whatever else I have laying around. Also, I will apply more microbes with the first watering that the transplants and seeds get. I'll report back.
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Tj Jefferson
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James, I feel for you. I've still got 20 Roma tomatoes sitting on my driveway. I'm putting them in wherever at this point. The cool thing is that you have nothing to lose!

I have to say I don't went all-in on aerated compost tea rather than EM, and my soil prep looks remarkably similar. I will update on here. Experiments are critical.
 
James Freyr
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I got my tomatoes and peppers planted this morning. My native soil is in pretty rough shape and is very difficult to dig, so I literally planted everything in the mulch. I dug a small hole in the wood chips and set each transplant basically on top of the old grasses, which are fairly matted down now, and proceeded to cover each plant back up with chips, gently pushing the wood chips up next to each root mass. I also sowed some seeds this morning. I brushed aside maybe an inch or two of wood chips, plopped half a dozen or so seeds down, and covered back up with wood chips. I watered everything with microbial inoculants I have along with some molasses, and watered again with plain water 4 or 5 hours later in the early afternoon. I'm going to keep watering the seeds 2-3 times a day and hopefully a few will germinate. I know nature is resilient, and I've had volunteer seeds from plants in my old garden germinate right on top or barely in the surface of mulch, so I think I can have success as long as I keep the seeds wet and don't let them dry out during this first crucial week or ten days.

I've never planted transplants into wood chips with the root mass above the soil surface, nor have I sowed seeds in wood chips before. This will be a neat experiment and I'll keep those following along updated as my garden heads into summer.

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James, everyone,

This is a really great thread and I am really glad that James started it.  It really shows the importance of soil biology and nicely explains how one can get good healthy soil.  I don’t want to hijack this thread, but I do want to add to it a bit as James’ project nicely dovetails with my own.

Like James, I started focusing on soil biology about 2 years ago when I had a huge pile of woodchips I wanted to decompose.  At first I thought about adding in left over 10-10-10 from my pre-Permies days, but was encouraged to go the fungal route instead.  I eventually spread the chips 12” thick and added in wine cap mushrooms.  I did dig 8 fertile holes in a bed approximately 6’x12’ in order to grow tomatoes my first year.  That was last year.

This spring, after much anticipation, I got my first flush of wine caps.  The surface of the bed dropped by 3” over the last 6 months and the chips now look like coffee grounds.  I really need to show a picture to document how much they have decomposed.  I am growing summer squash in the fertile holes that last year grew tomatoes and I poked in a bunch of peas randomly to fix nitrogen.  I have added in exactly no fertilizer this year.

The results are impressive.  The squash is growing up dark green and peas grow everywhere.  I have a moderate amount of volunteer grass that grows also and even the grass grows very green.  I am seemingly getting free nitrogen from somewhere, I assume from the biology in the bedding (was woodchips and soon will be soil, I am still at a loss as to what exactly to call the material just yet).  I can’t get over how fertile the bedding is right now and I am pleasantly surprised/astounded by the behavior of the wine caps in the bedding.  

Whenever I pull the weed grass, I always pull up a nesting of fungal filaments intricately wrapped around the root hairs.  It is blatantly obvious to me that the wine caps are growing in association with roots in the bedding, and from all appearances, this is a mutualistic relationship.  The roots seem to help the fungus get established and the fungus seems to be fertilizing the plants.  I had long heard about the importance of getting good, healthy soil biology, but I never really appreciated it until this spring.  

Previously I always thought of this condition as something difficult to obtain and marginal in effect.  I was wrong—absolutely dead wrong.  Getting mushrooms established (wine caps at least) was surprisingly easy and their effect is truly amazing.  Having one functional mushroom bed compost bed healthy and working has radically changed the way I now see gardening and soil health.  Before I saw soil as a collection of nutrients with some biology thrown in.  This is completely reversed now—I think of soil as a community of organisms with a bit of nutrients thrown in.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t want to hijack this thread, but James and I are taking parallel paths with our gardens.  James is having great results with his and I am starting to have great results with mine (James is a bit further advanced than I am).  I am writing this to echo everything James said as I am experiencing much the same.  Hopefully by reading this it is obviously apparent just how important soil biology really is.

Eric
 
James Freyr
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Alright here's an update on my sort of experimental gardening. All my tomato transplants into the mulch died, and most of my peppers as well except for four, which are unchanged in appearance and size. I knew that leaving those seedlings in those 4 inch cups for 90+ days would have a profound detrimental effect on my plants and they couldn't take it. Usually my transplants from cell trays where I start my seeds into the 4 inch cups work very well as they usually are in the 4 inch cups for about three weeks before being transplanted into my garden, but with delays in moving and other events it just didn't happen that way this year.

