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my personal quest for super soil  RSS feed

 
James Freyr
Posts: 254
Location: Middle Tennessee
18
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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
Posts: 254
Location: Middle Tennessee
18
books cat chicken food preservation toxin-ectomy
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more pics.
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Dale Hodgins
garden master
Posts: 6530
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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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.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2590
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
 
Wyatt Bottorff
Posts: 19
forest garden fungi hugelkultur
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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
Posts: 254
Location: Middle Tennessee
18
books cat chicken food preservation toxin-ectomy
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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.
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