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my personal quest for super soil  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Location: Middle Tennessee
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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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gardener
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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: 4890
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
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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.
 
pollinator
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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 :)
 
Maybe he went home and went to bed. And took this tiny ad with him:
177 hours of video: the 2017 Permaculture Design Course and Appropriate Technology Course
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/hours-video-Permaculture-Design-Technology
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