I am happy to say that most of the seeds I sowed directly into the mulch germinated and some are doing quite well. My squash and zucchini germinated the fastest and those have done the best and have experienced the most growth. Most of my watermelons and musk melons germinated, but they seemed to lag quite a bit, for a few weeks actually, before the first set of real leaves began to emerge, but I think what has germinated and has lasted this long is going to make it. I fully expect to get a few squash and zucchini, and hopefully I will get some late summer melons. I did chase a deer out of my garden at daybreak last week, so wildlife may indeed pose a challenge for me harvesting mature and ripe produce from my garden. Time will tell and I'll report back again.

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James Freyr
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Yesterday I took soil samples and sent them off to the lab today. I want to share a few pictures and descriptions of the soil that I'm sampling for soil nerds like me out there. It's the same three areas as reported on the soil analysis in a post above. The only thing that's been done is lime at a rate of two tons per acre done in december of 2017. I did not get around to soil testing in 2018. I did not sample my new garden area, which lies within Field #2 on my soil test results. I have made amendments to my garden this year and want to give them more time before I submit a sample, which I will do either this fall or next year.

Field 1 and Field 2 are both Shubuta soil types, with Field 1 being classified as Shubuta clay loam, and Field 2 is Shubuta gullied land complex. Here is a description of the Shubuta's from the USDA web soil survey:

Properties and qualities

Slope: 15 to 25 percent
Depth to restrictive feature: More than 80 inches
Natural drainage class: Well drained
Capacity of the most limiting layer to transmit water (Ksat): Moderately high (0.20 to 0.60 in/hr)
Depth to water table: More than 80 inches
Frequency of flooding: None
Frequency of ponding: None
Available water storage in profile: Moderate (about 7.4 inches)



The sample from Field 3, while adjacent to Field 2, is a different type of soil called Collins loam. Here's a description of it also from the USDA web soil survey:

Properties and qualities

Slope: 1 to 3 percent
Depth to restrictive feature: More than 80 inches
Natural drainage class: Moderately well drained
Capacity of the most limiting layer to transmit water (Ksat): Moderately high to high (0.60 to 2.00 in/hr)
Depth to water table: About 12 to 36 inches
Frequency of flooding: Rare
Frequency of ponding: None
Available water storage in profile: High (about 9.2 inches)



I've attached some pictures below of my soil samples, and as the years go by, I think it will be fun to watch the very top dark layer which is at the soil surface grow in depth and change color becoming darker as I do techniques and practices to encourage soil carbon sequestering by increasing soil organic matter and also promote the growth of soil bacteria and fungi. I believe that one day, many years from now, I will be able to insert my soil sampling probe anywhere on my farm and pull six inch plugs that are entirely dark, almost black, with a spongy quality to it with clearly defined aggregates. I'm playing the long game, and everyone is invited to check back in this thread and watch my soil samples change in appearance as the years go by.

The first several pics are of the two Shubutas, and both have varying degree of a darker surface layer. All the soil plugs are six inches deep. Look closely at the bottom of the soil plugs in the 3rd and 4th picture, and there are roots from grasses and forbs sticking out the end. The very last picture is of the Collins loam. Note the less red and more grey overall appearance.
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James Freyr
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Today is an exciting day for me. I received my soil analysis, and now I have two, of the same areas, two years apart, and can compare some real data. I’ve included in this post both the old soil report which is in a post above, and the new report for ease of comparison by readers.

I’ll walk the reader through the two, noting my observations and thoughts. A quick recap for those that haven’t ready older posts in this thread, all I’ve done is lime at a rate of two tons per acres in December of 2017, and mow the pastures twice a year so the grasses and forbs I do have growing, grow tall, to maturity, which in turn grows more roots deeper into a soil.

Field 1 and 2 are of a soil called Shubuta, and Field 3 is a soil called Collins Loam. I mentioned these briefly in the post above.

So starting with the Total Exchange Capacity line, that has increased half a point in field 1, 1.5 points in field 2, and about a half a point in field 3. I attribute the increase in the Cation Exchange Capacity, or CEC (what the lab refers to as Total Exchange Capacity) to the interaction of roots and root exudates with soil microbial life. Here’s something I find peculiar about the report and the CEC. So CEC’s can be increased in a soil by increasing soil organic matter and humus. Interestingly, the Organic Matter % in my report today shows a decrease from two years ago. One of my primary goals is to build soil organic matter, so I am a bit puzzled by this.

The pH of the soils has increased, as I expected from the Lime. What I did not anticipate is how the Collins Loam response to the Lime is so much more than the Shubuta, with Field 1 & 2 going up about 0.4 pH points and Field 3, the Collins Loam, increasing 1.4 points.

I don’t have a good answer as to where the Sulfur came from, maybe the lime. (I’m no chemist, just a soil geek). Magnesium is almost always a part of lime in varying amounts, and the increase in Magnesium after applying lime makes sense. The Potassium and Sodium has increased, again I don’t have a real good answer to offer about why those are up.

I don’t know exactly what Other Bases are referring to in the soil report. The Exchangeable Hydrogen is directly related to the pH. (pH actually means potential Hydrogen). With the Calcium from the lime raising the soils pH, it knocks off and takes the seat of Hydrogen ions on soil particles. More Exchangeable Hydrogen means a more acidic soil, and with those numbers going down, it shows an increase in pH or a less acidic soil.

I did not expect so see any real change in the micronutrients Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper and Zinc. Zinc is the only one that has any real noticeable increase and I’m a little surprised by the reduction of Manganese by almost 50% in the Shubutas and almost 75% in the Collins loam.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I’m just a guy that’s totally into soil and find this sort of thing very interesting and I’m no expert. I’m going to continue to do my best to improve the soil I have, and I’ll continue to get soil tests done to get some idea of which direction minerals are heading and also if my Organic Matter starts to improve or further declines. Now I’m going to take a moment to close my eyes, rub my temples, and try to summon Redhawk over to this thread and hopefully he will take a moment to offer his thoughts on my soil reports and what’s happening.
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Glad i stumbled on to this thread.  This has been a great read.  I'm really excited to see where you go from here.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Pure limestone is made up of two component minerals: calcium carbonate and calcium-magnesium carbonate. The chemical formula for calcium carbonate is CaCO3. The chemical formula for calcium-magnesium carbonate is CaMg(CO3)2.
hau James,

Usually when you buy agricultural lime you are going to be spreading CaMg(CO3)2 that has been ground in a rock crusher (hammer mill), this gives us some clues as to how your soil chemistry is changing James.
CO3 will be broken so that there is one atom of CO2 and one free O resulting, these free oxygen atoms will form new bonds while the CO2 rises to the atmosphere or is captured and broken again by bacteria so it can use the carbon atom.
In the mean time, calcium and magnesium atoms are freed up with some of those recombining either by their own collisions or by bacterial actions via enzymes, if there are free carbon and free hydrogen you can end up with carbolic acid being formed, which can eventually show up as a pH change to the low side.
More likely though we would see calcium hydrate from which would raise the pH somewhat, depending on how many of these reactions occurred in any particular spot of soil treated with the lime.

Most of the other changes are interrelated to these chemical reactions taking place along with the exudates from the plant roots, the bacteria performing their functions in response to not only the exudates but also the chemistry going on from the lime application (note we are talking about that top six inch layer of soil).
So, with a lime application you set into motion a huge number of soil organism responses along with chemical reaction responses. Minerals will be attracted to free ions and those may form new compounds which aren't water soluble or the water insoluble compounds might be changed to water soluble compounds.
In another thread I brought up the fact that most soil testing is done on water soluble compounds only, and that too could be part of the results you see on both tests with the second test showing the concentration changes occurring.
The increase in sulfur is probably from the break down of dead roots and other decaying organic materials.
These test don't show a value for silica, the one compound that is needed by all life forms to help in the processing of zinc, iron and copper along with a plethora of other minerals, if you were to add some DE (great and cheep source of silica) I would expect to see some of those mineral quantities changing too.
Plus your plants would most likely become even healthier than they are now (which look good by the way).

Over all You are making great progress and I would expect to be able to detect lots of fungal hyphae strands as well as clumps of bacteria, amoeba, springtails, worms, nematodes and so on.

Redhawk


 
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You said that you spread gypsum all over the property, right? I wonder if that's where the sulfur is coming from...
 
James Freyr
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Nathanael Szobody wrote:You said that you spread gypsum all over the property, right? I wonder if that's where the sulfur is coming from...



I only spread gypsum in my garden area, the spot with the wood chips mulch. Only the lime was broadcast over the pastures, which is the whole farm minus wooded areas.
 
James Freyr
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Redhawk, can you please offer your thoughts on why one soil, the collins loam, would show such a drastic difference in pH change from the lime compared to the shubuta, even though they received the same application rate? Also, any ideas on why the manganese on the report is down such a considerable percentage for all three samples?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Well James, to explain these differences I first need to give the USDA soil survey data, so we have references at hand, so, here is that data.

Collins Loam
The Collins series consists of very deep, moderately well drained, moderately permeable soils. They formed in silty alluvium on flood plains of streams in the Southern Mississippi Valley Silty Uplands Major Land Resource Area. Slopes range from 0 to 2 percent.

TAXONOMIC CLASS: Coarse-silty, mixed, active, acid, thermic Aquic Udifluvents

TYPICAL PEDON: Collins silt loam--cultivated field. (Colors are for moist soil unless otherwise stated.)

Ap--0 to 7 inches; brown (10YR 5/3) silt loam; weak fine granular structure; very friable; many fine roots; strongly acid; abrupt smooth boundary. (3 to 9 inches thick)

C1--7 to 16 inches; yellowish brown (10YR 5/4) silt loam; massive with weak horizontal strata in more than 1/2 the volume; very friable; many fine roots; few worm casts; strongly acid; clear smooth boundary.

C2--16 to 23 inches; brown (10YR 4/3) silt loam; few fine faint pale brown (10YR 6/3) and light brownish gray (10YR 6/2) iron depletions; massive with weak horizontal strata in more than 1/2 the volume; very friable; few fine roots; few worm casts; strongly acid; clear smooth boundary. (Combined thickness of the upper part of the C horizon is 12 to 20 inches.)

C3--23 to 34 inches; variegated pale brown (10YR 6/3), dark yellowish brown (10YR 4/4), and light gray (10YR 7/2) silt loam; massive with bedding planes; very friable; few fine roots; common fine brown iron-manganese concretions; strongly acid; gradual smooth boundary.

Cg--34 to 48 inches; light brownish gray (10YR 6/2) silt loam; many coarse distinct yellowish brown (10YR 5/4) masses of oxidized iron; faint pale brown (10YR 6/3) masses of oxidized iron; massive; friable; many fine brown to reddish brown iron-manganese concretions; strongly acid.

TYPE LOCATION: Tallahatchie County, Mississippi; 4.0 miles north of Charleston, Mississippi on Teasdale Highway; 200 feet north of Mitchell Creek and 100 feet east of highway in a pasture f. SW1/4NE1/4 sec. 12, R. 2 E., T. 25N. 34 degrees, 03 minutes, 10.83 seconds N. Latitude and 90 degrees, 02 minutes, 23.05 seconds W. Longitude, Charleston USGS 7.5 Minute Quadrangle, Mississippi.

RANGE IN CHARACTERISTICS: Below the plow layer, bedding planes and weak horizontal stratification are evident throughout the soil. Weak subangular blocky structure is in the upper part of the C horizon in some pedons but occupies less than 1/2 of the volume. Reaction of the soil is strongly acid or very strongly acid in all horizons. The 10- to 40-inch control section has from 5 to 18 percent clay. Sand content is as much as 30 percent but less than 15 percent is coarser than very fine sand.

The Ap horizon has hue of 7.5YR and 10YR, value of 4 and 5, and chroma of 2 through 4. The A horizon commonly is silt loam; less commonly it is loam, very fine sandy loam, and fine sandy loam.

The upper part of the C horizon has hue of 7.5YR and 10YR, value of 3 to 5, and chroma of 3 or 4. Few to many iron depletions having chroma of 2 or less are within a depth of 20 inches of the surface and commonly begin at a depth of about 16 inches. Texture is silt or silt loam.

The lower part of the C horizon is variegated in shades of brown and gray, or it has hue of 10YR or 2.5Y, value of 5 to 7, and chroma of 2 or less. Iron accumulations are few to many in shades of brown and iron depletions are in shades of gray.

COMPETING SERIES: There are no other series in the same family. Closely related series include the Adler, Ariel, Bruin, Falaya, Iuka, Morganfield, and Vicksburg series. Adler soils are slightly acid to alkaline. Ariel and Bruin soils have a cambic horizon; In addition, Bruin soils are slightly acid to moderately alkaline. Falaya soils have aquic conditions and matrix chroma of 2 or less within a depth of 20 inches and have a buried subsoil. Iuka soils have a coarse-loamy particle-size class. Morganfield and Vicksburg soils do not have aquic conditions or iron depletions with chroma 2 or less within a depth of 40 inches. In addition, Morganfield soils are slightly acid to alkaline.

GEOGRAPHIC SETTING: These are nearly level soils on flood plains and in drainageways in the Southern Mississippi Valley Silty Uplands Major Land Resource Area. Slopes range from 0 to 2 percent. The regolith consists principally of silty alluvium derived from loess. Average annual temperature is 64 degrees Fahrenheit, mean January and July temperatures are 45 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, and average annual precipitation is 50 inches near the type location.

GEOGRAPHICALLY ASSOCIATED SOILS: These include the closely related Falaya and Vicksburg soils,and the Arkabutla, Cascilla, and Waverly soils. Arkabutla and Cascilla soils have a fine-silty particle size class and have a cambic horizon. In addition, Arkabutla soils have aquic conditions within a depth of 20 inches and are on slightly lower positions, and Cascilla soils are on natural levee positions near stream channels. Waverly soils have aquic conditions within a depth of 20 inches, have a grayish matrix below the A horizon and are in the drainageways and depressions. Well drained Vicksburg soils are on natural levees and near channels.

DRAINAGE AND PERMEABILITY: Moderately well drained; runoff is negligible on slopes less than 1 percent, and low on slopes up to 2 percent; moderate permeability. The soil is saturated in the layers below 18 to 36 inches deep during the winter months in normal years. It is saturated within a depth of 20 inches for more than 30 days in normal years. The soil is subject to flooding for brief to very long duration.

USE AND VEGETATION: Most areas of this soil are cleared and cropped to cotton, corn, soybeans, and small grains. Some areas are in pasture and hay crops. The native vegetation is bottomland hardwoods.

DISTRIBUTION AND EXTENT: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee. The series is of moderate extent.

MLRA SOIL SURVEY REGIONAL OFFICE (MO) RESPONSIBLE: Auburn, Alabama

SERIES ESTABLISHED: Prairie County, Arkansas; 1906.

REMARKS: Adjusted water table depths in 2002 to support Aquic Udifluvents classification.
Ochric epipedon - the zone from the surface to a depth of about 7 inches (Ap horizon).
Aquic conditions - saturation, reduction and redoximorphic features, including iron depletions that have chroma of 2 or less within a depth of 20 inches (C2 horizon).
Irregular organic carbon distribution - the zone from 7 to 40 inches (C horizons)

ADDITIONAL DATA: Engineering test data for one pedon are published in Soil Survey DeSoto County, Mississippi (issued September 1959) pp. 48-49. na, and Wyoming. The series is of large extent.

Shubuta

The Shubuta series consists of well drained soils that formed in clayey sediment. Permeability is moderately slow. These gently sloping to strongly sloping soils are on uplands of the Southern Coastal Plain, slopes range from 1 to 12 percent.

TAXONOMIC CLASS: Fine, mixed, semiactive, thermic Typic Paleudults

TYPICAL PEDON: Shubuta fine sandy loam - woodland. (Colors are for moist soil unless otherwise stated.)

A--0 to 3 inches; dark grayish brown (10YR 4/2) fine sandy loam; weak fine granular structure; friable; many fine roots; medium acid; abrupt smooth boundary. (0 to 7 inches thick)

E--3 to 8 inches; brown (7.5YR 4/4) fine sandy loam; weak fine granular structure; friable; few fine roots; medium acid; clear wavy boundary. (4 to 12 inches thick)

Bt1--8 to 18 inches; yellowish red (5YR 4/8) clay loam; moderate medium subangular blocky structure; firm; few fine roots; thin patchy clay films on faces of peds; sand grains coated and bridged with clay; strongly acid; gradual wavy boundary.

Bt2--18 to 33 inches; red (2.5YR 4/6) clay; few fine distinct strong brown mottles in lower part; moderate medium subangular blocky structure; firm; few fine roots; thin continuous clay films on faces of peds; strongly acid; gradual wavy boundary.

Bt3--33 to 42 inches; mottled red (2.5YR 4/6) strong brown (7.5YR 5/6), and pale brown (10YR 6/3) clay; moderate medium subangular blocky structure; firm; few fine roots; thin continuous clay films on faces of peds; strongly acid; gradual wavy boundary.

Bt4--42 to 52 inches; mottled red (2.5YR 4/6), gray (10YR 6/1), and strong brown (7.5YR 5/6) clay loam; moderate medium subangular and angular blocky structure; firm; few fine roots; few pockets of sandy loam; thin patchy clay films on faces of peds; very strongly acid; gradual wavy boundary.

Bt5--52 to 70 inches; mottled gray (10YR 6/1) and red (2.5YR 4/8) clay; moderate coarse subangular and angular blocky structure; firm; few pockets of uncoated sand; thin patchy clay films on faces of peds; few thin shale fragments; very strongly acid. (Combined thickness of Bt is 55 to 80 inches)

TYPE LOCATION: Jasper County, Mississippi; 2.5 miles northeast of Bay Springs, Mississippi, on State Highway 18 and 1/8 mile north into woods. SW1/4NW1/4 sec. 23, T. 2 N., R. 10 E.

RANGE IN CHARACTERISTICS: Solum thickness ranges from 60 to 90 inches. Reaction is strongly or very strongly acid in all horizons except the surface layers that have been limed. Few to common mica flakes are in many pedons.

The A horizon has hue of 10YR or 2.5Y, value of 3 or 4 and chroma of 2. Texture is sandy loam, fine sandy loam, loam or loamy sand.

The E horizon and Ap horizon, when present, has hue of 10YR or 2.5Y, value of 4 through 6, chroma 2 through 8. Texture is sandy loam, fine sandy loam, loam or loamy sand.

The upper Bt1 and Bt2 have hue of 2.5YR value of 4 or 5, chroma of 4 through 8. Texture is clay, clay loam or sandy clay. Some pedons have thin Bt1 horizons that have hue of 5YR or 7.5YR, value of 4 or 5 and chroma of 6 through 8. Texture is sandy clay loam or clay loam.

The Bt3, Bt4 and Bt5 have similar colors and, in addition, have hue of 7.5YR, value of 5 or 6, chroma of 6 through 8 with brown, gray, and olive mottles, or it is mottled with gray, red, and brown. Texture is clay, clay loam or sandy clay. Some pedons have a heavy sandy clay loam texture in the lower Bt horizon. Secondary eluviation is present in the less clayey textures. The upper 20 inches of the Bt horizon ranges from 35 to 55 percent clay.

COMPETING SERIES: These include the Caroline and Tuberville in the same family. Series in similar families include the Boswell, Esto, Faceville, Greenville, Kirvin, Luverne, Maben, McQueen, Neshoba, Sacul, Sweatman, Tiak, and Williamsville. Caroline soils have browner B horizons and stratified lower horizons. Tuberville soils have red or dark red lower Bt horizons that are not mottles. Boswell soils have more plastic clays, higher shrink-swell and higher percentage base saturation. Esto, Faceville, and Greenville soils have kaolinitic mineralogy. Esto soils are not as red and Greenville soils have dark red Bt horizons. Kirvin, Luverne, Maben, and Sweatman soils have sola less than 60 inches thick. McQueen soils have less clayey lower Bt horizons and lack evidence of secondary eluviation. Neshoba soils have dark red Bt horizons. Sacul soils have less clayey lower Bt horizons and grayish mottles in the upper Bt horizon. Tiak soils have grayish mottles in the upper Bt horizon. Williamsville soils have lower Bt horizons that are less clayey.

GEOGRAPHIC SETTING: These gently sloping to strongly sloping soils are on the uplands of the Southern Coastal Plain. Slopes ranges from 1 to 12 percent. They formed in material weathered from marine or stream deposited clayey sediment. The climate is warm and humid. Near the type location the mean annual temperature is about 62 degrees F., and the mean annual precipitation is about 53 inches.

GEOGRAPHICALLY ASSOCIATED SOILS: These are the competing Boswell, Luverne, and Sweatman series and the Bama, Heidel, McLaurin, Ora, Savannah, and Smithdale series. Boswell is on similar landscapes. Luverne and Sweatman are on higher positions. Bama, Heidel, McLaurin and Smithdale have less clayey control sections and are on higher positions. Ora and Savannah have fragipans and are generally in higher positions.

DRAINAGE AND PERMEABILITY: Well drained; moderately slow permeability; and medium to rapid runoff.

USE AND VEGETATION: Most of the soil is in forest of mixed hardwoods and pine. Cleared areas are used for growing corn, cotton, hay, soybeans, pasture, and truck crops.

DISTRIBUTION AND EXTENT: Southern Coastal Plain of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

MLRA SOIL SURVEY REGIONAL OFFICE (MO) RESPONSIBLE: Auburn, Alabama

SERIES ESTABLISHED: Jefferson County, Florida; 1939.

REMARKS: Diagnostic horizons and features recognized in this pedon are:

Ochric epipedon - the zone from the surface of the soil to a depth of approximately 8 inches (A1, E horizon).

Argillic horizon - the zone from approximately 8 to 70 inches (Bt1, Bt2, Bt3, Bt4, Bt5 horizon).

ADDITIONAL DATA: Pedon has been analyzed by Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Chemical and physics data are available, Laboratory numbers 1350-1356.

******
Upon looking at the distribution maps I suspect you are in the area just south of I-40 with a western border of the Natchez Trace State Park, and extending south to the state border with Mississippi and Alabama.
This particular area is a sort of checker board distribution of the two soil types you say you have. (very nice area by the way)

The Collins soil is classed as acidic, that would mean that lime would balance toward that magic 6.5 to 6.8 we want our pH to be (the ideal for most trees and plants).
So when you lime Collins soil, you actually would need to nearly double the application rate to get the Collins soil to the same pH as the Shubuta soil.
This difference in acidity also has to do with which  minerals combine with what so that can be a factor in the manganese level going down so much.

At this point in your soil restoration project (you are doing quite well) things are only going to continue to get better over time.
I would recommend working on getting more fungi and bacteria into the soils at this point, spraying a compost tea (doesn't have to cover the whole place, just spotting applications will work since they will grow towards each other), and then getting more plants growing for root mass.
For the garden area, the wood chips are going to start giving nutrients to the soil by the end of this season, so a light spraying of compost tea can keep things chugging along in the microbiome there too.
Keep in mind that most of our plants don't really need the mineral levels that soil science likes to see.(Soil science is trying to achieve the perceived "perfect" levels of known, primary nutrient minerals, so that's how they come up with their recommendations)

Note that the top 7 inches of both soil types are classified as strongly acidic, that indicates a lot of ionic changes are probable and most of the time such soils will form water insoluble compounds with the available mineral base thus reducing the amounts of certain minerals (the easy to bond ones) according to the soil tests.

I also find it rather telling that my own soil is nothing like yours even though we are probably only 250 miles apart. This is due to the underlying bed rock on my land and the alluvial flood plain that constructed your soil deposits.

Redhawk
 
James Freyr
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Redhawk, thank you for sharing the detailed information for the soil types and your thoughts on what's going on. I appreciate it!

You got my location right :) I am north of the Mississippi/Alabama border and south of I-40.

I'm a little confused and don't quite understand-

So when you lime Collins soil, you actually would need to nearly double the application rate to get the Collins soil to the same pH as the Shubuta soil.  



The shubuta only went up 0.4 pH points from 5.3ish to 5.7ish while the collins went up about 1.4 points from 5.3 to 6.7 under the same 2 tons per acre application rate. Wouldn't it be the other way around or could something peculiar be going on?

getting more plants growing for root mass.  



While I have no experience in being steward to pastures, I have what I perceive to be quite a nice variety of grasses and forbs growing, and they seem to be thick (again my opinion). I had 8 or 9 different cool season grasses growing that I could identify, along with two clovers and vetch which were all abundant, and also some sparsely populated other things like yarrow, wild carrot, plantain, dock, and a few others I can't remember. Certain grasses like orchard grass, meadow grass and bromegrass are in pockets, and the fescue along with a few other grasses were all over the place. There's also some less desirable things (by less desirable in regards to palatability for cows) such as dog fennel, ironweed, some thistles, and a few others I have yet to identify. Now, in early July, I have knee high warm season grasses growing, which I have been unable to identify since they haven't gone to seed which is what helps me identify a species. I also have a short and tall variety of lespedeza, and some other things that I haven't yet identified. The ironweeds are now about 5 feet tall and I have waist & chest high dog fennels.

While grazing ruminants may not want to eat that ironweed and dog fennel, I do see that these "weeds" are at a minimum benefitting my soil, by growing roots, releasing root exudates, having a relationship with the soil biota. The thistles is the only thing that I put many hours of work into removing by hand, as I don't want that to spread worse than it is and want less thistle as time goes forward.

I'm pleased with what's growing, there's a lot and it seems thick, and I have yet to mow, so all the cool season grasses went full term to seed maturity.

So back to the beginning of this segment with your quote about growing more plants for root mass, I kinda want to work with what I already have. Do you have suggestions if I were to seed something or introduce something that isn't here? The only thing I've considered is red clover, which is here, but is somewhat spotty as compared to the white clover, which is everywhere. Also, I'm tempted to mow to keep the ironweed and dog fennel from going to seed. Thoughts?

Note that the top 7 inches of both soil types are classified as strongly acidic, that indicates a lot of ionic changes are probable and most of the time such soils will form water insoluble compounds with the available mineral base thus reducing the amounts of certain minerals (the easy to bond ones) according to the soil tests.  



Does this mean the soil will always want to gravitate towards more acidic, like the 5.3pH I found them with, and could maintaining a soil pH of something above 6.0 be an ongoing challenge for me as the years go by?

Thanks!
 
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James Freyr wrote:I'm a little confused and don't quite understand-

So when you lime Collins soil, you actually would need to nearly double the application rate to get the Collins soil to the same pH as the Shubuta soil.  



The shubuta only went up 0.4 pH points from 5.3ish to 5.7ish while the collins went up about 1.4 points from 5.3 to 6.7 under the same 2 tons per acre application rate. Wouldn't it be the other way around or could something peculiar be going on?



I suspect that the differences are due to the slightly different soil structures as well as some of the plants working to locally change the pH to nearer their desired pH by using exudates. Since both of these soil types are listed as acidic it would probably take around 6 tones per acre to get them into the desired range, not exactly an inexpensive undertaking. What you are doing will get to that point but it will take some time, which isn't really a bad thing if  you can take that amount of time, pastures can be a bit tricky since a lot depends on the plants growing and if there are animals using the pasture, there are a lot of dynamics involved.



While I have no experience in being steward to pastures, I have what I perceive to be quite a nice variety of grasses and forbs growing, and they seem to be thick (again my opinion). I had 8 or 9 different cool season grasses growing that I could identify, along with two clovers and vetch which were all abundant, and also some sparsely populated other things like yarrow, wild carrot, plantain, dock, and a few others I can't remember. Certain grasses like orchard grass, meadow grass and bromegrass are in pockets, and the fescue along with a few other grasses were all over the place. There's also some less desirable things (by less desirable in regards to palatability for cows) such as dog fennel, ironweed, some thistles, and a few others I have yet to identify. Now, in early July, I have knee high warm season grasses growing, which I have been unable to identify since they haven't gone to seed which is what helps me identify a species. I also have a short and tall variety of lespedeza, and some other things that I haven't yet identified. The ironweeds are now about 5 feet tall and I have waist & chest high dog fennels.

I'm pleased with what's growing, there's a lot and it seems thick, and I have yet to mow, so all the cool season grasses went full term to seed maturity.

So back to the beginning of this segment with your quote about growing more plants for root mass, I kinda want to work with what I already have. Do you have suggestions if I were to seed something or introduce something that isn't here? The only thing I've considered is red clover, which is here, but is somewhat spotty as compared to the white clover, which is everywhere. Also, I'm tempted to mow to keep the ironweed and dog fennel from going to seed. Thoughts?



When you are trying to change the soil dynamics of a pasture it is normally a good idea to keep them mowed so the cuttings can decompose and become part of the organic matter in the soil. As long as water infiltration is good, things will move along nicely.
If there were animals on it prior to your acquiring the land, it is probable that those animals were left in one area for too long if they were moved at all, that can lead to compaction that would show up at around the 8 to 12 inch depth or possibly two layers of compaction (depends on the weight of the animals).

Note that the top 7 inches of both soil types are classified as strongly acidic, that indicates a lot of ionic changes are probable and most of the time such soils will form water insoluble compounds with the available mineral base thus reducing the amounts of certain minerals (the easy to bond ones) according to the soil tests.
Does this mean the soil will always want to gravitate towards more acidic, like the 5.3pH I found them with, and could maintaining a soil pH of something above 6.0 be an ongoing challenge for me as the years go by?

Thanks!



acidic soils will fluctuate over a year, the keys will be: 1) raising the amount of organic matter in the top 12 inches so there is opportunity for buffering by the microorganisms. 2)monitoring the pH (as you are doing) and making adjustments with the correct amendments (which you are doing)
and 3) increasing the numbers of the fungi, bacteria and other organisms of your microbiome, usually done by using aerated compost teas or in severe cases using microbe packets that contain the desired organisms (like adding mycorrhizae or using a bokashi).
 
James Freyr
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Thanks Redhawk, I really appreciate your input and guidance. I'm trying to do what I think is best to remediate the soils and pasture using what I have to work with, which is basically inputs and mowing. I hope to have perhaps half a dozen grazing cows in managed intensive rotational grazing in 2022. But until then, it's going to be lime if and when/where needed, sea-90, and possibly other rock dusts.

Bryant Redhawk wrote: If there were animals on it prior to your acquiring the land, it is probable that those animals were left in one area for too long if they were moved at all



My neighbor leased this land from the owner and had a small herd of about 20 or 25 cows that had free reign over all 35 acres of pasture for about twenty years, keeping the grasses chewed short resulting in the less desirable things growing tall, which my neighbor would "spray to keep the weeds under control" as he put it. He also cut and removed hay from the farm, but I don't know how often or how many times this was done.

The soil tests above represent most of the northern half of my place. Also on the northern half is a tiny little strip of Mantachie which runs down through the southern half of my farm, and also on the southern half are also a few spots of Boswell sandy loam soil, but otherwise it's Shubuta and Collins. I think it'll be in my best interest to get a couple more soil samples from the southern half before I go hiring my neighbor to lime the place this fall.

My new compost pile is just now getting of a decent size and is steaming in the center when I dig a hole to add the daily kitchen scraps, so I hope to have some dark fluffy smell good goodness at the bottom this fall to make some tea. Would you add compost tea to a soil in the fall, heading into winter with the ground getting cold or wait til spring when the soil is warming back up again?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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For using compost teas, I prefer to get them on the soil at least 1 month prior to it getting cold enough to freeze the ground.

Where I live we no longer get "winter" weather until at least the middle of December and this year we were into full spring weather by March 10th (a month earlier than historical spring time).

If you are building compost heaps and happen to have a rake set up for a tractor, you might want to use the cut material from the pasture for the greens component to be able to get a lot more compost going.
I don't have a tractor or anything else I could use for that but I do have a hand pulled dump wagon so I am using our walk behind mower with the bag to gather up fresh cut greens for my compost heaps, it's a lot more time and effort but worth the end product to me.
Wolf has finally realized that a tractor would make things happen a lot faster on our land, but we want to get the new house paid down a bit and the truck paid off before we gather a new payment, so hoping next year will be the woo hoo, tractor time year.

I think you are doing great with the project.
About the only ways to speed it up faster than you're going would be to do a one time tillage but I don't see that as really needed in your case.
Using the pasture cuttings for mulch will work for getting more organic matter into the soil each year and the microbiome will improve at the same pace.
adding minerals will offer up the full mineral complement so the nutritional values of the pasture will go up and the microorganisms will flourish.
The pH issue will just take a while to swing to where you want it, but it will get there as you make the other adjustments.

Redhawk
 
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